By Charlie Thigpen
We all get spring fever and the warm weather often fools us into making some unwise decisions. The gardening bug is real, and it’s so easy to catch—especially on the first few glorious, sunny days of spring. Plants begin to shake off the cold and awake from dormancy. We are able to witness unfurling leaves that turn bare, grey branches into glowing, green limbs overnight. The plump flower buds burst before our eyes, making us ready to jump into the garden headfirst. But March can be fickle, as a week of warm weather can be followed by a blackberry winter as cold fronts sweep through. Here are a few dos and don’ts for March gardening in Birmingham that will allow you to work on your landscape without getting ahead of the season.
Make sure your flower, shrub, and vegetable beds are weed-free. If there is any dead foliage on perennials such as iris, ornamental grasses, or ferns, remove it before any new foliage appears. Cut back any tattered or discolored foliage on Lenten rose, Liriope, or mondo grass. Also remember to clip off any old brown hydrangea blooms. If you haven’t mulched your beds, it’s the perfect time to put out pine straw or pine bark. Remember to use straw on any sloped areas, because bark will wash away during spring rains. If you have an irrigation system, you might want to run through all the zones to make sure all your sprinkler heads are working properly. Do a little sketch and plan your spring planting so you will know what you want when you walk into your local garden center.
If you are going to plant, make sure the plants you set out can take cooler temperatures. Many local shrubs that have been grown in greenhouses, or in Florida or south Alabama, may have tender foliage that can be burned by a late cold snap. If you want to plant annuals, be sure they are frost-tolerant ones such as Diascia, Nemesia, petunias, pansies, violas, and snapdragons. Vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, onions, radishes, and sugar snap peas can also be planted at this time.
Just because many of the big box stores have tomato plants in March doesn’t mean it’s time to plant them. Warm season vegetable plants such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and okra are very sensitive to cold. And even if you try to cheat by planting them early and dodging a frost or freeze, the plants usually won’t grow because they need warm soil to put on new growth. Also avoid setting out tender plants such as basil, caladiums, impatiens, sweet potato vine, or any of the tropical plants like hibiscus or Boston ferns. Avoid pruning spring flowering plants such as azaleas, oak leaf, and French hydrangeas before they bloom. Prune them before they bloom and you’ll cut off all their buds and you won’t be able to enjoy the spring flowers.
Our frost date is mid-April, so don’t make early season mistakes that can be discouraging. Planting a garden takes time and energy, so be smart and set out plants when and where they should be placed. By doing this you’ll be successful and your plants will reward you.