DESIGNING A LANDSCAPE PLAN AND OTHER MARCH GARDENING TIPS
By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
March is the month to "spring" into action on the gardening front.
Okay, so it's still winter outside your window with lingering snow and cold temperatures. Although you may not be able to go outdoors and till the soil, you can get your hands dirty with some indoor gardening, beginning with planting some of the slower growing seeds for transplant when spring really does arrive.
Begonias, coleus, and petunias need extra time to sprout, so sow seeds in early March. Use a soil-less mix of perlite, vermiculite, and peat moss. Add some fertilizer to give the plants an extra boost. Toward the end of the month start seeds of cabbage, broccoli, alyssum, and early lettuce.
You will have to wait for another month before starting other transplants including tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and most flowers, however. The seed packet will provide information on whether or not the seeds should be started indoors--and when--or if they can be planted directly in the garden. Generally, you need to count backwards from the average last frost date for your area to determine when to start your seeds indoors.
If you have questions about starting seeds or other spring gardening topics, you can contact the University of Vermont Extension Master Gardener Hotline at 1-800-639-2230. It's staffed by trained, experienced gardeners eager to answer your calls. Just be aware that at this time of year hotline hours are limited, so you may have to leave a message on the answering machine, and someone will get back to you.
Another indoor gardening project for March is propagation of houseplants by taking cuttings. Most, but not all, plants can be propagated by this method.
Fill a small pot with soil-less potting mix. Then with a sharp knife, cut off the top three to four inches of a healthy stem tip or side stem. Be sure to include a growing tip and two or three pairs of leaves. Remove the leaves along the bottom part so you are left with a bare stem to insert into potting mix.
Dip the cut end into hormone rooting powder. Poke holes into the potting soil for the cuttings. Water well before placing in a warm (65 to 70 degrees F) location. In about four weeks cuttings should be big enough to repot singly in small pots.
If you are thinking about hiring a professional to landscape your property, do your homework now. Although recommendations from friends and the experts at your garden center are one way to go, you could also start by visiting the Website of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (http://www.apld.org/). There you can check out the database of members to find qualified landscapers in your area. Vermonters can call the Vermont Association of Professional Horticulturists at (802) 865-5979 for a list of certified horticulturists--those having passed an exam indicating a higher level of knowledge than many others in the industry.
One of the newest tools for planning a new landscape or revitalizing an existing one is landscape computer imaging. By scanning a picture of your landscape into the computer, the landscape designer can create a number of different plans for your approval, incorporating plants, pathways, a pool or water garden, or anything else that you'd like to include. It's a cost-effective way to come up with the perfect year-round landscape plan for your property.
This is a good time to take a walk around your house, checking out the views from every window. Does your landscape have visual interest, even when there's snow on the ground? If not, consider including trees and shrubs with winter appeal such as the red fruits of winterberry, or the red or yellow stems of the shrub dogwood in your landscape plan.
In March bluebirds return to the north country and start searching for suitable nesting sites. You can help their efforts by constructing a bluebird house in your backyard. Bluebirds are very fussy about where they live and the type of box they select for their nest, so you should buy a bluebird house at your local garden center or make your own. Visit your local library for a book on building birdhouses for exact specifications.
Other activities for March: visit a sugarhouse; order summer flower bulbs; buy a shamrock plant or a bunch of green and white carnations for St. Patrick's Day; attend the New England Spring Flower Show in Boston, March 15-23.