With the danger of frost diminishing late in the month, get the last of the cool-season crops in the ground first thing this month if you haven’t already. Don’t delay! Soon it will be too hot for lettuce, broccoli, kale and the like. Also, build the soil. When it is dry enough, dig compost into your beds so they will be ready to nourish the warm season flowers and vegetables.
Early in the month, test the soil where you plan to plant tomatoes to make sure the pH is only slightly acidic or neutral. Tomatoes like sweet soil and if you need to add lime, it’s best to do it a few weeks before you put the plants in the ground. Dig lots of manure or other compost into the soil as you dig in the lime. Tomatoes are heavy feeders.
Set out tomatoes after all danger of frost is past, around March 15 or later in Zone 8. Mulch heavily around each plant and in between plants. It will conserve moisture and keep your tomatoes from fighting with weeds for sun, water and nutrients. Stake up indeterminate varieties to keep fruit off the ground.
Chose tomato varieties that can handle the heat of a Zone 8 summer in full sun. Many varieties will stop setting fruit when temperatures get above 85 degrees F. Some varieties bred for the heat include: Creole, Arkansas Traveler, Heat Master, Florida 91, Summer Set and Solar Fire. Cherry and grape tomatoes also generally perform well in the heat.
When the soil warms above 50 degrees F, sow sweet corn, okra, field peas and beans. Set out transplants of squash and cucumbers (or plant from seed). Follow the crop rotation plan you set up earlier. Be sure to mulch well around transplants to conserve moisture and combat weeds.
Plant squash in hills of soil raked up about six inches high. Cover the hill with newspaper, then with straw or other mulch to keep the squash off the ground and keep the weeds at bay. The newspaper will compost into the soil. Poke holes in it to allow water to get through. Give squash plenty of space to ramble.
Set out warm season perennials and annuals in beds you’ve already prepared. Plant summer flowering bulbs, such as canna, tuberous begonia, freesia, crocosmia and dahlia, this month.
If you have the space in your flower beds, consider planting swaths or drifts of flowers that have a long blooming season and interesting foliage. Try to design around flowers that bloom in complimentary colors or that flower at different times. Coreopsis, coneflower, geranium, salvia, day lilies, iris and others you love can be lovely when planted together, each in its own wave. Consider the size of each and plant the smaller ones near the front of the bed, the taller ones in the back. Find books about gardening in this zone and look for flowerbed plans that bring together complimentary bloomers.
Try agapanthus. The deep violet flower heads are dramatic and offset by interesting foliage all year.
And let this be the year that you plant a tree peony or two. Growing at least four feet tall, they will offer gorgeous blooms for a lifetime.
Set out new roses now and finish pruning those you already have back to 12 inches tall. Mulch roses heavily to conserve moisture and control weeds. Keep an eye out for insect infestation as the weather warms and spray if necessary.
Trees and shrubs
Plant new hydrangeas and other summer flowering shrubs this month, making sure you dig a hole twice as wide as the container they came in. Backfill with native soil and mulch. Water in well and pay attention to moisture during the new shrub’s first year in the ground. Hydrangeas will often wilt in the heat of the late afternoon, but miraculously recover as the temperature drops in the evening. If they don’t perk up, water deeply.
It’s a bit late to plant most trees now, although container-grown specimens can be put in the ground any time of year as long as they are watered regularly for the first year.
Make sure your equipment is tuned up and sharpened for the coming mowing season. Think about picking up a mulching kit for your mower so you won’t have to rake up or bag the clippings. Leave them alone and they will give nitrogen back to your soil.
If you have a fescue lawn, leave it at about three inches so it can compete successfully with weeds by shading them out. Mow once a week, no more than 1/3 the length of the blade.
After the first mowing, fertilize warm season grasses, such as centipede, zoysia, St. Augustine and Bermuda either with a good sprinkling of compost and lime or a balanced fertilizer. Read up on what the particular grass in your yard needs, then follow the instructions on the bag of whatever product you buy.
Over fertilizing and overwatering will stress your lawn much more than doing nothing. Water only when the grass seems stressed.