University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Spring News Article
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PRUNING FRUIT TREES AND OTHER MARCH GARDENING TIPS

Leonard Perry, UVM Horticulturist
and Charlie Nardozzi, Garden Consultant

Pruning fruit trees, sowing seeds, and starting begonia tubers are some of the gardening activities for this month.
  
Choose a day above freezing, if possible, to prune fruit trees as it is easier on you as well as on the tree.  First, check for and remove the 3 D’s—branches that are dead (usually a different color), diseased (look for scabs or spots), and damaged (as from ice damage or wind breakage).     

Then, check for and remove the 2 C’s—branches that are crowded or crossing (they’ll rub on each other, wearing off the bark where disease can enter).    Finally, prune selectively, shaping the tree according to its age and type of fruit tree.  You can learn more details about pruning in the Fruit Gardener’s Bible from Storey Publishing.

By starting your own plants from seeds, you'll save money and be able to grow unusual varieties not readily available in nurseries. Start seeds in flats filled with moistened seed-starting mix. Once the seeds germinate, place the plants under tube lights or grow lights (14 hours a day, 6 to 8 inches above seedlings), and keep soil moist.

Organize seed packets by planting time. Some seeds are generally sown directly in the garden so should be set aside into one group.  These include ones such as corn, beans, and carrots.  A few flowers are often sown directly into the soil, including sweet peas and nasturtium.  I like to sow most of my seeds, even ones such as squash that can be sown directly, into peat pots or cell packs prior, to get a slight jump on our usually short growing season.
   
Group seeds to be started indoors, then arrange them by planting time. For example, start with seeds that should be planted indoors 8 weeks before the average last frost, followed by those to be planted 6 weeks before, and so on. If you haven’t tracked, or aren’t sure of, your average last frost date, figure on perhaps mid-May in USDA zone 5, late May in zone 4, and early June or later in zone 3.  This date of course varies with your own specific climate and year. 

Some of the flowers you may want to start this month, about 8 weeks before planting out, include ageratum, coleus, dianthus, geranium, impatiens, ornamental millet, petunia, salvia, and annual vinca.  To get a jump on the herb gardening season, start seeds of basil, parsley, sage, and thyme indoors. Start seeds of cole crops, including broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. You'll have transplant-sized plants of these in about 6 weeks, ready for planting outdoors a few weeks before the average last spring frost date (since they tolerate some cold).

Wait until next month to start most vegetables.  If you sow tomatoes too early, you’ll end up with spindly and leggy plants.  Aim for about 6 weeks prior to planting outside for these (after the last usual frost date).  More details on sowing dates can be found in catalogs and online (perrysperennials.info/pubs/oh89sowf.html and oh90sowv.html).

Plant begonia tubers in containers to get an early start. Plant them hollow-side-up in well-drained potting soil. Set them in a warm (70 degrees F) location and keep the soil moist but not soggy. Once you see growth --usually in 3 or 4 weeks -- place the pots in bright, indirect light. Wait to plant outdoors until all danger of frost is past.

Other gardening activities for this month include watching for and attending flower and garden seminars, visiting a maple sugarhouse, and removing heavy winter mulch from perennials.

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

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