Good morning gardeners!
The first day of spring arrives on the equinox March 20th. Perhaps you've already seen bright crocus and daffodils bravely poking up from the freezing soil. The earth is awakening and so is our persistent gardening urge. Seed catalogs in hand you are ready to start planting your vegetables and herbs! To be most successful in your vegetable garden keep in mind a few guidelines.
According to the Farmer's Almanac weather folklore sayings are as colorful as the imagination. When March weather is in like a lion it is out like a lamb. Relying on this weather proverb is as unpredictable as our wild March weather.
I write to you on March 7 and can you believe it that we had snow in Portland yesterday? As I write there is still a 40% chance of more snow today. That certainly would describe in like a lion! I usually say March is highly unpredictable with sunny days, chilly days, frost, rain, hail, sleet, and wind. And apparently this year we also have snow in March!
Here's our new garden space lightly dusted in snow on March 6
On average our March high is 56 and average low is 41 with 14 days of rain.
Historically our average last frost in Portland was April 15th, however, in recent years it has shifted to March 15th. Remember frost is 32 degrees and light frost is 36 degrees. For optimal planting conditions not only do day temperatures need to rise, the soil needs to warm, and dry out some. In wet cold soil potato tubers will rot, seeds won’t germinate and transplants will struggle to grow. As March proceeds into April we generally have more ideal planting conditions.
In the past couple of years we have got a jump start on edible gardening early in March due to warmer than average temperatures. This year I'm not so sure. When I look at the extended forecast for now through March 15 I see daytimes in the low 40s to mid 50s and nighttimes in the upper 20s to upper 30s. I think it is hard to say how late we will see our last frost. One thing is for certain, it is still way too cold for planting in the edible garden. I would wait until at least March 15th to assess temperatures and planting.
In March think cool season crops. It is way to early for summer heat lovers like tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, basil, etc--you will plant these crops after May 15th.
Working in wet gardens causes soil compaction that impacts plant health. In prior years, I’ve had my raised beds "lasagna mulched," planted with crimson clover, and covered with a frost blanket that is keeping the soil warm and drier through the rainy season. In early March I typically will prepare my raised beds by removing the frost blanket, hoeing the fall-planted crimson clover cover crop, leaving greens on soil, sprinkling on an organic granular fertilizer, adding a fresh layer of compost, and then replacing the frost blankets. By mid-end of March when I assess the weather the raised beds will be prepped and ready for planting.
As many of you know my husband Jay and I were given a no-cause eviction to move out of our beloved rental house and garden of 8 years. So this spring is looking dramatically different for us in the edible garden.
Here are the 200 plants we potted and dug from our old garden in January to move with us. Here they are patiently sitting in their new home awaiting transplanting
We have so many garden projects to prepare for planting we will not be planting anything in March. After weeding, raking, clean-up, filling our raised bed we moved with us, and shifting around our 200 potted plants in March we should hopefully be ready by April for planting vegetables and herbs. A brand new garden is daunting on its own, but given the frequent snow, ice, and chilly temperatures the situation becomes overly complicated and delayed.
Here's our new garden space with the one raised bed we moved with us. As you can see there's lots of clean up and prep to be completed before any planting can happen
I look forward to sharing with you more photos and stories of our new gardening adventure as it progresses this spring!
Cool Season "Bulk Vegetables" to Plant after March 15:
Jerusalem Artichokes/Sunchokes-from tubers
Potatoes-from certified seed potato tubers
Onions-from bulbs or bunches
Here are cool season crops to plant in the garden after March 15 with seed vs transplant preference:
Asian greens-seeds or starts
Collards-seeds or starts
Endive/Escarole-seeds or starts
Florence Fennel-seeds or starts
Kale-seeds or starts
Lettuce-seeds or starts
Mustard Greens-seeds or starts
Peas-seeds or starts
Radicchio-seeds or starts
Scallions-seeds or starts
Spinach-seeds or starts
Swiss Chard-seeds or starts
Keep in mind if you are planting seeds directly in the garden I'd recommend covering the seed bed with a frost blanket to raise air & soil temperatures to increase germination rate.
I would wait a little later in March to see how the weather goes for planting: broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower. Or if you want to plant these now from transplants into the garden be sure to keep a warming frost blanket handy or use some other kind of protection from a cloche, cold frame or low tunnel.
Hold off until April on planting seeds of beets, carrots, celeriac, kohlrabi, parsnips, and turnips. Make sure the soil has warmed up to at least 55 degrees or their seeds won't germinate!
Mid-March is usually a great time to get started with your herb garden. Cool-loving annual herbs like chervil and cilantro can be planted Mid-March from seed or transplants. Biennial parsley is super cold hardy and can be planted now. Start planting hardier annual herbs like chamomile and dill later in March.
Additionally perennial herbs like chives, lavender, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme can all be planted from transplants in March. This month is an excellent time to divide and transplant perennial herbs grown in containers like chives, lemon balm, lovage, and mint.
Late winter into early spring is the ideal time to plant small fruit and fruit trees in your garden. This time of year you will also get the best selection at nurseries. Consider planting a dwarf or columnar fruit tree such as apple, Asian pear, pear, cherry, or plum which all grow excellent in Portland. Fruiting shrubs, canes, and vines include:
And don’t forget the strawberries!
In spite of the chilly beginning to March, spring really is right around the corner. A great garden always starts with a great garden plan. Please let me know if you have any questions. I look forward to seeing you in an upcoming gardening class or in person garden consultation. Don't miss any blog posts, class information, and book release updates by subscribing to my email newsletter via my website.
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