Sow What Now in March

by Tusha Yakovleva

strawflower-in-snow-480x6401Our garden-chore-list muse, Margaret Roach, has this to say about March: "Make like a daffodil. Poke your head up and have a look around—but be prepared to abort the mission, perhaps several times, and even get snowed on. Be nimble, ready to act when the forces are willing, but be patient, too, especially up North."

March's longer days and stronger sun brings a cause for celebration and a false sense of security to the garden. Celebration because it marks the start of sowing season, with peas and other hardy crops traditionally going into the ground around St. Patrick's Day. False sense of security because the long-awaited moments of spring are punctuated with winter's erratic last displays. So, as this month makes it's transformation from lion to lamb, celebrate wholeheartedly, but carefully - with frost-tolerant varieties, and the aid of cold-frames, row covers, greenhouses, and indoor warmth.

 Sow Now What: Yes, March is cold and unpredictable, but plenty of brave seeds are unafraid of such weather and ready to get in the ground. Peas can be sown as soon as soil is ready to be worked, often as early as mid-March. Hardy greens like Spinace and Mache follow shortly behind them. Then, onions, scallions, chives, followed by more hardy greens like various Asian Greens, Mustards, and Kale.

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Cold-loving flowers like Milkweed, Sweet Peas, Poppies, Lupines, and Penstemon should be sown as soon as possible - to catch the tail-end of the cold to ensure good germination. 

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IMG_6501And, that's just the outdoor list! Indoor sowing possibilities in early spring are nearly infinite. Start with crops that need a long-season to mature or ones that love summer warmth and not much else, like the nightshade: peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, tomatillos, and husk cherries. After those are out of the way, sow everything else! March through early May is a very exciting time of year for seed growers because there are almost now limitations on what can be sown.

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Clean up: while waiting for the snow to melt and soil to dry to a workable state is a good moment to get your growing space ready for the season. Pull out any dead annuals that overwintered in beds, pick up visible stones, prune down herbaceous perennial herbs and flowers (they will grow anew from the base) and stash away and trellising that might not have made it out of the ground in the fall.

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Prepare for the cold: Aside from the very likely chances of frost, early spring days are at least, mostly chilly, which means whatever does grow will grow slowly. Protect your seedlings and speed up the time till your first harvest by building cold-frames or setting up row covers.

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Wake up the soil: Sowing instructions for early season crops often read, "sow when soil is ready to be worked." So, when is it finally ready? It's less a date and more of a feeling. When the soil warms up and dries up enough to make it a hospitable environment for seeds to germinate and grow - it's ready! In our region, soil is traditionally ready for hardy crops like peas around St. Patrick's Day. But, last year was a late spring and peas didn't go in till April. This year is shaping up similarly.

Seed Sense: When is Soil Ready to be Worked?

Soil that's been sitting under the weight of snow all winter may be compacted and the snow melt and spring rain may wash away some surface nutrients. Consider sprucing it up before your main spring plantings by turning it and adding some amendments. Giving overwintered perennials a little extra boost with compost or the like is also a good idea for healthy, robust plants.

 Get ready! March, with its unpredictable weather and notes of winter, is a frost-area gardener's last calm before the storm. Come April, the garden and its work will be bustling through to the first frost of fall. Prepare now by ordering (and starting!) seeds, cleaning your tools, gathering amendments, fixing up the greenhouse and fence, making a garden map, reading gardening books, and enjoying the last days of the slow and quiet winter mood.

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