University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

 Spring News Article
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FERTILIZING HOUSEPLANTS AND OTHER MARCH GARDENING TIPS
 
Charlie Nardozzi, Horticulturist and
Leonard Perry, UVM Extension Horticulturist
 
           
Fertilizing houseplants, cutting and forcing woody branches such as pussy willows into bloom indoors, and cutting back leek seedlings are some of the gardening activities for this month.
           
Now that the days are getting longer, your houseplants either will be resuming vigorous growth, or have been growing (perhaps blooming) with the bright days of winter and in need of some fertilizer.  It may seem a contradiction to have growth in winter, but with leaves off the trees and reflection from the snow, even the shorter days and less sun typically of winter can cause houseplants to grow.  More light ends up reaching them than with summer shade. 
           
If organically inclined, you can use a seaweed or fish emulsion blend for fertilizer.  But look for one labeled as "no odor" to avoid the usual pungent smell. You can fertilize monthly at the label's recommended dilution rate, or fertilize every time you water using a quarter-strength mix. Such a fertilizer regime applies to non-organic products as well.  Or you can use a slow-release fertilizer product that lasts over a long time, if you tend to forget to fertilize.
           
When the pussy willow buds are beginning to swell, go on a scavenger hunt for them in wet areas. Just make sure you’re not cutting on private property without permission.  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. This is a process called “forcing”.
           
You can force many other woody branches too.  If your shrubs were unfortunate to get coated with and damaged by ice this past winter, this might be a good use for broken branches.  Some like to soak branches in a bathtub overnight before putting in vases of water.
           
The closer to the natural bloom time of the shrub or tree, the more rapidly it can be forced into bloom indoors.  Some of the quickest to bring into bloom by forcing, often in 2 to 3 weeks, are spirea, forsythia, honeysuckle, pussy willow, shadblow, witchhazel, birch, red maple, and weeping willow.  Those taking 4 to 5 weeks to force into bloom include flowering quince, lilac, redtwig dogwood, rhododendron, crabapple, and pear. 
            
If you started leeks indoors, they are probably getting pretty tall and leggy by now. Trim them back to about 2 inches in height, so they don't get spindly and fall over. Like grasses, leeks grow from near the soil line, so you won't harm the growing point by trimming tops back.
           
Dig out seed-starting trays and pots and wash them in soapy water. Then, in a bucket or work sink or flat plastic tub, sterilize them in a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water, or one part household disinfectant such as Lysol to two parts water. This will help prevent diseases such as “damping off” on seedlings.
           
In planning your veggie garden layout, avoid planting members of the same plant family in the same spot they were in last year, or even the year before. Members of the same family are susceptible to the same diseases and insect infestations. For example, avoid planting members of the tomato family (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplant) in the same place year after year.
           
Other activities this month include visiting a maple sugarhouse event, taking mowers in for tune-ups before the spring rush, resisting soil preparation if your garden is too wet, pruning fruit trees if needed (when temperatures are above freezing), and buying some potted flowering spring bulbs such as tulips, hyacinths, or mini daffodils for color indoors.

(Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally known horticulturist, author, gardening consultant, and garden coach; CharlieNardozzi.com). 

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