by Gina Luck
As time marches on, and most gardeners are mad as March hares, and the last frost date is still up to six weeks away, it may look as if March would be a slow time in the garden. But looks can be deceiving here in zone 7.
True, our tomato seedlings, tucked away on cozy southern exposure windowsills, will not be ready for the garden until May. But our peas are standing by to be pre-sprouted to plant on St. Patrick’s Day, our beet, carrot, and radish seeds are ready for direct sowing, and the lettuce and greens we started indoors in February are just about ready to go outside. Though the official start of Spring is still several days away, there’s plenty of to-doing to be done!
If you haven’t done much in the way of planting prep work, it’s not too late to start. Mid-March is the time to begin hardening off your romaine, spinach, and kale seedlings. Hardening off your seedlings involves exposing your sprouts to the outdoors for increasing periods each day to get them acclimated to life outdoors. After 10 – 12 days of exposure, you can plant these seedlings, but you will need to keep an eye on the weather. While these early birds are cold-hardy, frost is possible until mid-April. Your lettuces will need to be covered when nighttime temps are predicted to be 38 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Be sure to have your protective covers ready before your plant. This will help you avoid tearing the shed apart in the dark to find them if the temperature takes a sudden dip.
Speaking of the shed, how you keep your tools is more important than where. Whether you’ve got a Pinterest-worthy glamour shed or a 5-gallon bucket by your back door, the care is the same. March is an excellent time for maintaining and repairing your tools. To begin, simply lay out all your tools for a quick inventory check. Three fan-tailed rakes? Two edgers? Consider donating what you do not need to Habitat for Humanity. Once you have weeded out (see what I did there?) the tools you no longer need, it’s time to spruce up those you will be using. Sharpen blades, oil hinges, and sand and seal all rough handles. Be sure to keep all small, freshly sharpened hand tools in a bucket of sand mixed with oil to protect from rust. For more basic how-to tool care tips, check out this resource: https://www.gardendesign.com/how-to/tool-care.html.
Now that our tools are tidy, it’s time to “make our beds” Of course, you must first have garden beds before you can prep them – check out this article for a thorough guide to building your own beds from scratch: https://www.homedepot.com/c/ah/how-to-build-raised-garden-beds/9ba683603be9fa5395fab90b41bb0da. Top dress your beds with a quarter-inch of well-rotted compost or a good layer of leaf litter, then apply two to three inches of mulch. Grab a freshly sharpened shovel, straighten up your bedding edges, and you’ll be ready to roll.
Finally, use this time to check your trees for winter storm damage. Gather up all loose twigs and branches and cut them into sections that will fit into your firepit or fireplace. Two cinderblocks and two 2x4s can be used to make an effortless wood and kindling holder if needed.
Growing a portion of your own fruits and veggies is the way to go for so many reasons. Vegetable gardens not only help reduce your carbon footprint by saving you trips to the store but also guarantee a fresh, organically grown selection of foods for most of the year. But even if you are not planting any veggies (which I highly encourage you to reconsider), March is still an ideal time to get ready for the growing season ahead. Last but certainly not least, make time for some self-care. A day in the garden will have you doing just as many squats and deadlifts as any Small Group Personal Training or Group Fitness class – be sure to schedule a long-overdue massage or unwind at home to recover. Happy planting!