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Steve   Gardener's Journal title graphic

March 2001

It's Time to Prune!
This branch had the audacity to grow in the wrong direction.Winter is almost over here in Zone 8. (I'm not going to miss it one bit.) This is the best time to prune most shrubs and trees that will bloom on the current season's new growth. We've been pruning the muscadines, fruit trees, flowering shrubs and ornamental trees that need shaping for the last several weeks now. (See Floridata's Pruning Primer for helpful hints on pruning your trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals.)

Steve fertilizing a one year old plum tree.It's Time to Feed!
We're getting ready for our annual fertilizing in the landscape, too. As soon as new growth starts in March, we will spread fertilizer at the labeled rate on the perennial beds and over the root zones of most all our ornamental shrubs and fruit trees. (The root zone extends 1 1/2 to 2 times further out than the branch spread.) We use a slow-release fertilizer that has water insoluble nitrogen which releases into the soil gradually over a period of several months, instead of all at once with the first rain. The slow-release fertilizers are much more expensive (and often harder to find), than the typical garden center el cheapo fertilizers, but they are much more effective. With the cheap fertilizers, you run the risk of burning the foliage or roots if you apply too much; you must apply it every few weeks because it leaches through the soil or runs off with just a little bit of rain; and it tends to increase the salinity of the soil. Spend the time and extra money to locate a source of quality organic or slow-release synthetic fertilizer and you will be rewarded! We use a fertilizer that has the nitrogen in the form of sulfur coated urea. (Other kinds of slow-release fertilizers include organics such as manure, cottonseed meal, sewage sludge, and blood meal; and synthetics such as urea-formaldehyde and isobutylidine diurea.) For trees and shrubs, we apply the fertilizer in early spring and (sometimes) again in midsummer. We'll spread fertilizer over our perennial beds and borders in early spring, too. Follow the label on amounts to apply, because it depends on the percentage of nitrogen. You want to get about 1 pound of actual nitrogen per 1000 square feet. A fertilizer labeled 15-5-10 has 15% nitrogen, 5% phosphorus and 10% potassium. 1 lb/.15 = 6.7 pounds of this fertilizer will supply 1 pound of nitrogen, enough for 1000 square feet. The fertilizer we use here is 17% nitrogen, and that works out to about 6 lbs per 1000 square feet of beds and borders, and the label advises about 3/4 pound for each inch of shrub or tree stem diameter. (I measure with an old coffee cup that holds exactly 3/4 pound of granular fertilizer.)

It's Time to Transplant!
transplanting a tomatilla plant March is also the time set out our tomato and pepper seedlings that we've been coddling since mid-January. They'll be about 6-10" tall and filling out their little pots by the time of ouraverage last expected frost. We'll plant our corn, green beans, cucumbers, zucchini and other vegetables directly in the garden in March, but we'll wait a month or two before planting heat loving okra and black-eyed peas.

And be sure to get any new bare-root shrubs and trees in the ground before they start growing. Even container plants are best set out before the spring flush.

It's Time to Work!
March may be the busiest month in the garden for zone eighters - but who's complaining?

And it's Time to Enjoy!
Join up with your local Audubon, gardening or native plant group and go on a spring wildflower walk or visit a botanical garden! Meet interesting plants and green people!

Steve Christman 03/01/00



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