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The Heart of New England
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Sowing Cole Crops
and Other March Gardening Tips

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

Sowing cole crops, planning your vegetable garden rotation, and pruning
woody plants are some of the gardening activities for this month.
       
Start seeds of cole crops, including broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and
cauliflower indoors under lights. You'll have transplant-sized plants in about 6
weeks, ready for planting outdoors a few weeks before the average last spring
frost date.
       
Get a Jump on Herbs

To get a jump on the herb gardening season, start seeds of basil, parsley, sage,
and thyme indoors. Start seeds in flats filled with moistened seed-starting mix.
Once the seeds germinate, place the plants under grow lights for 14 hours a day
(timers make this easy) and keep soil moist.
       
Remember to Rotate

As you begin planning and planting your vegetable garden beds, remember to
rotate crops: Avoid planting crops in the same family in the same spot more
than once every three years. Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant are in the same
family; so are squash, cucumbers, and pumpkins. Many pests and diseases
overwinter in the soil, so moving plants around can disrupt their life cycles and
minimize your need for pest and disease controls.
       
Prune Trees

Most trees and shrubs are best pruned in late winter, after the coldest weather
has passed. The exceptions are spring-flowering shrubs, such as forsythia, lilacs
and azaleas, which should be pruned immediately after flowering. You can
remove dead or damaged branches at any time.

Force Branches

Cut branches of forsythia, quince, pussy willow, and other early-flowering
shrubs for forcing into early bloom. Bring the branches indoors and place in a
vase of water. They should bloom in a few weeks. Once pussy willows reach
their peak, remove them from the water and allow them to dry; they'll continue
to look great in dried arrangements.
       
Plant Begonias

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.

Early Sow Flowers
       
Although April is the month to sow seeds of many flowers, some take longer to
mature and so should be sown this month.  Flowers you may sow early in
March include dusty miller, geranium, heliotrope, impatiens, osteospermum,
petunia, mealycup sage, torenia, verbena, and annual vinca.  Flowers you may
sow the middle to end of March include ageratum, coleus, dianthus,
ornamental millet, African marigold, ornamental pepper, annual phlox,
rudbeckia, scarlet sage, and thunbergia.
       
Keep in mind that seed catalogs and packets often give "days to germination"
which is the time for seeds to sprout, not the time until they are ready to plant
outside.  You can find these times for the above plants, and more, online
(
perrysperennials.info/consumer.html) in the Vermont Extension leaflets on
Indoor Seed Sowing for Flowers (OH89) and Vegetables (OH90).
       
Other gardening activities for this month include watching for and attending
flower and garden shows, visiting a maple sugarhouse, and removing heavy
winter mulch from perennials.