March Gardening Guidelines

Spring is on its way. You can smell it in the air and see it in the woods. Daffodils, flowering quince, forsythia, deciduous magnolias, pears and plums are blooming, indicating cold weather will soon be a thing of the past.

BUT, we are not out of the woods yet as the weather could easily once again turn cold. The average last freeze for the Tyler area is mid-March, about the 15th. Note the word AVERAGE. On the one hand, we may have already seen the last freeze, yet tender vegetation could still be nipped by a late March or early April freeze (let’s hope not, but I heard a report that there’s more cold on the way next week – we’ll see). When it comes to Texas weather, ‘average’ does not mean a lot.

The mid-March average last freeze date is just a reference guide for planting frost-sensitive vegetables and flowers. Cold hardy flowers such as petunia, viola, pansies, stock and snapdragons can easily take brief dips below the freezing mark. These particular flowers should be transplanted soon so they will have time to grow and flower before intense summer heat returns. For better results, purchase transplants in larger jumbo 6-packs or 4 inch pots.

One tendency shoppers have is to buy transplants of summer annuals only with open flowers. Young transplants that have few or no flowers can be a smarter buy since these plants will grow larger before flowering. The result – a bigger floral display.

March is a great time for planting trees, shrubs, groundcovers and roses. Nurseries are receiving new shipments daily and will have a good selection. Thoroughly prepare soil in shrub and flower beds with the addition of leaf mold, compost and/or composted pine bark to help with moisture retention in all soils, and improve aeration and drainage for poorly drained soils. No need to amend the soil for trees.

Dig and divide summer and fall flowering perennials just before they initiate their spring growth.

Early spring flowering shrubs like flowering quince, forsythia, azaleas and bridal wreath spirea should be pruned, if needed, after they have finished blooming. Also delay pruning of hydrangeas until after they bloom.

The old rule-of-thumb for fertilizing azaleas is to do so once they finish blooming. Azalea expert and author of ‘Azaleas’, Fred Galle, says that they can be fertilized in early spring when new growth starts. The most important thing in azalea fertilization is to apply two or three smaller amounts rather than one large dose in spring. Azaleas have shallow, tender roots that can be easily burned by applying too much fertilizer. A rule of thumb would be to use one-half to 1 pound of fertilizer per 100 square feet of bed area. Evenly distribute fertilizer, keeping it away from the stem and off the leaves, and then thoroughly water to wash off leaves and into the soil. Also, renew the mulch around your azaleas if it has decomposed or washed away.

Finish planting cool season vegetables soon, and get ready to sow and transplant frost- tender, summer vegetables later in the month. About a month after transplanting or seed emergence, begin sidedressing with a high nitrogen fertilizer to encourage strong growth for best yields.

Fruit and pecan trees and shade trees should be fertilized this month with nitrogen fertilizer distributed in a doughnut-shaped area at the dripline (the ends of the branches), not near the trunks.

Be cautious of feeding newly planted plants, particularly with nitrogen, as damage may occur. Root stimulants or starter solutions may be used, but wait until the plant is well established and showing signs of growth before using a complete fertilizer. Scatter fertilizer evenly over the soil area to avoid coming in contact with the plants foliage or branches.

Wait another month to fertilize your lawns. Let the grass green up naturally without pushing it into growth. Fertilize after mowing actively growing grass one or two times. This practice results in a turf that is more resistant to summer stress.

Winter may have taken a toll on lawn grasses of all kinds, though St. Augustine and Centipede are more susceptible to winter injury. Dr. Jim McAfee, AgriLife Extension turfgrass specialist in Dallas, indicated that grasses previously weakened by poor management, diseases and/or insects will be more susceptible to damage caused by cold weather, especially in areas where temperatures dropped into the teens a number of times. “But the best thing people can do is be patient,” McAfee said. If there are dead patches in a lawn, they will be obvious after the lawn turns green, he said. But property owners shouldn’t act hastily. Give the lawn some time because healthy grass can grow and fill in dead areas.

Keep in mind that the best weed prevention is a sound lawn maintenance program of proper mowing, fertilizing and watering. No amount of weed preventer or weed killer can overcome sloppy lawn care practices.

As the lovely blooms of daffodils and jonquils fade away, it is tempting to remove or otherwise hide the leaves. However, let them yellow naturally. Next year’s flower buds are being formed at this time in the bulb, and healthy, green leaves are needed to insure an even bigger display next year.

Insects and diseases may begin appear at this time. Aphids can rapidly build up a large population on tender, new growth. Aphids can be controlled with commercial insecticidal soaps. Other insecticides will control aphids, but be sure to read the product label to determine whether the infested plants are listed on the label.

Peaches and plums have a host of troubles, including brown rot fungal disease and plum curculio. Timing is important in controlling these and other pests. For a complete guide to controlling pests in peaches, plums and pecans, pick up a “Homeowner’s Guide to Pests of Peaches, Plums and Pecans” from your County Extension Office. Or, download it from (search for publication E-145).

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