Organic gardening chores for the month of March

March is the time to fertilize your plants. Soils in Montgomery County are generally low in nitrogen and need the addition of a slow-release organic fertilizer. 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 to 5 percent is needed. Compost will lower the need to supply supplemental irrigation. With irrigation restrictions, the addition of compost could make the difference in a plant’s survival. In addition to adding compost to the flower beds, top-dress 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 flower beds, earthworms tunnel upward to reach the organic matter. In doing so, they open vertical tunnels that allow air and water to penetrate the soil. If compacted soil is a problem, spread a little compost and let the earthworms do all the work.

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.

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 will be retained and soil temperatures will remain stable. Begin foliar feeding plants later this month with diluted applications of seaweed extract, fish emulsion, or compost tea.

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.

Container-grown fruit trees can still be planted. Do not amend the soil when planting trees. Top-dressing with compost is okay, but do not mix amendments into the soil when planting trees. Set them about one inch above grade. Herb plants to set out: lemon grass, lemon verbena, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme. Flower seed to plant: coreopsis and nasturtium. Wait until late April to plant zinnia seed.

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. Call AgriLife Extension for a vegetable planting guide.

March is tomato planting time in Southeast Texas. Cherry tomatoes are the easiest to grow and will produce longer than the larger varieties. For a complete list of recommended varieties, call Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, 936-539-7824. Visit the MCMGA spring plant sale March 25 from 9-12 and buy the best varieties. A program highlighting the plants in the sale will be at 8 a.m.

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