A review of my March gardening work that will to continue to improve my garden beds, wildlife borders, and existing mature fruit trees.
March Gardening Work Table of Contents
March Gardening Work and My Work-Life Balance
This month had been a real trial and error of how to use my spoons effectively. If you don’t know what that means, look up “spoon theory” on Google and you will find a number of medical journal publications about how this concept can be used to help those with chronic illnesses pace themselves more effectively to reduce flares. It’s a very interesting idea, and one that I have been attempting to apply more, somewhat ineffectively.
That said, I immediately recognized as I started the month that I’m already operating on a limited spoon budget as I was still stuck in this weird icky sick mode from February. Secondly, I committed to completing the Master Gardener education course and required testing this month so I could continue with the program. That meant reading and cramming like I used to before finals in college. Lastly, I now had two kittens who really wanted to get my attention on a regular basis. (oh no kittens want attention, what a drag….says no one ever)
So there I was, starting seeds and trying to maintain a blog (no wonder these updates are coming out months behind, right?). Not to mention trying to work full time, that’s not a small feat either. Wow, I said I was going to pace myself right? What was I doing??
Considering how sick I had been and was last March as well, ensuring that I found this balance was critical. Between my coursework and the cold weather, I was forced to push many gardening activities to the next month or accept that they would have to wait to be completed the following year. I still felt like I was sort of limping into April though, and needing to find some sort of perfect work-gardening-life balance (those exist right?). The struggle continued.
So, What Happened Last Year in March?
I worked on amending the new veg bed with blood meal, bone meal, potash, vermiculite and compost.
This worked out well in and I had a great harvest of beets, kale, collards, lettuces, peas, and beans all spring and summer long. It also, however, was not enough and likely why some of the fruiting vegetables, such as my tomatoes, were not ripening on the vine or at all (even when brought indoors). Because of this, and my desire to continue intensively planting the beds, I planned to follow a much more rigorous fertilizing schedule this year.
I was attempting to start beans and peas indoors in plastic cups, with limited success.
At the end of the month, I finally transplanted many of the starts out, but the weather was so cold and wet that I was unsure that they would survive.
Starting beans and peas indoors had worked well when I was container gardening on my old deck, but in this situation, it was not a good option. I was too sick most of last March and the distance to the garden was too far. When I did finally get them planted out later in the month, the weather turned cold and wet. Most of the bean plants were killed by this and if not, were ravaged by slugs and ceased to exist. The pea plants recovered and I got a good crop, but it was a late one because of the early stress. This year, they are being direct sowed into the garden bed as the soils warm to the appropriate temperatures.
I had too many things growing indoors and no where to plant them out yet.
I got sucked into the common trap of setting up a new home and garden and just bit off more than I could chew, especially with my health in the condition it was in. I had tons of starts ready to start transitioning outside, but hadn’t finished preparing the beds yet nor planned enough space for all of them. I quickly set up and moved the bean and pea starts into the little greenhouse outside since they were overgrowing indoors (and I was not feeling like I could keep up with them indoors).
Based on that experience, I significantly scaled back my growing efforts this year.
I drafted the first design for the erosion control border and created a drawing at scale to represent the plants.
These little sketches help me understand how much space these plants will take up and also if this is reasonable for the areas that I am evaluating. Based on the sketch and my desired to plant other fruiting trees in the area, I ended up using about half of the full amount of plants I sketched for either end of the lawn. This influenced the plants I purchased over the rest of the year and how I am continuing to plant.
I stuck a couple bare root plants in the ground…and prayed.
The little bare root plants I planted survived and are continuing to leaf out, though I had to install some protection around the serviceberry to prevent bunnies from snacking on it. I caught a bunny eating the top tender shoots of the top of it last spring and have been nursing the little twig back to health ever since then.
The hazelnut I planted is doing well, though failed to grow any branches, only height. After reading more about maintaining hazelnuts, I ended up cutting the top of the hazelnut whip off, a little above a growing node, to a height of about 36” (hip height on me). This meant that some of the new growth on the top from the previous year was cut off, but caused the whip to put more energy into growth at the growing nodes below the cut point. I am seeing more leaves and growth now than I was in the previous spring and summer.
I direct sowed radishes and moved a number of starts outside mid-month under a large piece of mesh.
I got several decent radish harvests over the spring, and found that using the mesh cover greatly reduced the amount of veg that got chewed on by insects. However, without installing more supports under the mesh immediately, the sprouts quickly got a little squashed by the weight of the netting (they are gentle baby plants). This year, I planned to have hoops set up to install the netting appropriately over each bed as row cover and allow plenty of space for the seedling growth.
Progress Update from February
Roses and Bare Root Plants
The roses started producing new shoots shortly after they were planted. My main concern in March is how to prevent the bishop’s weed that had originally been planted in the rose bed from crowding them out. The “sticks” I planted in February started to show leaves and other signs of growth which was extremely encouraging. They also had to be tended to frequently to reduce the grass and weeds growing around them. Eventually the plan is to put wood chips down (maybe with some compost to help keep It moist), but right now I was still trying to plant out this area and spread more compost.
The Apple Trees
The older orchard trees began to come more out of their winter dormancy and growth on the ends of the limbs and spurs began. The trees were not showing enough other changes yet for me to assess their conditions further.
Becoming a Master Gardener
The Master Gardening education course and reading greatly expanded my knowledge on care for my plants and garden and I am excited about all the resources that have been set up for the public’s use by this program to help other gardeners in the area. The presentation on Fire Resistive Landscaping has me really thinking about my home landscape management plan with a different lens. I really want to map out the different zones around my house in combination with other landscape plans and see how those restrictions on height or growth type impact what I plant where.
Seed Germination and Growth
The seeds sown in February did eventually germinate and grow. They showed surprising vigor compared to other years of seeds that I’ve started, and I’m wondering if it’s because I’ve moved the grow racks into the garage, which is a cooler and more stable environment. The lights are also now on a timers so that I do not need to worry about turning them off and on each day. The seedlings are getting great consistent light and water and are happy in their humidity dome environment while they continue to develop more leaves.
My March Gardening Work This Year
- Planted another round of seeds
- Picked up plants from the King County Conservation District!
- Double-dug another 2 beds and added compost to the vegetable bed
- Covered my veggie bed and started direct sowing veg
- Planted bare root native plants along erosion control border
- Pruned the heck out of the fruit trees and took the laurel down by 12-14” depth. (with assistance)
- Completed my master gardener intern education course.
Spread wood ash, bone meal, blood meal mix over perimeter beds and north lawn
March Gardening Work In-Practice
Seed Starting in March in Western Washington
In keeping with my personal goal to minimize my work this year and month, I ended up waiting until the very end of March to start my next round of seeds. It was more due to the fact that I just didn’t have time or energy to do so otherwise, but since the weather also look abysmal, I figured the delay in my efforts would not be the end of the world.
I chose to start indoors were:
- More Parsley
- Savoy Cabbage
- Red Cabbage
- Roman Cauliflower
- More Broccoli
- More Broccoli-Raab
- More lettuces
These are the last of the vegetables and herbs that I wanted to plant in my garden beds that will either not be part of my late summer, warm-season vegetable planting effort (that starts next month!) or that I am not direct sowing. I was not sure I will need all the extra seedlings trying to start, but I would rather have them as back-ups than not have them and be sans seedling come planting time.
My set up is pretty consistent with what I’ve had in years past, but as mentioned, it’s in the garage now. Though there are still several adjustments I need to make over the summer, my starts are pretty happy. I will admit they could be less leggy, but know that will improve as I keep adjusting my lighting. I also sowed these trays very heavily because a lot of the seeds I used were older (3-5 years) and I was doubtful they would germinate as successfully as they did.
King County Conservation District Native Bareroot Plant Sale
Did you know I love native plants? Because I love native plants. I knew this sale existed and happened to remember to search for it online just in time to still pre-order some plants for this year’s pick-up and that happened to be one Saturday in mid-March for me!
I was actually surprised at the size of some of the bareroot specimens I got (like those whips of serviceberry?).
This sale occurs every year, I’m definitely participating again as it was an affordable way to get a lot of great native plant starts. The link to the sale page is here.
Double Digging and Amending the Vegetable Beds
I only was able to finish digging two more beds this month, but that is still a lot of work and a huge accomplishment for an arthritic lady in her 30s. It took me one morning (about 2 hours) to double dig the beds, and then a little more work in the afternoon to amend them with compost, bone meal, blood meal, and wood ash. Once I mixed all the soil and fertilizers together (I told my neighbor this was my “medieval mix”), I thoroughly watered the beds. This helps ensure that the materials I just added are going to stay in the soil until I plant it out rather than blow away in the wind.
I could choose to cover the beds at this point with with straw, but I opted not to because I just don’t have it and haven’t really felt I needed it yet in my garden. I might try it if I saw some or was given some, but I’m not the biggest fan of the look and I have a higher tolerance for weeds.
Direct Sowing Vegetables and Protecting Them
Again, I did not do this until the last weekend of the month because of aforementioned life issues. Just wasn’t the highest priority. The last weekend of the month I finally got outside and sowed some darn vegetables. Well, really it was just some beets, carrots, peas, and radishes, but I felt like it was quite the accomplishment.
These vegetables enjoy the cooler weather and can easily germinate and start growing outside. However, if I was ever going to harvest anything off of them I needed to cover them with some sort of protection or I would likely find that mice, birds, slugs, and other things will have eaten most of the new growth or the seeds themselves.
Last year, I had laid netting over the seedling but since I did not tent it up enough quickly enough, some of them grew a little wobbly under the weight of the cover. I had done this at my old house and not had any issues, but I realized that at my old house I had a raised bed and the soil level was a little lower than the frame of the bed. The wooden bed frame acted as some support to help keep the netting from directly touching the seedlings there, which is why this had not happened to me in years prior.
So this year I ordered more hoops and installed them ahead of time so that I could start covering the beds with netting, with more support, as soon as I planted them. This should allow them to germinate and develop without their growth being impeded by any protection.
Planting MORE Bareroot Plants
After spending all fall and winter cooped up inside, researching different plants and planting strategies, I was obviously extremely enthusiastic about making robust improvements to the edge of the backyard that was slowly sliding into the valley without any considerable plantings on it. I was constantly standing in my dining room staring out at the landscape both admiring how gorgeous it is, and also wondering how it will continue to manage as our climate continues to change.
I had been referred to a number of resources on plants for erosion control by a geotechnical consultant who visited my house, which included information on planting methods for erosion control. Between these resources and my own research, I came to the conclusion that the best method to preserve the edge of the yard and also support natural patterns of succession was to use native plantings and utilize some of the existing vegetation and topography to create and plant out a series of swales that would connect as they progressed down the slope. To support this, as mentioned above, I had ordered a number of bareroot plants from both local nurseries and the King County Conservation District sale, with ideas of creating natural swales in the hillside as I planted down the slope.
Planting these went as well as other rounds of bareroot planting, though I admittedly was even more harsh to my bareroot plants this time than I was in the previous month. I had ordered so many and it was taking me so long to get them all planted, and not overdo myself physically while gardening, that some of the plants did not stay as covered as I wanted and started to dry out before I could plant them.
Eventually I did get them all in the ground, with assistance, but it was still more work than I was thinking it would be even for two people. Mainly because of how difficult planting on a steep hillside is, even on the parts of the hillside that are more groomed. I found the easiest way to do it was to sit down like a little kid on the hill and plant things between my feet, though at times this was like doing a deep squat. I felt like I was making mud-pies again as I dug holes in the wet earth and stuck these half-dead twigs in the ground. That said, I am continually surprised at how little soil there is on the hillside. One really has to dig several inches down into some of the needle and dead grass mulch that has more or less blanketed the slope. I can understand why this slope has been so unstable as when I do find soil, it’s extremely sandy and lacks moisture despite the wet mulch above. Any top soil has been more or less washed out in-between these two layers except in the shallow roots of the grass and weeds.
I’m really hoping that these plants will help provide a better structure to hold the decomposing mulch material and topsoil in place while also integrating into the sandier hard soils below to slow down the bluff sliding.
Final Pruning Priorities for March Gardening Work
March was the last month that I could attempt to tackle any major pruning on the trees or shrubs until after they finished flowering, fruiting, and putting on new growth. Aside from cutting out any branches or limbs that die or break over the rest of the season, I won’t be starting any other major pruning chores until this fall. So, a major push to finish pruning was definitely a priority for my March gardening work.
I had made some significant strides forward with trimming the fruit trees at the south side of the house, but I was limited on tools and strength on getting the larger old watersprouts removed from the tops of the trees. These watersprouts had likely been growing for several years so some were quite long and had number branches starting to form off them. They still were not going to produce a lot of fruit if they were left on the trees, while also adding a lot of extra weight to the reaching limbs of these old fruit trees.
When you remove these types of branches, it is important to remember that you want to cut as close to the collar of the branch as possible without cutting into it. Ideally you still don’t have cuts that create completely horizontal open surfaces, because water and debris can just pool on that. Try to cut any branches that could create horizontal surfaces as a slight slant so that water will run off and the risk of creating rot can be mitigated.
To help ensure a safer removal of the branches, during the pruning process of my trees, the majority of the weight of the branches was first removed above the location of the final cut. This was not only safer, but also helped to ensure the integrity of that final cut for the tree.
The majority of the horizontal branches were not removed unless they were obviously dead, something that may be an issue later if there is a lot of long moist hot weather this year. Pruning out some of the horizontals can help open the trees up more for air circulation to help prevent fungal and mold issues.
The Conclusion of MG Training!
I am super excited that I was part of the 50th anniversary class for the Master Gardener program in King County and that I was also part of a class where everyone who enrolled successfully completed the course, testing, and final. It’s really exciting that so many people are also excited about gardening!
As part of the end of the training course, I spent some time volunteering in the demo gardens that the Master Gardening program has around the south end of King County. The two that I visited in March were the Tribal Life Trail at the Lake Wilderness Arboretum in Maple Valley and the Neely-Soames Homestead in Kent.
The Tribal Life Trail focuses on ethnobotanical practices of native plants in the Pacific Northwest. In simpler terms, it’s exploring and teaching how native plants grew and were used by indigenous peoples of our area. Since I love our native plants and find the symbiotic relationships that they have with each other, as well as with people, a really fascinating topic, I hope I can make it back out to this trail later this summer for some more volunteer work and learning.
The Neely-Soames Homestead in Kent is a historic homestead along the Green River Trail. The house, which was built in 1885, is a two-story home with traditional Victorian wood cornices and painting scheme. The home features a number of furniture pieces original to the home, as well as includes many of the original garden areas that are currently maintained as the Heritage Garden by the local Master Gardeners (including me now!). Food grown in the gardens is donated to the local food shelter. The Master Gardeners not only maintain the gardens, but also support community events such as on Kids Day in June or Historic Kent in August open-house events in the gardens for the public.
Why I Skipped Fertilizing the Lawn
Of all the tasks this seems like the fastest one right? Just throw some stuff on the ground and be done with it? Well, unfortunately no. I was looking for an afternoon or morning when there would be a long enough break in the rain or it was the end of one of my gardening days and I could spread the fertilizer on the ground and then allow the rain to naturally water it in. However, I could either never get the ideal timing to align with my free time or I would overdo the gardening activities for the day and run out of energy. Of the things that I could spend my energy on, this just kept slipping down the priority list.
The wood ash can be used for fertilizing other plants throughout the year so I will likely do that and try again with the lawn this fall and winter. To be continued…later!
What Gardening Work am I Planning for April?
In April, I have a lot more chores planned to keep up with the growing garden:
- Keep an eye on the plants as they grow
- Start the many rounds of weeding
- Begin warm weather crops indoors
- Water like crazy
- Volunteer at Soos Creek Botanical Garden’s Plant Sale
Interested in learning about my adventures in February? Check out my post here.
March Bunny Update
It’s finally that time of year where the bunnies start hopping into my yard, and since everyone loves a cute bunny pic, here’s one for this month!
Stay tuned to find out what happens next!
Or just subscribe and you’ll be the first to be in the know!