Monthly Garden Calendar for Northern Tier United States

Organic Gardening Month-to-Month Almanac

By Debby Flowers

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MARCH

Although March can be unpredictable, it is known as our snowiest month for good reason. We shouldn't complain too much as a good snow cover insulates our perennials from freezing temperatures and provides good soil moisture when it melts. The sight of a fresh snowfall blanketing the fields and frosting the evergreens is a breathtaking sight, almost rivaling the beauty of our flower gardens next summer.

While admiring the snowy view from the warmth and comfort of our homes, we can celebrate the fact that spring will soon be here, and even sooner we can begin our gardening year by starting some seeds. Now is the time to research, prepare, and get organized!

Find Out Your Frost Dates. The dates to start your seeds indoors are dependent upon your average last frost date. Call your county extension agent or consult your state's University Extension website. The Old Farmers Almanac website also has frost charts for the USA and Canada.

Read Seed Packets. If you are planning to start a lot of seeds indoors this year, you may want to make a chart to keep track of when to start each kind. Many annual flowers and veggies will be around eight weeks, so you'll be starting them the first week of April. Click here for a handy seed starting chart.

The Right Mix. Using a good seed starting mix is crucial to the success of indoor started seedlings. Do not use garden soil or potting soil; they are too heavy. Purchase a mix labeled for seed starting; the bag should feel comparatively light.

Do It Yourself. You can make your own seed starting mix by purchasing the components and mixing your own. Combine equal amounts of perlite, vermiculite, and peat moss.

Light the Way! Unless you have large, unobstructed south facing windows, you'll need some florescent lights for your baby plants. Four-foot shop lights are just the things. I buy fresh tubes every year, as their light capacity does diminish as time passes.

Time For a Trim. Give overwintering geraniums and a severe cutting back now, and they'll be bushy and ready to bloom again in a few weeks. Don't forget to compost the trimmings.

Don't Forget to Label Your Seedlings! There are many commercial labels available made of materials such as wood, plastic, and various metals, as well as special pens to write on them with. Or you can make your own labels by cutting up plastic milk jugs and writing on them with permanent marker.

A Composting Tip. Your compost pile should be 2/3 dried out "brown" ingredients (straw, leaves, etc.) and 1/3 "green" stuff ( banana peels, grass clippings, etc.). Browns are usually in short supply at this time of year. You can help to keep things in balance by adding some paper products, like shredded black and white newspaper or butcher paper.

Prepare to Prune. Late winter is an ideal time to prune many types of trees, including fruit trees. Notable exceptions are maple and birch, which should be pruned after they leaf out.

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