I passed one of my neighbors on the road in the end of February. She said she had been enjoying my gardening articles in the paper but added that she only has a small flower bed in her courtyard. She was wondering when she should clean it up. I told her to look for this month's article about tasks for the garden, because now is the time to start.
I passed one of my neighbors on the road in the end of February. She said she had been enjoying my gardening articles in the paper but added that she only has a small flower bed in her courtyard. She did say she took my advice to leave dead flower stalks and other debris in the fall for bird food and pollinator shelter over winter. She was wondering when she should clean it up. I told her to look for this month's article about tasks for the garden, because now is the time to start.
March is a transitional month. The saying "in like a lion and out like a lamb" doesn't apply to the high desert, but it does show how changeable the weather is this time of year.
Spring winds may start up this month. They can blow any time from now to June but are most prominent in April and May. They are caused by the polar jet stream moving north and the sun warming the land as it shines from higher in the sky. Warm air rises and mixes with shifting winds aloft, which causes strong winds at the earth's surface. We are not alone. This phenomenon occurs over Arizona, too.
The wind is good for melting the last of the snow and drying out our gardens, but the ironic part is that it happens just as we get planting. One of the hardest parts about gardening here is making sure plants from starts or seed are protected from the wind and watered well enough to get firmly established. If we can get through the windy season, our gardens survive and do well.
Most of this month's chores are weather-dependent. We can get major snowstorms and strings of warm sunny days so you need to be flexible to get it done in time. Watch the weather reports, plan accordingly and be patient.
• Finish pruning your fruit trees, which I talked about last month.
• Begin cleaning up the driest parts of the yard. I usually have perennials and bulbs popping up on the south side of my house while those on the north side are still covered in snowdrifts. The south side gets my attention in March.
In order not to disturb overwintering insects, wait until there have been a few consecutive days above 50 degrees to clean up. Bugs good and bad will wake up with warmer and longer days but might not have left their winter homes yet. If you do cut back stems early, loosely place them on top of a compost pile or lay them out in a wild part of your yard so the insects can safely finish their waking-up process.
• Carefully rake away last year's debris or clean it out with gloved hands. You will probably find new growth of bulbs, perennials and reseeding annuals that you don't want to disturb. Crocuses may even be flowering once you expose them. Remove fallen leaves and cut back dead flower stalks and last year's growth. Use sharp clippers, but good scissors might work better on soggy leaves and stems. Cut ornamental grasses about 10 inches from the ground.
• Aerate the soil a bit by scratching up the top with a hand cultivator. Leave the surface bare to warm it up, dry it out and allow ground-nesting bees to wake up and exit.
• If your compost is thawed out, turn it with a flat-tined pitchfork. If it smells like rotting food, it definitely needs some air. It also has too much green material (nitrogen). This is pretty common after a winter of just adding kitchen scraps. Incorporate straw, twigs or cardboard to balance out the carbon/nitrogen ratio.
• Clean out the ditch on your property before the main ditch is cleaned, which will probably be in April. Weedwhack the vegetation and rake out what you can. It might still be frozen or muddy. Fall cleaning of your ditch keeps spring work to a minimum. It's warmer then, too.
• Before adding amendments to your gardens or building a new bed, take a soil test to determine what macro- and micronutrients your soil has and what it needs for the specific crop. Your test results will also show pH, soil texture and organic matter content.
For small flower or vegetable beds, get a sample about 6 inches deep from five or six areas. For a large field, get 15 samples. Mix your samples together in a large container, let it dry out, mix it again and send 2 cups to a soil-testing lab. They will mail you back recommendations for amendments. There are details in the sidebar or talk to Tony Valdez at the Taos County Extension Office.
Seeds to start in March
Midmonth indoors, start cool weather crops such as lettuce, kale, Asian greens, Swiss chard, spinach, broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. These can be transplanted outside in the end of April.
Outside, sprinkle wildflower seed mixes and annual poppy seeds where there is still snow on the ground or while the soil is quite damp. The melting snow helps push the seed into the soil and water it in at the same time. If the soil dries out, give it a drink until you see germination.
In warmer areas, people plant peas midmonth. My soil is too cold for that. Seed rots before it sprouts. A soil thermometer will tell you if your soil is warm enough for seed germination.
Do not be too eager to dig in the gardens. If the soil is too wet, you can ruin the structure and its ability to absorb nutrients, air and water. A simple test is to take a small handful and make a ball of it in your fist. When you open your hand, good friable soil will fall apart. If it sticks together, it's too wet to work. As I said earlier, be patient.
While you wait for your soil to dry out enough for planting, there is plenty to do. Tighten up your fences, trellises and arbors. Get your cold frame clean and ready. And enjoy the first spring flowering bulbs that will certainly appear before April.
BOX Sidebar info:
Test your soil
More details and a list of soil testing labs at
Tony Valdez, Taos County Extension agent
Juan I. Gonzales Building
202 Chamisa Road
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