Much of the country still has patches of snow on the ground, but in Southern California spring is here. Nothing says “spring” quite like the first blush of peach blossoms. In my own backyard, an unnamed variety given to me by a friend several years ago is well under way, and with frequent visits from my local bees, a good crop is promised come summer.
Before I can enjoy the fruits of nature’s labors there is plenty to be done, as March is the roll-up-your-sleeves-and-let’s-get-to-work month in the garden. By putting the extra effort in this month (and again in the fall) there will be less maintenance during the cool winter and hot summer months.
Here are your March Los Angeles gardening tips:
> Prepare Planting Beds: Dig compost or rotted manure into beds. If soil is poor, till in a 4 – 6” layer or organic matter, rake finished beds, water well and let them rest for a week before planting.
> Plant, Plant, Plant: Bulbs, Corms & Tubers such as calla, canna, dahlia and gladiolus as well as flowerbeds with warm season flowers for color. In the veggie garden, plant or replace parsley, green beans, potatoes, artichokes, tomatoes and culinary herbs. It is not too late to start cool-season vegetables such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery and spinach. For a great selection of hybrid and heirloom tomatoes, check out Tomatomania March 22/24 at Tapiia Brothers Farm Stand in Encino.
> Recycle: Don’t add more plastic containers to the landfill; instead, consider recycling them. Many nurseries will happily take back empty plastic nursery pots for reuse.
> Divide Perennials & Cut Back Ornamental Grasses & Herbs: If last year’s blooms of day lilies were sparse then it’s time to divide. Dig each clump until the rootball comes up in tact, irrigate gently with water, and cut divisions so that there are some leaves and plenty of roots. Replant immediately. Ornamental grasses such as Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia rigens – a California native) as well as woody herbs can start to look untidy this month. They will benefit from a trimming back of the old growth down to the new.
> Mulch: Apply a three-inch layer of bark, weed-free straw, or organic composted material in planting beds.
> Feed Flowering Shrubs/Roses: As soon as flowering has stopped (or in the case of roses when new growth appears) apply a high nitrogen fertilizer. Continue fertilizing citrus this month.
> Thin Fruit Trees: Fruit trees set more fruit than they can support, especially if the trees were not properly pruned during the previous season. Excessive fruit competes with each other and remains small. Leaving too much fruit on a tree can also lead to alternate bearing (a cycle in which the tree bears excessively in one year and little the next year) or limb breakage. Thinning the fruit helps prevent these problems from developing.
> Cull Plants: Remove those plants that refuse to thrive and replace them with those that require less care and resources. Consider going with California natives. For a great selection and information go to the Theodore Payne Foundation or Las Pilitas.
> Control Aphids: These tiny, green sucking pests are attracted to tender new growth and attract ants that feed off their sugary wastes. A blast of water from the garden hose or misting of insecticidal soap when colonies are small usually does the trick.
> Patrol Your Garden: Not only will walking through your garden provide a chance to chill out and relax, it’s also a great time to keep an eye out for harmful insects in their initial stages before they are a bigger problem. Try to keep a front line of beneficial insects around by keeping plants in successive bloom throughout the growing season.
> Weed: Continue weed vigilance by hoeing young plants while the roots are still shallow.
> Re-Pot: Container plants that are starting to look tired and spindly could be root bound – they will benefit from either repotting to a larger container or cutting back the root ball and replacing in same container.
> Irrigation: repair or install drip systems now, before root and foliage growth complicate access. Consider installing a grey water system.
The key to Los Angeles gardening is to stay on top of all the gardening duties as they come up during the year. That will make all the subsequent months that much easier to handle. What tips do you have for this month’s gardening? Feel free to ask any questions in the field below!