University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Spring News Article

PRUNING FRUIT TREES AND OTHER MARCH GARDENING TIPS

Charlie Nardozzi, Senior Horticulturist
National Gardening Association, and
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
 

Pruning fruit trees, saving pruned branches from flowering trees to force into bloom, and sowing seeds are some of the gardening activities for this month.

As soon as the buds start to swell, it's time to begin pruning apple, plum, and cherry trees. Plum trees should be pruned to an open center, while apple and cherry trees grow best pruned to a modified leader (center is more closed and tree is more upright). Remove any dead, diseased, or broken branches, as well as crossing branches and twiggy, nonproductive growth.

While you're pruning flowering trees, such as crab apple and plum, cut some 2-foot sections of pruned limbs with flower buds on them (flower buds are larger than leaf buds) for forcing. The best way to hydrate the stems is to lay them down in a bathtub of water overnight. If anyone in your house objects, just recut the stems, place them in a bucket of warm water, and keep them in a cool place for a week or so. When flowers begin to open, bring them into your living room and your house will smell of spring even though the snow may still be flying outdoors.

In the next few weeks pussy willow buds will begin swelling, so go on a scavenger hunt for them in wet areas. Take 2-foot cuttings from the bush, trying not to deform it by taking too many cuttings in one location. Bring them indoors and place them in water in a cool room.

Probably the biggest gardening project for March is to start transplants. Cabbage, broccoli, and other cole crops that can be set out early in the spring, as well as slow-growing flower varieties like verbena, pansies, and petunias, can all be started this month. But wait until April to sow seeds for tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and most flower varieties that cannot be transplanted until the danger of frost has past.

Check the seed packet to determine if the seeds can be started indoors or should be sown directly in the ground when the weather warms up. Starting seeds indoors not only gives you a jump on the growing season, often leading to earlier harvests, but also allows you to have many varieties you canít find at greenhouses and garden stores.

As soon as the snow goes, you can remove winter mulch from perennial beds.  If perennials have been heaved out of the ground by the frost, gently push them back down.

Other gardening tips for this month include tuning up mowers and other power equipment before the busy spring rush, removing potted bulbs for forcing indoors into bloom, and visiting a maple sugarhouse. Visit the National Gardening Associationís web site (www.garden.org) for more information on gardening and regional reports.


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