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Weekly Gardening Tips for Your Area


Mar. 2013 Gardening To-Do List: Zone 5

Susan Wells
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USDA Plant Hardiness Zones

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March is about the last time you can attend to pruning duties before buds begin to swell. So check your woody plants – shrubs and trees—to make sure they are the size and shape you want them to be before warmer weather makes it inappropriate to cut them back. Don’t prune spring-flowering shrubs now, or you’ll have no blooms. Fruit trees, conifers and deciduous trees may still be shaped up, however.


Top off your garden with shredded leaves. Give the leaves a light sprinkling of alfalfa meal, cottonseed-meal, or another organic source of nitrogen to help hasten their decay.

Don’t cultivate until soil is beginning to be crumbly, but not sodden. You may have to wait until April. Don’t till wet soil or you will destroy its structure and wind up with a mess.

As soon as soil can be worked, go ahead and set out cool-season crops like broccoli, collards, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage. Plant seeds of carrots, beets and turnips.

Start seeds of warmth-loving crops—such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants—indoors under lights.

Transplant early tomatoes into larger pots, planting the stem deeper into the soil for additional root growth.

Be sure to harden off your homegrown seedlings before setting them out in the garden. Gradually expose them to the cooler temperatures and higher light intensity of the open garden by setting them out in a more and more exposed location for increasing periods of time over the course of a week or two before planting. When you purchase seedlings grown in a greenhouse, be sure to follow this same procedure.

Setting up a cold frame allows you to get a jump on the season and harden off your seedlings at the same time.


Image: Alison Hancock/Shutterstock

Image: Alison Hancock/Shutterstock



Start seeds of perennials—such as columbine, campanula, bellflower, blanket flower, globeflowers, and pyrethrum indoors under lights. Wait until late this month or early next to sow tender annuals and vegetables.

Start annual flowers, such as marigolds and zinnias, indoors under lights.

Buy tubers for begonias and plant them in pots indoors now, they will be ready for your window box or planters by spring. 

As soon as the ground has thawed and dried, you can check perennials for new growth. Peek under the mulch and if growth is well underway, you can remove the mulch, but don’t rush it – leave the mulch in place until nights are consistently above freezing. You can also divide and move some perennials, but do not divide the very early spring bloomers such as bleeding heart until after blooming or in fall.

Flush the planting beds near the street with plenty of water to dilute the road salt that has accumulated in the soil.  Even salt-tolerant plants will appreciate it.

Fertilize spring blooming bulbs in March or early April.

Apply pre-emergent weed preventer to flower garden beds to combat weeds. Don’t apply it in the vegetable garden or where you plan to plant seeds, however, or it will keep seeds from germinating.

Houseplants will start reacting to longer days and stronger light and will need more moisture and an occasional half-strength fertilizing. However, overwatering is still the biggest danger to their health; feel around in the soil to know when they need a drink. Cut back all the leggy, half-dead leaves.


If heavy, wet snow has flattened Arborvitae branches, lash them back into place with twine. Stems should regain their upright habit over the course of spring and summer.

Wait until the end of the month to uncover rose bushes. Prune them at your convenience but before the leaf buds break. Before growth begins, prune dead, broken and wayward branches from hybrid tea, grandiflora and floribunda roses.  Cut back to about 6 inches. 

Cut stems of forsythia, pussy willow and crab apple. If you give the stems water, light, and warmth, they will bloom in only two weeks.

Your gardening to-do list should include pruning fruit trees and other key steps

Bare root trees, shrubs and roses should be planted as soon as the soil is thawed and dried, usually in March to early April.

As soon as the ground has thawed, pound in evergreen fertilizer stakes or apply a slow release granular fertilizer.

Apply dormant spray to fruit trees before the buds swell.

Prune grape vines to no more than four fruiting canes with 7 to 10 buds apiece.

Cut out canes of raspberries that have borne fruit and any that are thinner than a pencil. Shorten the remaining young canes by at least a foot.

If your red or yellow-twig dogwood shrubs lack color and vigor, now is the time to prune them back hard. Remove old stems to ground level to stimulate new, colorful, and healthy stems. Stems that are infested with scale should be removed and disposed of.

Never move a containerized or balled-and-burlapped tree by its trunk. Always move the tree by moving the container or burlapped ball instead. Moving the tree by the trunk risks breaking off roots inside the root ball, harming the tree.



Tie up ornamental grasses and use a serrated knife to cut them back to a few inches above ground level.

Depending on weather patterns, fertilize your yard by the end of March.  After the first mowing, apply a balanced fertilizer. 

Crabgrass seed generally germinates after the soil temperature has reached 50 degrees, and requires about five consecutive days of 50-degree soil temperature.  When you see the first dandelion bloom, it is time to apply pre-emergent crabgrass control. If you plan to do spring seeding, crabgrass control may prevent germination of the grass seed unless you “stir up the soil” first to break the barrier.

Every few years you should aerate the lawn in March or April.

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