Drivers, start your engines! So goes the legendary call at the start of the Indianapolis 500. (OK, it used to be “Gentlemen, start your engines,” but since 2017 the more inclusive directive has been the norm.)
Either way, it seems like an appropriate call to action for gardeners this time of year. We’ve all been locked down due to COVID-19 and a long winter, and we’ve had the pleasure of a few warm sunny days.
But wait. Indy 500? We didn’t even have the kentucky derby even less Thunder over Louisvillethe delicate festival, and the Barnstable-Brown Derby Eve Gala. Now might be a good time to pump the brakes and talk about some of the best things to tackle in the garden in mid-March.
It can be a difficult time of year for gardeners. We all know that at this time of year, IGS (Impatient Gardener Syndrome) can strike. We want to dig into the ground, but we know it’s too wet. We want to cultivate the rototiller garden, but we know it’s too wet. We want to plant tomatoes – we know better but grow anyway.
But there’s actually a long list of tasks that are both seasonally appropriate and quite satisfying. And they can not only fill the weather until the temperatures warm up and the soils dry out a bit, but they can also make those April and May chores much easier and more productive.
So here are five mid-March chores to get you and your garden off to a great start.
Why should you plant peas in your garden in mid-March
There’s nothing better than a bowl of freshly picked peas right next to the vine. Whether shelling peas, snap peas, or snow peas, the combination of that fresh, crisp flavor and breaking the winter fast is the vegetarian version of the first chorus of springtime crucifers in the season or the first sandhill cranes flying overhead.
And peas can be planted outside in the garden right now. Indeed, they love the growing conditions in March and April. If you’ve ever waited too long, you know the disappointment of weeks of vine growth followed by heat-induced vine collapse. And if you can plant in a raised bed, all the better. Raised beds drain and heat up even sooner than the best garden soil.
Why early spring is the best time to prune your garden
While we all eagerly await the emergence of spring flowers and leaves, the dormant season is still best for that pruning you’ve been wanting to do all winter. Before the leaves appear, you can see what constitutes the branching architecture of a tree or shrub. You can carve a little, stand back and take a good look, then cut a little more. Much easier than doing it with all those pesky leaves in the way.
How to control weed growth in your spring garden
Yes, it’s time. Although we all hate to complain about winter, sometimes we forget the silver lining of the cooler seasons – no (or at least less) weeds.
It’s the season for annual winter weeds that seem to germinate, grow, bloom and shed seeds in less time than it takes to play the last 10 seconds of a typical college basketball game.
And beyond those annual winter weeds that love that cool spring weather, keep in mind that the seeds of all of our favorite summer weeds are also getting ready to sprout.
Now, I know I’m going to get some hate messages for this next track, but I’m okay with that. I’m a fan of pre-emergent herbicides – those magic granules that keep summer weed seeds from sprouting. A few dandelions in the lawn don’t bother me. A little clover here and there is usually the only green in my lawn once we hit midsummer. But in my neighborhood I have tons of the dreaded honeysuckle of love (Lonicera maackii), a healthy population of the particularly weedy tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) – each specimen of which must produce between two and six billion seeds per meter of living branch – and each of them knowingly floats in the middle of my flowerbeds.
This is the season to spread this pre-emergence. If you wait a long time after forsythia blooms, it’s too late. But if you stop it in time, it can save you hours and hours of weed pulling for about 90 days. On the other hand, if you want to go in the chemistry-free direction, you have my blessing and admiration.
What’s the best way to mulch your garden?
Let’s sum this one up in one word… moderation! For organic mulches, you only need about an inch or so once everything is set. If you already have 4 inches of mulch in your flower beds, a vigorous raking is all you need for now. In fact, in some places, it’s even helpful to remove mulch if you’ve added too much over the past few seasons.
Now is also a good time to remove those silly mulch volcanoes around the base of trees if you have them. When it comes to mulch, a little is enough.
How to Divide Perennials in Your Garden
Although I generally prefer fall for dividing perennials, it’s always a good time to do more plants. Most herbaceous perennials can be easily split open with a garden fork or pointed spade, dropped into the garden and you’ll barely know the difference. Once the leaves begin to emerge, it’s usually best to wait until fall.
So whether it’s ‘mounting the pilots’ or ‘starting the engines’, there’s plenty to do in the garden. It’s time to get started!
Paul Cappiello is the executive director of Yew Dell Botanical Gardens, 6220 Old Lagrange Road, yewdellgardens.org.
Opening day at Yew Dell Botanical Gardens
WHAT: The 2022 opening day of the Yew Dell Botanic Gardens also kicks off its 20th anniversary. In addition to the traditional plant sale featuring hellebores and other spring ephemera, Yew Dell will be offering a family activity as well as walk-in garden tours throughout the day with our horticulture team. The Garden Gift Shop is also reopening for the season with a new set of unique items
OR: Yew Dell Botanical Gardens, 6220 Old La Grange Road
WHEN: March 26, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
COST: Free for members, $5 6-17 and over 54, 18-64, $9
MORE INFORMATION: yewdellgardens.org