2018 Update: Weather here in the Pacific Northwest isn’t nearly as strange as what our friends in Ireland or on the East Coast are dealing with. What I’m seeing is actually pretty typical for early March in the Pacific Northwest: a back and forth between blustery, cold, wintery weather and drizzly, mild spring weather.
In my yard, brassicas are bolting and blossoms are opening on my plum trees, which feels perhaps just a touch early but not particularly odd. Given that the sky just ripped apart, I think we’re doing pretty well out here.
March 20 is official start of spring, but winter and spring tend to struggle for control in the weeks leading up to – and sometimes following – the Vernal Equinox. This is normal. March is always a transition time and, like any edge, there’s a lot of excitement to be had.
My gut based on nothing more than a dozen years gardening suggests that we will probably end up with a warm summer this year, but there will be weeks of soggy detours before we get there. Your best bet this year is to seize opportunities to get outside and sow your cool-season crops like peas and greens as you see them. Little pockets of sunshine are worth savoring. Just don’t rush to work or turn or amend soil that is still very wet.
If you are very committed to early spring gardening, get your low tunnels set up soon (this helps with warming and drying soil). And, until the weather is a touch more consistent, just enjoy being an indoor gardener – there are plenty of seeds that want to be started right now!
Printable At-A-Glance Grow Guide!
If you like your Gardening To Do Lists simple and direct, you’re in luck! Just click the image below to download the March At-A-Glance Grow Guide as a printable PDF.
Or, continue reading for the full details on everything there is to do in the garden this month.
Plan and Purchase
If you haven’t finalized your seed order, get on it. Great seed houses do actually run out of popular varieties of seed. If the big world of vegetables seeds is still a bit intimidating, here’s a few resources to help:
- How To Pick Your Vegetable Seeds Without Going Crazy
- Seed Selection Made Very, Very Simple
- All the Seed Terminology You Need To Know
- Is Cheap Seed Hurting Your Garden? Germination Rate, Vigor, and Why You Should Care
- Plant Sex: Open Pollinated, Hybrid and GMO Seeds
Don’t Forget To Order Perennials
Nurseries are getting all their fruit trees and perennials in right now, and companies like Raintree are shipping bareroot trees as fast as they can, but selection is going fast so get on it if you are planning on a fruit or nut tree order this spring.
- Asparagus Crowns – I grow Jersey Knight, a high yielding, easy to grow variety.
- Bare Root Fruit Trees – One day I will figure out how to grow all the fruit. If you don’t get your bareroot order in soon you’ll have to wait until Fall.
- Bare Root Fruit Bushes, Rhubarb, Cane Fruit and Vines
- Seed Potatoes – If you haven’t ordered your seed potatoes yet, really a move on. My absolute favorite variety of potato is French Fingerling, and Yukon Gold is a popular choice for a reason. Most garden centers and even many big box and grocery stores are offering seed potatoes at this time of year if specific variety is less critical to you.
- Garlic – yes, you should have done this last fall. But if you didn’t get to it, stick a few cloves of seed garlic in the ground. They’ll do something.
New to starting your own seeds? These resources may help:
- Seed Starting 101: Key Components For Healthy Seedlings
- Seed Starting 101: A Step-by-Step Visual Guide To Growing Seedlings At Home
- Seed Starting 101: Up-Potting
- Seeds Started Under Lights vs On A Windowsill
- Which Seed Starting Supplies Are Worth It (And Which Aren’t)
Pretty much the same as last month. All brassicas can be started under lights, or you can wait a month and sow directly outside. Slugs decimate my direct-sown spring plantings so I prefer to transplant.
- Broccoli – early varieties should be started under lights early this month for planting out under a cloche at the beginning of April. All around, I like Belstar. It’s a solid broccoli all year round. Some seed companies do broccoli blends, which are useful to home gardeners who don’t want to worry about succession planting. Territorial offers a good one.
- Brussels Sprouts – early varieties should can be started under lights early this month for planting out under a cloche at the beginning of April. I prefer Brussels Sprouts as a cool season crop, and will start them in mid-June to mature from late-September for harvest through fall and winter.
- Cabbage – Be careful about variety selection here. You want an early cabbage with a maturity date of around 60-80 days. Farao is great. The really long maturing cabbages are better suited for fall. Start under lights early this month for planting out under a cloche at the beginning of April.
- Cauliflower – A bit more finicky than other brassicas, give special attention to your cauli seedlings with consistent moisture and lighting and regular organic feeding or slow release fertilizer in the grow medium. Early varieties should be started under lights early this month for planting out at the beginning of April. Snowball and Romanesco have done very well for me.
- Kohlrabi – I find this this crop easier to grow for fall (use a large hardy kohlrabi like Kossak or Superschmelz for that) but it’s so delicious it’s worth a bit of fiddliness.
- Kale and Collards – Both these crops germinate and grow well, even in cool soils, so it’s not necessary to start these indoors. You can, but you can also direct seed. A cloche will help speed germination. Champion is a fine vates-type Collard, and lacinato kale is a staple in my garden.
- Tomatoes – Early March is a great time to start tomatoes indoors. I’m still pretty well stocked on canned tomatoes, so I’m focusing on cherry-types, a few early slicers, and some random heirloom-types I had in the bottom of my seed bin this year.
- Hot & Sweet Peppers – these are more tender than tomatoes, so standard practice is to start them a few weeks after tomatoes. I find it’s just easier to start them at the same time and up-pot them in a gallon pot so they have the longest grow time, but I have a greenhouse for hardening them off through that awkward “cool May and June” time. If you don’t, you may want to start your peppers towards the middle or end of the month. Remember to use cool-climate cultivars. In the Maritime Northwest, I have decent results with King of the North pepper and very good yields on small, hot peppers. Cherry Bomb was great for me last year.
- Eggplant – Start at the end of the month unless you have a greenhouse or someplace very advantageous to transition your eggplants. These plants are pretty tender – they’ll do better if the nights are in the 60s when they go out to the garden. Little Finger and other small types yield better in the Northwest than big globe types.
Leafy Greens and Herbs
- Swiss Chard – Start anytime, or just sow outside to a cloche. They’ll be fine if you don’t need chard in April or something.
- Salad Greens – Sow salad greens! Once a month at least for continuous harvest! Outside, your seeds will take quite awhile to germinate, so if you love your greens, sow a few pots of lettuce under lights along with your tomatoes.
- Hardy Herbs – Parsley, chives, fennel, chervil, oregano, dill, mint, sorrel, marjoram, lemon balm, pansies etc. can be started under lights or direct sown if you have a little patience.
- Onions – Too late to start from seed I’m afraid, but you can buy plants from your local nursery or a specialty supplier like Dixondale.
Sow & Plant Outside
Remember that any veggie sown or transplanted out in March will be happier and give better results under a vented cloche kept in place through mid-April or May. Make sure to prevent heat build-up by venting during the day, especially if it’s sunny! Keep the ground moist enough to assist germination.
Seeds & Starts
- Peas & Favas – Sow any time!
- Salad Greens – Spinach, mustards, arugula, Asian greens and cress can be sown directly for baby salad greens. If you started greens last month under lights, harden them off, then transplant out.
- Carrots, Parsnips & Root Parsley – If you have fine, loose, sandy soil these will probably do fine sown about mid month. If your ground is heavier and holds water I’d wait several more weeks until it’s drier and you can rake the first several inches of soil to a nice fluffy consistency without clods before sowing the root crops.
- Brassicas started last month – should be ready to transplant to a protected area (cloched, etc.) by mid month.
- Radishes – Can be sown out directly. It works well to intercrop radishes and carrots or parsnips.
- Turnips & Rutabagas – I don’t bother with rutabagas in spring. For me they are a purely fall-winter crop. Spring turnips are lovely though. Harvest them little before maggots tunnel through them.
- Beets – Can be sown out directly towards the end of the month, or now if you have a nice low-tunnel or cloches bed ready.
- Onion Starts – Plant now. I tend to just deliberately plant a bit too close and eat the thinnings.
- Potatoes – The gardener tradition is to sow potatoes on St. Patrick’s day (March 17th). That works just fine most years. For best results, chit your potatoes before sowing fairly deep in loose soil and cover with plenty of insulating straw, leaves, etc. – to protect them in case of with a late frost
As long as the ground isn’t frozen or waterlogged, bare root or potted fruiting trees, bushes and perennials can be planted out anytime.
The sooner you can get them in, the better. Don’t let roots of bare root perennials dry-out or freeze. If you receive an order of bare-root plants and you can’t get them in the ground within a few days, keep the roots moist and heel them in a big pile of mulch to protect them.
- Bare root fruit trees – these should be put into previously prepared ground while still dormant.
- Bare root fruit bushes (currants, gooseberries, blueberries, etc.) – Everyone loves blueberries, but try white currants for a slightly less common but delicious and attractive landscaping fruit.
- Bare root cane fruits (blackberries, raspberries, etc.) – I’m a big fan of Triple Crown Thornless Blackberry.
- Asparagus crowns – check out my tips for better soil for asparagus before planting.
- Rhubarb crowns – these can be had by dividing established plants. They are practically unkillable.
- Horseradish roots – these can be invasive! It’s a good idea to plant them in a very large container sunk into the ground to control their roaming. I didn’t so let’s see how that works out, shall we?
The goal of almost any vegetable that’s survived an entire growing season and gone through winter at this point is to make seed as soon as is reasonable. Expect kale to make florets (delicious with garlic, chili and lemon!), and for most of the root vegetables to bolt soon.
If your cole crops make flowers and you can possibly leave them in the ground, please do so – bees and other beneficial pollinators love the simple yellow brassica flowers and will swarm to them on warmish days when little else is in bloom. Let those brassicas go to seed and, as a bonus, you may get some tasty mystery-kale-type self-sown starts popping up around your yard.
- Beets – any remaining beets should be used before they go to seed next month.
- Brussels sprouts and any remaining overwintering cabbage should be picked this month.
- Sprouting broccoli and overwintering cauliflower should be ready towards the end of this month and, depending on variety, into April or even May.
- Carrots & Parsnips – finish off any full size overwintered carrots or parsnips stored in the ground this month, they’ll go to seed soon.
- Kale & Collards – Use the shoots like broccolini.
- Sprouting Broccoli – sprouting purple should be ready to harvest late this month and into April.
- Kohlrabi – If you still have some it’s close to bolting so harvest and use.
- Chard – if your Swiss Chard has survived the winter, it will be putting on new growth now – this can be harvested until the chard finally throws a fit and insists on making seeds.
- Leeks – Probably close to sending up a seed stalk. If this happens, check the flavor and texture before consigning them to compost. I have harvested leek scapes that were sweet, mild and crunchy.
- Turnips & Rutabagas –Mine are bolting now. If you have any that aren’t, mash em up.
- Salad Greens – Mache, arugula, etc – many winter greens are lovely this time of year.
- Jerusalem Artichokes – They just….never….die.
- Stored Potatoes
- Stored Winter Squash – I have so much of this! I’m mostly roasting my Long Pie squash, making tons of pumpkin muffins and letting the kids do the rest.
- Rhubarb – I am so excited to make more rhubarb simple syrup!
How does your spring garden grow?
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