“What Do I Do In My Garden In March” – Published in Hilton Head Monthly – March 2010

What Do I Do In My Garden In March?

March is the harbinger of spring when the air is filled with the sweet scents of Wisteria and our landscape begins to send out its lush new growth. The nurseries are brimming with fresh, colorful plants waiting to adorn our gardens. It is a busy month filled with planting and maintenance tasks. Knowing what to do and where to start in this seemingly overwhelming “to do list” can be a great help.

Clean up is the first thing to tackle. Pick up any fallen branches and rake up leaves, pinecones, and accumulated pinestraw. Pests and diseases like to overwinter in the top layer of organic matter surrounding plants. Removal of this will reduce future infestations and will start the season with a clean slate. Plants can also be subject to rot, and poor growth may occur if their crown is covered up by debris. Be careful not to damage the new, emerging sprouts when working around plants. Also, give your greenery a chance to flush back. We had quite a cold winter and many plants went dormant that may not have, in previous years. Philodendron, Ginger, and Ferns are examples of plants that are root hardy in our area. Many perennials such as: Cannas, Salvias, and Ruellia will also emerge as the soil temperatures begin to warm. Sometimes gardening can be a practice in patience. Before rushing out to replace perceived lost treasures, wait until the Crape Myrtles have leafed out as these are one of the last trees to do so.

Pruning is the next job I like to accomplish. Now is the time to do any heavy trimming required to rejuvenate, shape, and control the size of plants. Viburnum and Ligustrum are examples of shrubs that are fast growing and can handle being pruned back hard, to within a couple of feet from the ground if needed. Podocarpus and Boxwood benefit more from a light pruning, or no more than one third of their size, as they are slow growing. Understanding a plants growth pattern will help determine how much to prune. Selective pruning can also increase the health of woody landscape material. This process begins with the removal of any diseased, dead, or injured branches. Next is a gradual thinning of the older stems. And lastly, an overall haircut to eliminate spent flowers and encourage uniform growth. Crape Myrtles fall into this category contrary to the popular practice of severely cutting them back. Wait to prune spring blooming plants such as Azaleas and Gardenias until after them bloom. Perennials and ornamental grasses can be cut back to six inches. If Liriope and ferns are showing signs of winter damage, then shear them back before the new growth gets too tall.

Now that the yard is cleaned up and pruned, it’s time to fertilize. A great place to start is by taking a soil sample. Our county horticultural extension service provides this service and it is invaluable in determining exactly what supplements our plants really require. Once your needs are established, I’m an advocate of slow release organic fertilizers. They will not burn our plants, are not as high in salt content, and are much safer for our relished waterways. Adding compost to improve soil structure and natural mulches to conserve water are next on the list.

Finishing touches include edging bed lines, checking irrigation and lighting systems. Freshly cleaned, groomed, and functioning, our yard is now ready to receive all those new and exciting plants that have been tempting us to acquire.

Hilton Head Monthly March to-do list by Karen Geiger