Feed! Seeds! Weeds!
March is probably the busiest month of the year in the southern California garden. So head to the nursery to get plants and supplies, slap on those gardening gloves, and let’s get busy!
It’s spring and everything in the garden is sending out new growth. Encourage vigorous healthy growth, and flower and fruit production by fertilizing all plants (except tropicals, wait until the weather gets warmer). Fertilizers have three main nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. Nitrogen encourages green growth, phosphorous encourages fruiting and flowering, and potassium is needed for overall plant growth, health and drought resistance.
Different plants like different concentrations of these nutrients. Plants with a lot of green growth, such as lawns and lettuce, like a fertilizer high in nitrogen. Plants that flower and fruit will benefit from a fertilizer that is higher in phosphorous. Every package of fertilizer has a label that gives the percentage of the three main nutrients it contains in the form of three numbers such as 5-6-4. The nitrogen percentage is the first number, phosphorous is the second, and potassium is the third. So choose a fertilizer based on the nutrients needed for the type of plant or buy by the ‘name’ on the fertilizer: lawn food, veggie food, flower food, etc. Of course, plants can’t read! So your lettuce will be happy with lawn food (higher in nitrogen), and your flowers will like tomato food (higher in phosphorous)!
Note that fertilizers can be organic (come from natural sources) or synthetic (man-made chemicals). If you want to grow organic produce, choose an organic fertilizer. Always follow fertilizer package instructions on how to apply and the quantity to use.
Plant Seeds and Plants for the Warm Season
The ‘cool season’ is coming to a close and March is the time to switch to ‘warm season’ plants in your garden to supply food and flowers all summer.
Annual plants to plant now (plants that last for one season):
- Veggies to plant from seed directly in the ground: beans, zucchini, cucumber, melons, corn, carrots, beets, radishes
- Veggies to plant from transplants: tomatoes, eggplant, peppers
- Flowers to plant from seed directly in the ground: sunflowers, cosmos, zinnias, marigold
- Flowers to plant from transplants: same as the ones from seed and: vinca, rudbeckia, salvias, scabiosa
Perennial plants to plant now (plants that last for more than one season):
- Veggies/Fruit: asparagus, blueberry shrubs, any container grown fruit tree (except tropicals, wait another month). Visit the University of California Backyard Orchard for details on growing fruit. Also, my blog post on Growing Fruit Trees in Wine Barrels.
- Flowers: achillea (yarrow), carnations, coreopsis, daylily, marguerite daisy, Shasta daisy, penstemon, echium (Pride of Madeira), statice, verbena bonariensis, to name but a few of my personal (and easy!) favorites! Nurseries will have these and many others, but perennials often are not in bloom in the nursery pot like the annuals. Don’t pass them by, though, they bring great value and beauty to the garden since you plant once and enjoy for several years, some virtually forever. Use the plant id tag to help you decide if it’s a good choice for your garden. It will provide information about the flower color, time of bloom, and ultimate size of the plant. The older I get, the more perennials I plant! It means more flowers with less digging in the long run! Click here for tips on Designing Beautiful Flower Beds.
- Shrubs, vines, trees: Plant any of these (again, except tropicals) now through early June. After that, wait until October (probably the best month to plant these) to avoid the stressful heat of summer. Given our ongoing drought, consider planting drought tolerant plants rather than water hungry plants.
Weeds and Other Garden Pests
Not only are all your desired garden plants entering a time of vigorous growth, but so are the weeds and pests! Take steps to control weeds and insects now or they’ll get control of the garden!
- Hand pull or hoe weeds while small.
- Apply a 3-4 inch layer of mulch to garden beds to suppress future weeds. (There is a discussion of mulch in my Pest and Disease Resistant Garden post).
- Bait for snails. Controlling populations now will keep them from getting out of control.
- Watch for early signs of insect damage. Pests are much easier to control when caught early before infestations are widespread. Practice ‘Integrated Pest Management’ or IPM to control pests. Simply put, this means use the least toxic method for controlling pests. Often a strong jet of water will control pests by knocking them off the plant. Use pesticides only as a last resort. For caterpillar types of insects, an organic pesticide is Bt (bacillus thuringiensis), but note it also kills the pretty butterflies we love so use only when necessary to preserve food crops. Insecticidal soap is another organic pesticide which kills many soft bodied insects like aphids, white flies, and spider mites. When using pesticides, always follow directions exactly and wear protective clothing. The University of California IPM Online is an awesome website with information on pests listed by the plants they affect.