Mar. 2013 Gardening To-Do List: Zone 9

Susan Wells
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Spring comes with its customary long to-do list: Make sure your mowers and weed-eaters are in good repair. Change oil, sharpen blades and make sure everything is tuned up and will start. Use only no-ethanol gas in all your tools to keep water from forming in the carburetor. If you left ethanol gas in the fuel tank over the winter, you’ll probably have to make a visit to the small-engine repair shop to have the carburetor cleaned. Stay on top of the weeds by keeping your beds well mulched with three inches of material.

Vegetables:

Continue to plant your favorite varieties of tomatoes both determinate and indeterminate, heirloom and hybrid, to have tomatoes to harvest all season. Determinate varieties, such as Rutgers, will ripen all at once, convenient for canning or freezing or sauce making. Heirlooms are great for their superior flavor, and hybrids have the disease resistance that will keep them producing until frost.

As tropical plants, you would think tomatoes would love the heat, but, in fact, most tomatoes won’t set fruit when temperatures soar above 85 degrees F, which they do in Zone 9 for much of the summer. 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.

Direct seed other warm season vegetables in the garden: okra, peppers, beans, sweet corn, cucumbers, melons, squash and anything else that strikes your fancy. Our long growing season enables the Zone 9 gardener to do succession plantings, such as bush beans after sweet corn, or pole beans after cucumbers. Plan for succession plantings to have fresh produce to harvest all season. Be sure to replenish the soil with compost between plantings.

Weeds are the never-ending story of gardening. Young weeds can be pulled easily, or chopped just under the soil surface with a circle hoe or hula hoe. Even perennial weeds will die after being cut back several times at the soil surface. Mulch with straw between rows to keep weeds under control and to conserve moisture. Water vegetables an inch a week unless rain provides.

Flowers:

Plant summer flowering bulbs, such as canna, tuberous begonia, freesia, crocosmia and dahlias this month.

If you have the space, 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 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.

Aphids will attack fresh new growth. Use a soap spray followed by a strong blast of water from your garden hose. (Praying mantis and lady bugs are a great addition to the garden for aphid control.)

Snails and slugs are a big problem this month, chewing holes in the leaves of many plants. They are easily handpicked & dropped into soapy water. Remember that toads are an excellent predator of slugs. You can attract them to your garden with a couple of toad houses, either bought for the purpose or made by breaking or cutting a hole in the rim of an upside down flower pot.

Trees and Shrubs:

March brings an important time for fertilizing flowering shrubs and building their soil. Begin by spreading a 1/2-inch-deep blanket of compost around each shrub. Cover the whole area from the main trunk out to the drip line. Work the compost into the soil with a rake or hand cultivator, then cover with new mulch.

Now is also a good time to prune non-spring flowering shrubs if they need it. Cut out crossing branches and diseased or damaged wood. If the plant is overgrown, take out 1/4 of the canes back to a main branch or the stem to reduce the overall size of the bush. Don’t shear unless you want a formal hedge.

You can plant container-grown trees anytime during the year, but if you plant them in spring or summer, you must be sure to water them regularly during the hot months. Make sure you dig a hole at least twice the size of the container and back fill it with the native soil. Choose drought resistant species, preferably those native to the area where you live. Zone 9 is plant heaven to many invasive varieties. Contact your County Extension office for a list of invasives and stay away from them.

Lawns:

Replace or sharpen your mower blades. If you are replacing them, consider using a mulching blade. That way you don’t have to rake up the clippings. If you bag them, they make great compost.

The performance of your turf throughout the summer depends on what you do now.

The root systems of warm season grasses decline in the late winter and early spring. As spring progresses, the roots become stronger. March is a critical time in the process. Do not disturb or stress the grass this month. Do not aerate or dethatch your lawn. March and September are the best months to fertilize warm season grasses.

Water if rain is not adequate this month.

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