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Ready, set, March!

Julia Laughlin
Julia Laughlin

Be sure to enjoy your “Leap Day” Saturday before the busy spring season begins! March is the beginning of the gardening season and presents many opportunities to get the lawn, garden and landscape off to a fresh start.

Finish up any pruning you need to do early in the month while plants are still dormant, but do not prune any of your spring flowering plants like azaleas, weigela and forsythias. These shrubs form their flower buds on last year’s growth. If needed, wait until immediately after their bloom period to prune to prevent removing the blossoms.

Most landscape plants do not need to be pruned annually. We usually prune to control the size and shape of plants, improve their appearance, influence flowering and fruiting, and to rejuvenate or maintain their health. We also often may need to prune to prevent personal injury or property damage.

How much should you remove when pruning? There are exceptions, but a rule of thumb we generally use for pruning is to remove no more than one third of a tree and not more than two thirds of a shrub.

Also, if you haven’t cut back your ornamental grasses and perennials by now, this would be a good time to finish this spring-cleaning chore. New growth will begin to emerge soon on some grasses and perennials, so waiting until new growth is several inches high will make it difficult to remove dead foliage without damaging the new growth. In addition, old leaves may be harboring diseases and insects from last season that could infect new growth if not removed from the garden. Removing old leaves also allows plenty of sunlight in to warm the soil and encourage new growth.

Since we usually divide perennials in the opposite season from which they bloom, now is the best time to divide and replant overcrowded, summer and fall blooming perennials.

Now is the time to cultivate annual flower and vegetable planting beds to destroy winter weeds. This is also the best time to add compost or other organic matter to your gardens.

Cool-season vegetables like carrots, lettuce, onion, peas, spinach and turnips should be seeded by the middle of March. You will need transplants of onions, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, and they should be planted now. Be sure to pick up seed potatoes and cut them into pieces (each containing an “eye”) and allow seven to 10 days of callusing indoors before planting within the next few weeks.

Continue to plant strawberries, asparagus and other small fruit crops this month.

This is the perfect time to plant container-grown, balled-and-burlapped and bare-root trees and shrubs. Take time to look around your landscape and outdoor spaces and make decisions about adding or replacing plant materials.

If you are not sure how to choose an ideal landscape plant, information about a large selection of excellent plants for Oklahoma is available through the “Oklahoma Proven” program. Each year a set of plants is chosen by horticulturists to help consumers choose plants appropriate for Oklahoma gardens. The program began in 1999 and each year selects a tree, shrub, perennial and annual worthy of Oklahoma landscapes. To see all the plants recommended by the Oklahoma Proven Plant Selection Program, go to www.oklahomaproven.org/.

Email Julia Laughlin, Oklahoma County Extension horticulture educator, at julia.laughlin@okstate.edu

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