What vegetables can you grow and what things can you be doing in the March garden? Find out the perennial vegetables you can harvest, what to plant now, and what seeds you can be starting.
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With the start of a new spring season, I always think the garden should be - poof! - growing and providing food. And maybe if I planned and planted more during the fall and winter that might actually happen.
According to Steve Solomon in Gardening West of the Cascades (probably my favorite gardening how-to book for the Pacific Northwest, by the way) we can grow produce year around in the PNW maritime climate, but to be honest with you, when I tried it, I found it was just too much for me.
Plus, it's cold. And wet. And I just want to sit by the fire and knit. There, I said it - I hope you don't revoke my street-gardening cred now!
So winter is when you find me planning the vegetable garden and early spring is when you'll find me in the garden, cleaning and prepping the soil as well as planting. Plus harvesting some of the first of the perennial veggies, asparagus and rhubarb, which is so nice.
I'm pretty sure I'm not in the minority and that most of you who are gardening are probably similar to me (if you live in the north).
So, what can we be doing, where do we start, and probably most important, when you we start growing our own produce?
When should you start a spring garden?
You can start cleaning up and preparing the soil as early as you can get out in the garden. Hold off on turning soil, though, until the ground is dryer to avoid creating clumpy soil.
So if you have any nice February, March (or into April in colder areas) days you can be doing any number of these things:
- Weeding and cleaning up beds.
- Adding layers of compost to beds.
- Laying cardboard and wood chips in paths.
- Checking hoses and irrigations.
- Checking and cleaning tools.
- Planting any bare root plants and shrubs.
What about planting? Check your area's last frost date here. Once you have that, you can count backwards according to your seed packets to know when to plant. And hopefully you've started some seeds indoors like tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cabbage, and any flowers you want.
As an example, in my area the last frost date is officially May 2 according to the frost link above, but I know any frost is pretty rare after April 15-20, so I usually use that for cool weather crops like spinach, lettuce, onions, peas, and brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower). So I start a first sowing of spinach and lettuce seed about 4 weeks before that, mid to late March.
You can also use the soil temperature as a guide, which is especially helpful if you grow in raised beds, since they warm faster than traditional beds (here's an inexpensive thermometer for soil). Most seed germinates best at about 50 degrees, though you can try spinach and lettuce at 40 degrees.
The March Garden
How do you prepare a vegetable garden for spring?
Clean up & mulch.
If you grow any perennial vegetables or fruits like asparagus, strawberries, or rhubarb, (and you should - they are the plants that keep on giving!) you'll want to clean up, prune, and mulch these beds first since they will produce early.
The photo above shows the first shoots of the asparagus coming through the weeded and mulched bed. Just a few weeks ago, it looked like this before it was cleaned up along with the strawberry beds.
Take care of the soil.
Work on the things mentioned above on nice days, focusing on the soil - refresh beds with quality topsoil that need it and add a good 2-3 inch layer of compost to all beds.
And do not till if you want to avoid weeds throughout the season, poor soil health, and compacted soil. Think layers of soil, compost, and mulch to feed your soil, keep water more consistent, and cut down on weeds.
Test your soil to see what additives you may need. Use a ph soil tester like this, or one of the DIY tests described here to see if your soil is acid or alkaline. Add lime for acid soils and sulfur for alkaline.
TIP: If you have clay soil like I do, learn from my mistake and do not ever add sand - stick with compost only! It feeds the soil as well as aerates while any added sand eventually melds back into the clay creating an even harder concrete-like soil!
Check overwintered vegetables, if you have any.
Every year growing overwintered vegetables is an iffy thing for me. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. And there doesn't seem to be a lot I can do about it, unless it involves a greenhouse or major cover.
I count the cauliflower above as a success - while not as big as they can get - and not so lovely thanks to caterpillars - there is a lovely head that we could eat.
TIP: Harvest anything like this you see is ready, even if it is smaller. If you don't, one of two things can happen as the weather warms:
- More bugs appear and devour your produce before you can.
- The warmth causes the vegetable to go to seed.
Unfortunately, the overwintered red cabbage above, planted at the same time as the cauliflower, never even headed up at all.
All six plants bolted (gone to seed) and so they formed a seed stalk without ever forming a cabbage head. Bummer.
Pull them out, compost them, and prep the area for planting later in the season.
What are the best vegetables to plant in spring?
In March, you can sow the following from seed:
- lettuce & greens (TIP: plant only 1-2 rows and then plant another a few weeks later and so on to be able to harvest it over a longer period.)
- snow, snap, and/or shell peas
- kale/broccoli (Though I always have better luck starting these from seed and setting out as small seedlings.)
These spring vegetables do best started indoors 4-6 weeks before your last frost and planted out as seedlings:
Start hardening off indoor planted seeds.
Above are sweet pea, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage seedlings I started like this that are hardening off in the shelter of the house.
This process takes about a week or a week and a half:
Set the seedlings out in a sheltered place for an hour the first day and increase it over the course of the next 7-10 days until finally they are in full sun ready to go into the garden with less transplant shock (hopefully!).
The early spring garden.
Our March garden may not look like much, with the piles of prunings, garden paraphernalia, and black plastic held down with whatever I could find.
But those prunings mean the fruit trees and bushes will produce fruit, the tomato cages will eventually hold our favorite vegetable, and the plastic means I won't have weeds going to seed and I won't have to to till - I'll just rake up the dead plants, spread a layer of mulch and plant. And not weed again for the whole season!
Yes, I've come to love black plastic even though it's not pretty.
So what your March garden holds is potential - the beginnings of so many good things to come. Of salad bowls overflowing, fresh peas and tender carrots.
Spend the time now prepping the soil and other March garden tasks and you will reap the rewards.
This article has been updated – it was originally published March 2013.
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Make This Year's Garden A Success!