University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science

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HELPING BATS AND OTHER MARCH GARDENING TIPS

Leonard Perry, UVM Horticulturist
and Charlie Nardozzi, Garden Consultant

Helping bats by installing a bat house, sowing seeds of arugula and other greens, and choosing and caring for Easter lilies, are some of the gardening activities for this month.     

Bats are important to our ecosystems, particularly in catching huge numbers of insects that damage our crops and gardens, as well as those such as mosquitoes that carry diseases.  Yet diseases and human activities, which have killed off many or destroyed their habitats, have made many endangered.  You can help bring them back by proper gardening practices, and by installing a bat house. 

Bat houses are flattened wood boxes, open on the bottom, with single or multiple roosting chambers.  Height (12 feet or more off the ground), location (on buildings is best, but poles can be used), orientation (generally toward the east, away from prevailing winds), and color (black to absorb heat in cold climates) are all important considerations.  You can learn more on where to buy them, or how to build your own, from Bat Conservation International (www.batcon.org). 

To get an early harvest of arugula and other greens, dig out a large shallow container and sow some seeds. Grow them indoors until the weather warms enough to put them outside during the day. Keep cutting leaves from the outside of the plants to prolong the harvest. Or you can sow seeds for a mesclun mix and cut off the leaves when still young. They will regrow for another harvest in a few weeks.  Look for seeds to sow and grow quickly just for sprouts.

When buying an Easter lily, look for a plant with flowers in various stages of bloom from buds to open or partially opened flowers. Foliage should be dense, rich green in color, and extend all the way down to the soil line (a good indication of a healthy root system). Look for a well-proportioned plant, one that is about two times as high as the pot. You also should check the flowers, foliage, and buds for signs of yellowing (improper culture), insects, or disease.

At home, keep your lily away from drafts and drying heat sources such as wood stoves or heating ducts. Bright, indirect light is best with daytime temperatures of 60 to 65 degrees (F). Water the plant only when the soil feels dry to the touch, but donít overwater. If the pot is in foil, make sure water doesnít collect and remain in the foil; this will keep the soil too wet.

To prolong the life of the blossoms, remove the yellow anthers (pollen-bearing pods) found in the center of each Easter lily flower. If you get this staining pollen on fabrics, donít rub it off, but remove it with sticky tape.

Probably the biggest gardening project for March is to start transplants. Cabbage, broccoli, and other cole crops that can be set out early in the spring, as well as slow-growing flower varieties like verbena, pansies, and petunias, can all be started this month. But wait until April to sow seeds for tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and most flower varieties that cannot be transplanted until the danger of frost has past.

Warm days may tempt you into removing winter mulch but wait a bit longer. We still could have snow and some very cold nights, and plants still need protection. The freeze and thaw cycles of early spring can damage plants that have survived a cold winter.

Other gardening activities for this month include making plans for attending spring gardening seminars (pss.uvm.edu/ppp/events.html), buying a Shamrock plant for St. Patrickís Day, and pruning on a non-freezing dayófruit trees, blueberries, and summer-flowering shrubs.  

(Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally known horticulturist, author, gardening consultant, and garden coach; gardeningwithcharlie.com).   

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