There's still time to do all of your prep work, from honing tools to starting seeds, as you imagine the shapes, tastes and colors of your next garden. Spring begins with the vernal equinox on March 20.
If you didn't do so in the fall, it's time to give your lawn mower and other tools some tough love.
● Get ahead of the spring crowds by dropping off your lawn mower now to have the oil changed, bolts tightened and blades sharpened.
● Remove soil from your tools' metal parts using sandpaper or a hose.
- Sand rough edges on wooden tool handles, then coat them with linseed oil.
- Sharpen your tools. A file will sharpen tools of all sizes, from shovels and hoes to trowels and clippers. A Carborundum wheel will work on smaller tools. Pruning shears can be sharpened with a whetstone. After sharpening, use a rag to apply a thin, penetrating oil to metal tool parts; follow with a heavier oil on tools that have moving parts.
The green, green grass of home doesn't get that way by accident, and March is a perfect time to assess your lawn's health.
- Pluck a 4- to 5-inch square from your yard to see what's going on down there. If your area has crane flies, count the larvae. Fewer than 35 per square foot means less work for you: Your lawn should be able to withstand that number.
- If you're not sure what to look for, take your lawn sample to an expert at your garden store and ask for a diagnosis; then just press your sample back into its "bed."
- Lime, treat moss and, finally, reseed as needed. (Overseeding can be done after midmonth.)
- Fertilize your lawn now or start a new lawn using seeds or sod.
There's always the battle of the weeds. The only way to win that fight is to keep at it. Nip weeds at the bud — literally, for if they're allowed to flower and go to seed, you could be looking at several years' worth of uninvited guests: Some weeds shed 10,000 seeds at a pop.
- Remove weeds by hand.
- Consult an expert in your area for dealing with persistent pests such as quackgrass or morning glory. Recommendations for herbicide treatment vary depending on the location of your garden's problem spots.
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Once your soil has had a chance to thaw and lose some of its winter moisture, you'll want to prep it for planting.
- Remove mulch over the course of several days, exposing the soil gradually.
- Till or spade soil six to 12 inches deep.
- Mix in compost, peat moss and fertilizer for plants or vegetables. For vegetable gardens, include processed or well-rotted manure in the mix (using fresh manure in the spring may burn or damage your plants).
- Rake the soil level to smooth out low spots; pockets of water can make the soil cool, which slows plant growth.
Start planning your vegetable garden, keeping in mind the following guidelines.
- Choose neighboring vegetables carefully and you may as much as double your vegetable harvest. Onions, for example, are no friend to peas and beans but make good bedmates for tomatoes, strawberries, lettuce and beets.
- Depending on your planting zone and the vagaries of the weather gods, you can — finally — plant some perennial vegetables right in your rich new soil.
- Later in the month (in most zones) you can seed or set out hardier vegetables, such as chard and Brussels sprouts.
Caponata lovers, get those warm-season crops started indoors from seeds, including tomatoes, eggplant and peppers.
- Whether you use egg cartons, trays or pots, be sure the seedlings get lots of light.
- Get a jump on the Joneses' blooming season by planting some hardy flower seeds, such as petunias and marigolds.
- Potted petunias, which stand up well to cool weather, can be placed on your deck now for a splash of color to whet your gardening appetite.
After all the pleasure you've had from your rose bushes, now you can reward them with pruning. This will give bushes a more attractive shape and also result in larger blooms and longer stems. Use gloves to protect your hands from thorns.
- With a sturdy clipper, make your cuts just above outside buds to encourage new outward growth, giving the plant more sunlight and air.
- For more tips on pruning different kinds of rose bushes, consult a good gardening book or one of the many reputable gardening websites.
These are the deciduous days, so selections at garden stores and nurseries are at their peak — and not yet picked over — in March.
- From late March into April is a great time to plant fruit trees and berries. Just be sure they have enough water as they get used to their new neighborhood.
- In addition to zone-specific perennial vegetables, set out or plant new roses and cool-loving flowers such as snapdragons and pansies.
As tender shoots start to poke up in the spring, they make a beggar's banquet for slugs. Plan your counterattack before young plants become young nubs.
- As with much garden damage control, natural methods are growing in popularity. One simple approach is to sprinkle slugs with salt, which causes them to dry up.
- Slugs are attracted to stale beer, which you can leave in a shallow dish or bowl; slugs will enter and drown.
- Or you can gather slugs at night by hand, armed with a flashlight, something to lift them with and a pail.
- If you use a commercial slug bait, read the label carefully to be sure it won't endanger children, pets or birds.
Kids love to help with simple growing projects or to have plants of their own to watch and care for, especially if growth is rapid (remember those pint-size attention spans).
- Growing a hyacinth from the bulb is fun, easy and educational. Find a glass or plastic container with a narrow opening. Set the bulb over the opening, and fill the container with water to 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch below the bulb. As the bulb's roots grow downward for a drink, the top will soon begin to develop and bloom — a great lesson in how plants grow, with a colorful, fragrant result!
- Kids love watching plants grow from seeds. Beans, peas and parsley all grow quickly in pots, and seeds can be set in fun shapes or kids' initials.
Find out who's likely to fly over for a visit in the next month or two, and target bird treats and feeder types for their individual tastes.
- Most bird species will go for either oil-type sunflower seeds or white millet (offered separately), but sunflower-seed munchers tend to prefer elevated feeders with perches, while millet lovers usually prefer ground or large platform feeders.