By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
Lisa Halvorsen, Extension Associate Professor
University of Vermont
March is a good month to think about the environment and how you can do your part to help save it.
For example, if you use kitty litter or sand instead of salt on your icy sidewalks, you are helping to prevent contamination of ground water from the run-off. Adding vegetable scraps to a compost pile instead of the garbage helps cut down waste in landfills and provides you with a source of rich, organic matter for your garden.
This month you can start many seeds indoors, including petunias, dahlias, begonias, and snapdragons early in the month, coleus, marigolds, tomatoes, and broccoli later on. Marigolds, for example, should be started five to seven weeks before transplanting, zinnias, three to four.
Tomatoes and peppers require only seven to eight weeks. For cole crops such as broccoli and cabbage start seeds five to seven weeks before it's time to plant them outdoors. Wait until April to start melons, cucumbers, and squash.
Instead of buying non-recyclable plastic trays, sow your seeds in egg cartons or cardboard milk containers cut in half lengthwise. Use a prepared seed-sowing medium, and be sure to punch a hole or two in the bottom for good drainage. Peat pots are another good choice as they can be planted directly in the garden.
Seedlings will need as much light as possible. Use special grow lights or regular, cool white tubes, placing them about six inches above the tops of the plants. Leave on a minimum of 16 hours a day.
Start saving plastic milk jugs this month to use for individual hot caps or cloches. They will fit nicely over small garden plants, creating a miniature greenhouse. You also can fashion plastic milk jugs into scoops for sowing seeds, applying fertilizer, and filling bird feeders.
In addition, you might want to start saving newspapers, brown paper bags, and burlap to use as temporary frost protectors. Newspapers and old carpeting can be used for mulch between rows to keep weeds down.
When it's time for spring cleaning, take a good look at what you plan to throw away. Those old wooden windows would be perfect for cold frames, the chicken wire for pea trellises. Screens can be used for drying herbs and flowers later this summer. Save those two-pound coffee cans to place under melons to prevent bruising and encourage ripening.
Other activities for March: buy a shamrock plant in celebration of St. Patrick's Day; build a bluebird house; inspect gardening tools and repair or replace as needed.