University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Spring News Article
line

TEN WAYS TO GET FROM MARCH TO MAY

Dr. Leonard Perry, Horticulture Professor
University of Vermont

If you’re like most in the north country (unless you’re an avid skier), you’re ready for spring to be here when the maple sap starts flowing in March and the days become longer than the nights once again.  This is really true for most gardeners.  While you can’t spend too much in the garden yet, here are ten activities you can do, and projects to get you through until the real gardening fun gets underway in May.
   
1. If you haven’t been browsing (and drooling over) seed and plant catalogs, or checking out these firms online, don’t wait.  Lots of new varieties, particularly perennials, sell out quickly.  If you’re starting flowers from seeds, you want to order them as some are started this month and many next month.  Make sure to order from reliable firms—ones you’ve used before, know are good from friends or reviews, or are from the region.
   
2. Although the Vermont flower show is every other year (the next being in 2017), there are other home and garden shows, garden seminars, and symposia you can make plans to attend.  A good place to start your search is my Vermont online listing (pss.uvm.edu/ppp/events.html).
   
3. Easter this year is early, this month, so it’s a great time to visit local greenhouse growers to see all the Easter flowers and even bring some home.  Easter lilies are great (unless you have cats; they’re toxic to them), but there are many other flowering plants such as azaleas, potted bulbs, and even cut flowers.
   
4. If you have houseplants, fertilize them if you haven’t done so in a few weeks, and they are growing.  Check them closely for pests if you haven’t in a couple weeks or more.  If dusty, give them a rinse in the shower or wipe leaves with a damp cloth.  If they dry out quickly, and roots are totally filling the pot, perhaps you need to repot them into a good houseplant (not garden) soil.  Check your local greenhouse or other houseplant retailer for replacement plants or new varieties.  Maybe you could make a terrarium or fairy garden with miniature plants.
   
5. Many varieties of flowers and vegetables can’t be purchased locally, so you’ll need to start them yourself from seeds.  This really is easy, and there is not much better in spring than to watch new plants growing indoors.  Inventory your seed starting supplies or, if you don’t have any, make a list of what you’ll need.  Visit a garden supply store to stock up, and check out any new items.  Their staff can help you with what you’ll need, if you’re beginning and unsure. 
   
Make sure to have pots and flats, a special seed starting mix, and watering can with special nozzle for seeds. Really helpful too is a heating mat and lights for starting seeds.  The latter can be special growing units, or as simple as inexpensive shop lights.  Connect lights to a timer and light seedlings for about 16 hours a day.  When seedlings emerge, give them a dilute feeding (half to one-quarter the recommended soluble fertilizer label rate).  Make sure to water often, but don’t overwater.
  
6. March is the month to start some seeds, but not all.  Start too many too soon, and you’ll run out of space and plants will get too leggy.  Since it is about 8 to 10 weeks before you’ll be planting seedlings outside, some of those to start now indoors now include ageratum, coleus, dianthus, dusty miller, annual geranium, impatiens, American marigold, ornamental pepper, petunia, salvia, and snapdragon. Most vegetables you sow indoors next month, but parsley can be started indoors now.  If you’re in a warmer growing area, or want to protect your seedlings and plant out earlier in spring, you can start tomatoes the end of this month.
   
7. When any snow has gone, you can begin clean up of beds.  Remove straw or winter mulch from strawberries, garlic beds, and from around roses or tender perennials.  Rake leaves from beds.  Cut back perennials if you didn’t do so already last fall. Unless plants were diseased (in which case put the remains in the trash), add cut stems to a compost pile.
   
8. When days are slightly warm or sunny, you can prune any broken branches from shrubs and trees, or prune fruit trees to shape them.  Pruning when it is too cold may damage the plant tissues and set their growth back this spring.  If you have grape vines, prune them radically now too.  Depending on the variety and age, check online and in books to make sure you’re pruning grapes correctly.  One good reference on pruning most any fruits is the Fruit Gardener’s Bible, by Lewis Hill and myself.
   
9. If you didn’t clean your garden tools the end of last season, do so now.  Check to make sure none need replacing, and to see if pruners or hoes need sharpening. You can do this yourself with sharpening stones, those with diamond bits being the best. If you have mowers or power tools, now is a good time to get them tuned up, before the rush of the season begins.
   
10. If you have some spring-flowering trees and shrubs, such as forsythia, crabapples, or pussy willows, cut some branches to force into bloom indoors.  Put branches into water as soon as possible.  Best is to submerge the stems overnight in water in a bathtub, then place stem ends in a bucket. Keep stems cool (60 to 65 degrees F), and replace the bucket water every 3 days or so, and recut stem ends each time.  It helps with water uptake to make a slit or two in stem ends. 
   
Mist with water several times daily, the first few days, or mist branches, then cover stems with a plastic bag (out of direct sun).  When buds show color, you can bring them into more warmth and use them in arrangements. They’ll remind you that spring is not too far off!   


Return to Perry's Perennial Pages, Articles