Organic gardening chores for the month of March – Houston Chronicle

organic-gardening-chores-for-the-month-of-march-–-houston-chronicle

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Southeast Texas was cruising through a mild winter when Mother Nature hit us with a real winter, a Valentine gift of snow and ice. Now our landscapes are suffering and everyone wants to know what to do. Anything that is mushy, for example, daylily foliage, can be cut back. Roses need to be cut back to green wood. Hold off on other shrubs until the extent of the damage can be assessed.It is time to fertilize your plants. Soils in Montgomery County are generally low in nitrogen and need the addition of a slow-release organic fertilizer. Warmer soil temperature increases the microbial activity that is necessary to convert the elements in an organic fertilizer to a form usable by plants. Amending the soil with compost will add fertility as well as much-needed organic matter. Local soil is woefully low in organic matter, containing only about 1 per cent – when 5 per cent is needed. Compost is able to hold up to twenty times its weight in water and decreases the need for supplemental irrigation. When irrigation restrictions are in effect, the addition of compost could make the difference in a plant’s survival. In addition to adding compost to the flowerbeds, top-dress that water hog – also known as the lawn. Adding just one-fourth to one-half inch of compost on the lawn twice yearly will achieve measurable results.
Earthworms love compost. When compost is added to the garden and flowerbeds, earthworms tunnel upward to reach that delicious organic matter. In doing so, they open vertical tunnels that allow air and water to penetrate the soil. If compacted soil is a problem in your landscape, spread a little compost and let the earthworms do all the work.

While roses, perennials, annuals and vegetables benefit from higher fertility levels in early spring, hold off fertilizing or adding compost to turf grass until mid-April. St. Augustine and Bermuda grasses do not need fertilizing until vigorous growth occurs. A good rule of thumb is to fertilize only after the second mowing. Sharpen that mower blade!

Apply mulch to flower beds. Pine needles, compost or native mulch will cut off light from weed seeds and deter them from germinating. For particularly weedy beds, put down eight to ten sheets of newspaper before adding the mulch. Soil moisture is retained and soil temperatures will not soar as the ambient temperature rises.

Begin foliar feeding plants later this month with diluted applications of seaweed extract, fish emulsion, or compost tea. Feed in early morning when temperatures are low and sunlight is not harsh.

Cut back lantana, pentas, hibiscus, duranta, esperanza, beautyberry and other perennials and shrubs that bloom on new wood. Continue to pinch tips of long-blooming perennials to make them bushy. Prune shrubs by removing old wood and selectively shaping the plant.

Cut back ornamental grasses to about four to six inches. This once-a-year chore is the only maintenance these grasses will need. Ornamental grasses are by far the easiest plant in the landscape.

Divide crowded fall-blooming perennials such as chrysanthemum, obedient plant, and salvias such as Mexican bush sage and forsythia sage. Prune and feed azaleas and camellias after blooming.

Remove any flowers and buds from newly purchased plants before planting. Root development is the plant’s first priority. Patience! Great blooms will follow. Leave naturalizing bulb foliage after blooming so that the bulb stores food for next year’s bloom.

March is tomato-planting time in Southeast Texas. Absolutely the most popular homegrown vegetable, tomatoes taste so much better when you grow them in your own backyard. The Montgomery County Master Gardeners test several varieties at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension gardens in Conroe every year. Some of the popular varieties are Celebrity, Carnival, Dona, Juliet and Heatwave. For a complete list of recommended varieties, call Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, 936-539-7824. The MCMGA vegetable and herb sale is on March 16 & 17. Visit online at https://mcmga.square.site/ to make your selection.

Vegetable seeds to plant: bush and pole beans, butterbeans, cantaloupe, corn, cucumber, lettuce, mustard, radish, squash, turnip, watermelon. Some should be planted early in the month, others later. Wait until late March or early April, when soil has warmed, to set out transplants of pepper and eggplant.

Container-grown fruit trees can still be planted. Do not amend the soil when planting trees. Trees need to grow in the native soil. Top-dressing with compost is okay, but do not mix amendments into the soil when planting trees. Herb plants to set out: lemon grass, lemon verbena, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme. Flower seed to plant: coreopsis and nasturtium

Assess the freeze damage that occurred this winter. Consider replacing disease-prone plants with native and well-adapted selections. Native plants have survived many years in our soil type and climate. Wildlife depends on native plants for food and shelter. Native plants will require less irrigation, fertilizer and pesticide. Strive for at least 50 per cent of your landscape to be native species.

MCMGA spring plant sale is online April 13-14. Check the sale website at https://mcmga.square.site/ or call 936-539-7824 for more information.

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