Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Sunday Gardener Returns

No matter how mild the days, it is still too early to remove winter coverings.
Check equipment, scrub pots.
If you haven't sown seeds indoors, now is the time.
By mid-month you should be able to plant pansies.
Visit local nurseries and select trees and shrubs.
Chelsea Garden Center

Prune all but spring flowering shrubs and trees.
Leave roses and hydrangeas alone for the moment.

It’s been a long, dull winter.  No ice and snow to worry about, although March has only begun and we have been visited with March blizzards in the past.  Nonetheless, there are a few jobs that the restless and desperate can tend to.

Now is the time to turn your attention to houseplants.   March is the month when they will need more watering than they have all winter.  The days are lengthening and the plants are readying for a growth spurt.  Cut back any plants that have grown too straggly and they will send out new growth quickly this time of year.  Fear not; I have cut a huge ficus back to a hat rack and it responded beautifully.

For want of a sunny south window my houseplant inventory has dwindled to one elderly, tired oxalis.  It is an indomitable plant, surviving despite low light and too much water.  If you forget it completely, it will appear to be a total die-back but its corms will lie patiently dormant underground waiting for you to treat it well.  At the moment, the supermarkets are filled with oxalis in anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day.  Snatch them up before they disappear, because with proper care they will reward you with sprightly white flowers for years.

 There are a few tasks you can take care of in March, weather permitting.  Saint Patrick’s Day and Good Friday are the traditional days for sowing sweet peas.  Check back in our 2011 March archive “Getting Through March” for instructions. 

If your garden beds are new, test your soil and add whatever amendments are called for in the soil report.  In addition to the recommended nutrients, it’s a good idea to add compost and well-rotted manure.  Layer it on top of the beds and turn it in with a fork  or spade to a depth of about one foot.  Let it settle for a few weeks before planting.

All your seed orders should be in by now.  I have stayed with my usual sources, and you will find them listed in the Archive for February 2011, “Looking Ahead.”  
Rooftop corner with Lantana and Geranium

In the absence of the longed-for greenhouse and cold frames I still only direct-sow out of doors.  I’ve ordered nasturtiums and sunflowers, the largest assortment possible; Cleome ‘Color Fountain mix’ in pink, rose, lilac, purple and white; Cosmos ‘Sensation mix,’ the old-fashioned cosmos with white, pink and carmine flowers on 36 to 48 inch stems; ‘Heavenly Blue,’ the traditional Morning Glory; Hyacinth bean, a vigorous climber with beautiful dark green leaves and purple flowers; and Zinnia elegans ‘Benary Giant’ in the full blazing range of yellow, pink, scarlet, salmon and white, with two inch blooms on three foot stems.  This year I’m adding California poppies in the traditional orange to be planted alongside lavender; Nigella, butterfly- attracting with lovely flowers and a graceful habit; and Verbena bonariensis, tall and sturdy with rose-purple flowers.
Sunflowers and Verbena
The annuals in the Catskills do not do as well as I would like as they are grown in raised beds in a fenced-in cutting garden.  I suspect they would be sturdier and more robust out in the open.  There will be a chance to test this as it looks like I will be experimenting with a second garden.  I’ve taken a lease on a small apartment in a four-family house in the village of Rhinebeck, primarily to clear out a warehouse holding the goods of many moves.  There is a roomy shared backyard yard with one very large shade tree and not much else.  My co-tenants seem keen to garden and if we can figure out how to work around the two resident dogs we will be off and running.
Banana Canna and Companions