March Gardening Calendar


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This photo is of a double blue primrose seedling, blooming now in Corvallis, Oregon.

March is a very busy month for gardeners.  Root crops stored from the previous year and planned to produce seed can be planted out late in the month after the soil thaws (cabbages, celery, lettuce, leeks, onions, parsnips).  Planting time will arrive soon, or has already arrived for those of you in mild climates.  Weed and clean borders and vegetable beds, plant perennials, sow seeds of hardy annuals, plant rhubarb, asparagus, sea kale and artichokes.   Plant and/or prune cane fruits and fruit trees (cherries, apples, peaches, apricots, pears, plums, currants, gooseberries, etc.).  Check cold frames on a regular basis, venting as needed and closing the glazing panels at night.  Watch temperatures in the greenhouse also, as March is a month of ups and downs in temperature.  Manure and other organic soil amendments (epsom salts, seaweed meal, alfalfa meal, greensand, bone meal, compost and wood ashes) can be spread over vegetable, fruit, flower and rose beds.  Grape vines can be manured now, leaving space around the stem; treat roses in the same manner.

Many vegetables can be sown indoors now for transplanting out later: cole crops (brassicas), onions, lettuce, peppers, eggplant and leeks.  Some vegetables can be direct sown outside if weather permits and if your soil is not too wet to work: arugula, carrots, corn salad, fava beans, cress, mustard and turnip greens, onions, peas, radishes and spinach.  Celery and lettuce can be direct sown into frames.  Several vegetables and fruits can be transplanted now: raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, asparagus, horseradish, head lettuce, onion sets and plants and perennial herbs.  Make sure your mushroom beds do not get too wet; replace straw if wet.

Potted auricula primroses should be protected from rain and frosts; they will begin to bud soon.  Sow any remaining auricula and primrose seeds.  Herbaceous perennials can be divided and planted now.  Many hardy annual flowers may be sown during March: larkspur, sweet peas, lychnis, nigella, lavatera, poppies, kiss-me-by-the-garden-gate and sweet alyssum.  Inside the greenhouse sow: petunias, impatiens, pansies, alyssum, chrysanthemums, iceplants, portulacas, salvias, snapdragons, sweet Williams, ten-week stocks, mignonette, hesperis, Shasta daisies, hibiscus, lupine and Salvia x superba.

Roses and other shrubs may be layered now, and cuttings may be made of geraniums, myrtles and hydrangeas.  If you want to plant a hedge from seed, now is the time to sow seeds of hawthorns, stone fruits, roses and other hardy shrubs you might like to use.  The young plants can be transplanted out to their permanent positions later.

Happy Spring!





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My photograph above shows young heirloom perennial and biennial plants in flats and seed containers.  Now is a good time to finish repotting them so they will grow large enough to set outside when weather permits.

If your climate is mild enough, February is a good time to begin planting deciduous trees, roses, raspberries, gooseberries and currants.  Roses, fruit trees, raspberries, gooseberries grapes and currants may be pruned as well, if your climate is not too cold.  In very cold climates it is advantageous to wait until very cold weather is over and you are sure of the extent of winterkill on branches.  If fruit trees and roses are pruned too soon, they will begin to grow earlier and my be harmed by late spring frosts.  This is especially true of tender roses, apricots, almonds, peaches, prunes and grapes.  In Montana, living in USDA climate zone four, I usually waited until March to prune hardy fruit trees, and April to prune tender fruit trees and roses.  That way, one can cut off the winterkilled portion, cutting into live wood about an inch and a half.  Make sure your pruning tools are clean; a 10% bleach solution in water will sterilize the tools.  Clean tools after pruning each tree or shrub and after any cut into diseased tissue.  After pruning is finished, rinse tools with clean water, dry them and wipe them with light oil to prevent rust.  If pruning roses, do not use the pruning sealants designed for fruit trees, as they will cause die-back of canes on your roses.  An excellent sealant for pruning cuts on roses is a water-based glue that dries hard, such as Elmer’s.  Sealing rose pruning cuts will prevent cane-drilling wasps from destroying viable canes and prevents canes from drying out.

Seeds of hawthorns and large species or shrub roses may be sown outside now to make thorny hedges.  Seeds of fruit, shrub and rose rootstocks can be sown now also.  Make sure to continue to check any plants in frames and to ventilate them whenever weather permits.

If your climate is mild enough, you can begin dividing most perennials and replanting them.  Wait until July to divide German irises (Iris germanica cultivars).  Wait until August/September to divide peonies.  Many hardy annuals can be sown outside now if weather permits: larkspur, lavatera, lychnis, nigella, poppies sweet peas and kiss-me-by-the-garden-gate.  These all need cool temperatures to germinate well.

In the greenhouse you can force bulbs, strawberries, ranunculuses, pansies, violets, wallflowers, stocks, sweet williams, carnations, roses, etc.  Under lights or in a warm greenhouse several tender annuals may be sown now, such as petunias, impatiens, geraniums, snapdragons, etc.  Seeds of several cool hardy vegetables can be started in the greenhouse also, such as cabbage, cauliflower, kales, and onions.

February is a good time to spread manure, alfalfa meal, bone meal, wood ashes, and other soil amendments over vegetable beds, asparagus beds, rhubarb, grapes and vegetables still in the garden.  Do not place manure too close to grape or rose stems.  Be sure to check mushroom beds and protect them from too much moisture.  Dry straw is a good cover, and it helps to have a shed roof over mushrooms to protect them from too much rain.

In February you can finish your orders for seeds, perennials, roses, fruit, evergreen and deciduous trees.  Enjoy February!


Designing A Garden For Heirloom Plants


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Winter is an excellent time for gardeners to plan garden designs as there is minimal activity outside this time of year, epecially in northern climates.  As soon as soil can be worked you can begin executing your project.  In southern and low desert climates it is also a good time to plan your garden and build it because the cool temperatures make it easier to do heavy physical labor.

This last year I designed and built a garden in Early American style to hold my collection of antique roses, fruits, flowers and vegetables.  I had several goals: create a design based on historic models; maximize use of space and efficiency; minimize maintenance labor; use local materials, protect plants from predation and create the best growing conditions possible.  The first picture above depicts an American garden design plan from the late eighteenth century.  The original drawing is archived at the Essex Institute in Salem, MA.  My photo is taken from British and American Gardens of the Eighteenth Century, edited by Robert P. Maccubin and Peter Martin; The Colonial Williamsburg Press, 1984.  This style of design and use of space has its roots in Medieval gardens of Europe.  The plan is formal; beds are edged by timbers, are often raised or slightly raised and mud-free (and/or weed-free) paths separate beds.  This formal style is quite convenient to tend: crops can be separated and rotated; soil pH, texture and drainage can be adjusted from bed to bed, and some beds can be high water-use, while others may be medium or low water-use.  I find it convenient to place high water-use beds nearest the house and low water-use beds farthest away.

The second photo above is of my garden design for my garden in Corvallis, Oregon.  I measured the entire site, then made the drawing to scale on graph paper.  I used cut-out pieces of colored paper for structures such as the greenhouse, cold frames and porches.  I made labeled pieces of graph paper to indicate trees and shrubs.  The cut-out pieces can be moved around over the drawing until you determine where you want everything to go.  Shade is an issue in this garden, so sun-loving and shade tolerant plants were placed accordingly.

When the design was finished, trees and shrubs that cast heavy shade were removed or moved to new location; materials and workmen were sourced.  Tree and shrub roots were ground and removed.  Soil leveling was undertaken, then fences were built.  We tilled the soil, as seen in the third photo above, then raked the grass and roots into piles approximating the location of beds.  We had such a hot summer that the grass roots quickly died.  They provided immediate organic material for the soil.

We measured and drew out my design with spray paint and began to build our boxed beds.  I used 2′ x 12′ cedar lumber anchored in place with metal spikes set in concrete.  The fourth photo shows bed construction in the back yard garden.  Trenches 6 inches deep were dug to lay the timbers into.  Now we had beds raised six inches above the original soil level and 4 inches above planned level of the gravel.  This enabled us to use the native soil and amend it with 4 to 5 inches of compost, manure, greensand, wood ashes, alfalfa meal and bone meal (See the fifth photo above of the front garden).

After soil preparation, planting could begin.  The sixth photo above is a shot of the back garden two weeks after planting.  Vegetables grew quickly in the wonderful, organically amended soil.  The front garden was finished and planted a few weeks later (the seventh photo above).  The front beds were planned for bulbs, perennials and shrubs that use little or no additional water in our climate.  I do have to water the rose bed bordering the fence; watering deeply but infrequently once the roses are established.

The last photo shows one of the large 3′ x 3′ wooden tubs newly planted with ‘Blue-Podded Blauwschokker’ peas, which date to the sixteenth century.

The entire construction project took six months, from design to planting.  For a labor force we had two people working part time and one person working full time.  The garden is planted with heirloom plants dating from the ancient Greco-Roman period through the Oregon Trail Era (1830-1869).  Also included are a few more recent varieties, dating before and up to 1925, when the house was built.