While outdoor gardening activities during March in the West are at least six weeks to two months away there are many things the active gardener can be doing at this time of the year. If the gardener plans on growing his or her own a flower and vegetable transplants, this is the season to get started. In fact, some early transplant crops may already be started such as pansies, logbelia and celery.
Fortunate is the gardener who has a small greenhouse in which to start these plants. These units are becoming more and more popular and there are numerous kinds available on the market. Glass enclosed structures are still the most popular, but the use of plastics in place of glass is becoming increasingly popular both among commercial greenhouse growers and the amateur gardener.
Determining the time to sow seeds of vegetable and flower transplants requires a little figuring. For the great majority of transplant flowers and vegetables, a six to eight week period from the time of seed sowing until the time the plant is set out in the garden is about right in figuring correct timing for these transplant crops. Some flowers and vegetables require a somewhat longer period since they grow more slowly than others. These include celery, pansies, salvia, lobelia and others.
When to Plant
As an example, let’s suppose we are interested in an early transplant crop of cabbage and we are considering, for example, an area in the north part of the West region. We will figure that these transplants can go out in the garden about May 1. Figuring backward, allowing a six to eight week period of growth for these transplants, we will have to start them between March 1 and March 15.
For this purpose we will want to use an early maturing variety like Golden Acre.’ This is based on the assumption that cabbage plants can withstand light frosts which may occur some time after the plants are put out in the garden. Since we do not usually want to have all our cabbage plants head at the same time (we want some later in the season, throughout August and a good sized crop for fall storage) we should plan to start some seeds at least a couple of weeks later of a mid- season or late variety.
As a second example, we can use a frost tender vegetable like the tomato. Let us assume that in this north area where we live that the usual date of the last spring frost is June 1. Figuring back, and again allowing for a six to eight week growing period, we should be starting our tomato seeds between April 1 and 15.
Most seed catalogs give information about whether an annual is hardy or tender. Most are rated as hardy, half-hardy, or tender. For example, larkspurs, poppies, and sweet alyssum are rated as hardy, calendula, phlox drummondi, salvia and stocks are rated as half”hardy; lobelia, marigold and zinnias are rated as tender.
Keep in mind that there are two reasons for starting vegetable and flower transplants indoors. With some, the season just isn’t long enough to allow sufficient flower display or vegetable harvest to be worth while in a normal season if the seeds are sown directly outdoors. Good examples of this group are asters, cosmos, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers.
In the second case, we start transplants indoors of some vegetables and flowers to have them yield a harvest or flower in the garden early in the season. In many cases the plants are in bloom when they are set out in the spring. Examples are petunias, alyssum, snapdragons, cabbage, and head lettuce.
The amateur gardener is inclined to be too anxious and starts some kinds too early with the result that the plants have to be held back before it is time to set them out in the garden. This can hurt the full flowering or productivity of the plants.
Using Plant Bands
Vegetable and flower transplants must be grown in good, fertile soil. Normally the seed is started in a seed pan or in a small seed Hat and when the seedlings have produced their first true leaves they are transplanted and given more room. If planted in Hats or directly into a hotbed or cold frame, they are spaced from two to three inches apart.
There is a trend towards greater use of plant bands which are available in 2 x 2 inches up to 3 x 3 inch widths. Plants separated with bands are preferred over those grown in Hats because there is much less damage to the roots when they are separated and placed out in the garden. Even more ideal are pot grown plants and many gardeners seek these in buying tomatoes especially in the short season areas where the well grown plant means so much in securing earliness of fruiting, providing of course an early maturing variety is used.
Early spring, while buds are still dormant, is a good time to prune most kinds of fruit trees and many ornamental trees and shrubs. One of the main rules about pruning is that generally we try to maintain the original shape or outline of the plant we prune. Some trees and shrubs need little tree pruning services.
Others may need a little attention each year. In fact, it is a good practice to do a little corrective trimming each year rather than to practice drastic pruning one year and leave the plant for several seasons. In pruning trees, we try to develop a tree with a good strong framework, eliminating branches that will eventually develop weak crotches prone to split later. Usually we like shade trees to grow tall and straight, so normally we allow a main central leader to grow. With large growing fruit trees like apples, pears, and cherries we employ a modified leader system, and later cut branches back to lateral branches so the trees spread out rather than grow too tall. Trees so treated are easier to pick and to spray.