March Chores for a Seamless Southwest Summer

The month of March is a great time to work in the yard in the Southwest. It is not too hot, nor too cold. It is generally a relatively dry month as well, so you won’t get rained out. There are just a few gardening chores to do in March so that this summer you can truthfully sing that the “livin’ is easy.”

This March – Water

It was a dry summer in 2020 and a dry and relatively hot winter. If you haven’t watered in the past month – give everything a good soak.

March Fertilizer

Citrus needs a little help to set fruit well. Fertilize citrus if you didn’t in February. Do this before mid-month. Use a citrus food and in the amount indicated. If you miss this deadline, wait until they are done blooming – generally around May 1. Too much fertilizer, or fertilizer at the wrong time, can lead to poor (or no) fruit and/or poor quality fruit. The plant physiology for this comes from years of research, don’t go with what neighbor Joe says.

While you are fertilizing don’t forget grapes, roses, and other spring flowering plants. They benefit from a fertilizer that promotes flowers (grape flowers turn into fruits!).

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As for lawns, any overseeded Bermudagrass lawns need a lawn fertilizer right now as well. If they are dormant Bermudagrass, do not fertilize until it breaks dormancy (later in March).

Vegetables

Start seeds of warm season vegetables indoors or in a sheltered area. Warm season vegetables include members of the tomato family (Solanaceae) including peppers, eggplant, and tomatillos.

You want these vegetables to grow and flower as soon as possible. This is because the pollen is killed in the low 90 degree temperature range. Planting sooner is better if you want ample fruit before temperatures climb. Just be ready to protect tender young plants from temperatures below 45.

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Ideally, grow smaller type tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. For tomatoes think Roma or cherry. These types are less susceptible to “blossom end rot.” This is ugly looking black lesions on the blossom end of the entire Solanaceae family fruits, and is due to our calcium soils and water.

While we are in the vegetable garden, add a layer of mulch around winter vegetables to help keep the soil cool and prolong their growing season. You may be able to keep broccoli, chard and kale going into May with a good mulch.

Herbs

Clean up herb beds if you have them. If you have rosemary that is getting to leggy, prune vigorously after mid-March. Take cuttings of any herbs you wish. Many herbs root readily in spring. Start your basil (a summer herb) in a sheltered spot or indoors. Harvest and enjoy the cool season herbs, cilantro, dill, fennel. The heat that kills them is coming in April or May.

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March Pruning

Have patience! Do not prune spring flowering plants. You will cut off the portions they will flower from! Wait until they are done blooming (generally May or June). You can prune the winter flowering shrubs that are done flowering, like cassias, emu bushes, and Mount Lemmon marigolds.

Fruit Trees That Drop Their Leaves

Some folks say March is a good time to prune deciduous fruit trees. Some say it isn’t. I say that a calendar is useful only as a guideline. Look at your trees and see what state they are in. If they were hit by frost wait and prune after they are done flowering.

There are only two good reasons to prune deciduous fruit trees. First – to help them develop good branching form while they are young. Second – to reduce branches that may break under fruit load (done in May). Citrus are not deciduous fruit trees. Prune them in April once they are done blooming.

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Prune Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses (including lemongrass) need a crew cut once a year. Mid-March is the season. Sooner and they may be frost damaged, later and you may kill new growth. Give them a real Marine hair-cut! Cut them all to 6 to 8 inches tall. The clipped grass makes lovely mulch. Use it around the grasses themselves, under shrubs, or in the veggie garden.

But Wait – There’s More!

There are a number of other March chores which I will discuss next week. Better yet – join the Southwest Garden Guide (SWGG) membership site. The doors are open for this on a limited basis only twice a year.  There you will get more details – including the pruning needs of a number of our unique Southwestern plants, live Q & A sessions with me, and much more!

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soule-southwest-gardenMore about monthly care in this book: Month by Month Gardening for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press).  This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few pennies – at no extra cost to you.

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