In all these years of happily putting my hands in the soil and helping others in their gardens, what I know could fill a thimble of what there is to know about plants, soil and all the nuanced ways to care for our leafy friends. I’m so happy to have you with me on this journey, as we look for ways to save on watering, find the perfect plants to grow in shade or sun, and enjoy the meditation that is a garden.
March is a month of new beginnings. The roses have been pruned and new growth is beginning to appear, as buds and tiny leaves burst to the surface. Now is the perfect time to prepare for the upcoming spring and summer. Now especially, given fire season, we also want to find ways to conserve and monitor water while we tend to our gardens.
In Sonoma County, here are some of the many tasks we can tackle to prepare for the upcoming season:
Fertilize perennials and roses after their first bud break and once a month thereafter. One thing to remember when trimming and disposing of leaves from roses and other plants that contract diseases such as black spot or leaf rust: leaf debris should be disposed of separately from other green waste, as the disease can stay in the compost and affect other plants. .
Prune summer flowering shrubs such as crepe myrtle, mock orange tree and butterfly bush.
Start planting hardy flowers such as sunflowers, celosia, cosmos, zinnias, marigolds and perennials such as lemon verbena and any of over 900 varieties of salvia. Lemon verbena is one of my favorites, it smells absolutely delicious with its tart, lemony taste, and can be used as flower cuttings in bouquets, as an air freshener, and for tea and other culinary additions. Hardy flowers can be planted 4-6 weeks before the last frost date, which is currently mid-April in Sonoma County.
Pull out the weeds. It’s like meditation and can also replace a trip to the gym. Weeds can be put in your compost bin as long as they haven’t gone to seed. Weeding is the perfect time to use your imagination to think about the big things you want to accomplish, like writing that novel or planning your garden more completely. Meditate on all the things you are grateful for or simply practice breathing in those heavenly garden scents, like the smell of freshly turned black earth. Weeding can also be a great anger management tool, as you forcefully remove those fast-growing weed invaders. Another thought on weeds in the face of drought: many weeds such as dandelion, plantain, miner’s lettuce and nettles are edible, nutrient dense and tasty, in addition to being plants that are already happy where they live. You can create a place for these super plants away from your other plantings, knowing that they have survived countless droughts and bad weather.
Watch out for aphids on new growth. One way to combat them is to introduce ladybugs. You can also spray them gently with water, use a mixture of soap and water, or use neem oil. In the past, it was still too cool for the aphids in early March, but they were happily nibbling on my daphne last February. As warm weather arrives earlier, keeping an eye out for aphids is important for the health of your plants.
Another topic to consider at any time of the year is composting, which may seem like a mystery and will require more space in a future column. It’s not difficult and you don’t need store-bought compost to keep your garden healthy. Think of the colors “green” and “brown”.
Green (nitrogen) = fresh leaves, grass clippings, good kitchen scraps and manure.
Brown (carbon) = dried leaves, dried grass clippings, cardboard, shredded brown grocery bags and straw.
To make good compost, use three parts “brown” (carbon) to one part “green” (nitrogen). If the compost starts to get slimy and smelly, add more carbon from the “brown” list. If your compost pile isn’t getting enough heat, add more charcoal from the “green” list. Use a fork to fluff the mixture every two weeks. Be patient with your compost because it takes time to create your black gold!
Once the compost becomes richly dark and earthy, it will take six months to a year to harden and break down further so that other organisms can refine the decomposition process. If you can use a hammer, building a two or three section compost bin is quite simple and allows older compost to harden off as you fill a new section in the compost bin with your good kitchen scraps and your dried carbon material. Search online for one of the many compost bin designs, if you need help designing one for your garden.
This month, let’s get our hands dirty, feed our minds, nurture our souls and garden our hearts.
Gardening Questions and Answers
Q&A “What can I use to keep deer away from my plants?” – Amie W.
Hi Amie, I like to sprinkle cayenne pepper on the plants the deer like to nibble on. It’s also handy for keeping other animals away and it won’t hurt plants or insects. There are also sprays you can make with hot peppers.
“Can I grow carrots in a pot or planter?” -Pierre P.
Hi Peter. Last summer I grew carrots for the first time in a large pot on my patio. Carrots normally need a deep area to grow as they have a long taproot, but now there are carrot seeds you can plant that have been developed specifically for container growing. I got my seeds from Harmony in Sevastopol. There’s nothing like pulling a fresh carrot from the ground. When they arrived last summer and fall, I was snacking on this delicious treat, which is great for kids of all ages.