March medley: A mix of rain, sun and blossoms
March 7, 2014
The desk where I write is only a few feet from one source of my inspiration. This week I need only to glance over my shoulder to absorb the beauty of spring: the wild plum, flowering pear, daffodils, hellebores, summer snowflake (Leucojum), and Euphorbias in bloom.
While the scene outside my windows could be distracting, emails arriving from readers keep me in focus. Spring is truly that reawakening, with new growth and anticipated flowering, renewed interest in gardening, and always inspiring questions and comments.
Spring-flowering bulbs are among our most water-efficient plants. Even drought years do not seem to affect their seasonal beauty. Bulbs should be planted where there is little to no summer irrigation.
Now is a good time to plan fall planting of bulbs. Using short pieces of bamboo, mark where you would like to enjoy more spring bloom. Remember that daffodil blossoms follow the sunlight. Planning so that your view of them will be from the south, looking north, will add to your enjoyment in spring.
Bare root edible plants are still available in local nurseries and through the Felix Gillet Institute. Now that we have had another harsh reminder of California's drought cycles, growing your own edibles should take precedence over ornamentals. An investment in asparagus, rhubarb, berries, and fruit trees is good planning even in a small garden.
The local U.C. Master Gardeners' demonstration garden at the Nevada Irrigation District office is open to the public. You'll get lots of good ideas just walking through, or plan to attend one of their upcoming workshops. "The joy of vegetable gardening for beginners" is scheduled for March 15 (10 a.m.- noon) in the garden. After you have had a couple of weeks to absorb the information, plan to attend the workshop March 29, "Grow great vegetables this summer". This one will be from 10 a.m. to noon at the Grass Valley Veterans Hall.
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In my own garden, I still need to prune the grapes. I postpone this pruning until March each year. After a few springs of warm weather, early bloom, and late frost damage (May) to blossoms and young leaves, I decided that it was best to delay.
I walked in the rain yesterday, sowing California poppies along my driveway. Each year is a guess. Will fall sowing be better? Not this past year! Will there be rains to trigger germination as soil warms in spring? Could be, this year! Seeds will be protected in the areas where I sowed. One area has chips spread from last year, another has gravel. Both are excellent surfaces for seeding CA poppies.
Cover crops may be sown anytime. Even a few weeks of growth protects and improves the soil. If you already have a cover crop sown, you'll notice that it really gets growing in March. Allow it to grow as much as possible before you consider the area for other crops.
In a small garden (or raised beds), a few weeks before you plant vegetables, cut down the cover crop without disturbing its roots. I prefer to sheet compost at this stage. A one-inch layer of chicken manure is spread on top of the cut cover crop to facilitate decomposition.
Whether you are planting summer vegetables after the last spring frost (more on that in my next column – it's way too early now!) or the cool season vegetable starts (cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, chard) available for the next few weeks, no tilling is necessary. Plant directly into the sheet composted bed.
If you want to create a seed bed, have some light compost available to spread as the top one to two-inch layer where you are seeding. Seed may be covered lightly for fine seed, or pressed deeper into the mix for larger seeds. Young roots will find the nutrients available in the lower layers of the bed. Some gardeners prefer to create this seed mix by sifting compost through wire mesh.
Early March seems quiet and even gentle as I wander through the garden. It won't be long now until the vernal equinox, the season of renewal. Already we can see the changes.
Carolyn has gardened organically in Nevada County since 1977. She is the author of the award-winning "The Seasoned Gardener, 5 decades of sustainable and practical garden wisdom", and two volumes of "Deer in My Garden" (deer-resistant plants), available locally. For more information and details of upcoming classes, visit http://www.carolynsingergardens.com.
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