University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Spring News Article

By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

You've probably heard the old saying that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. For gardeners, this translates into the cold and snow turning into milder weather by the end of the month, signaling the start of another planting season.

March is the month to start many transplants, including slow-growing flower varieties such as pansies, lobelia, petunias, and verbenas. Be sure to use a soil-less mix to avoid damping off, a seedling disease common when using mixes that contain soil.

To determine when to start your flower transplants, count back from the date plants can safely be set out in your area. As a rule most flowers (and vegetables, too) need to be started about eight to ten weeks before transplanting time.

Ideal growing conditions for seeds include temperatures of 70 degrees F for germination, 50 to 60 degrees F for growth and high light intensity. Use cool, white, 40-watt fluorescent bulbs. Hang them about six to eight inches above the tops of the young seedlings, adjusting them as the young plants grow. Provide 14 to 16 hours of light each day. March is the perfect time to prune fruit trees, ornamental trees, and summer-flowering shrubs, providing you do it before the buds start to swell. Wait to prune spring-flowering shrubs until they've bloomed, however, or you'll cut off the buds and won't get any flowers.

Always use sharp pruning shears. Make your cuts as close to the branch as possible as this will help the tree heal its wounds. Prune to provide good branch angles (about 45 degrees) and allow adequate air circulation and sunlight penetration. This is also a good time to remove branches and limbs damaged in winter storms. Just don't mistake dormant twigs for winter kill and snap them off!

You don't have to be Irish to buy a shamrock plant this month in celebration of St. Patrick's Day. Shamrocks, a member of the Oxalis family, are easy to grow and are available at many garden centers and florist shops. Like most houseplants, they prefer a sunny location and need periodic watering to ensure an evenly moist soil.

If you have questions about starting seeds, pruning, or other March gardening activities, call the University of Vermont Extension Master Gardener Hotline at 1-800-639-2230. The hotline is staffed by trained, experienced gardeners. Although hours are limited until the gardening season gets into full swing, you can leave a message on the answering machine and someone will get back to you.

Other activities for March: visit a sugarhouse for a taste of the 1999 crop; force crabapple, lilac, and forsythia branches into bloom; welcome bluebirds to your backyard by putting up bluebird houses.

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