The Crestone Eagle • March, 2021

Garden Guru: Spring Work

by Matie Belle Lakish

March is here! The official beginning of spring! Looking out at my garden, which is still covered in snow, it is hard to think “spring,” but March is a time of winds, and winds bring change. Time to start movin’, because there is lots to be done in March.

Do you have fruit trees? If so, early March is the time to prune dead wood and assess the shape and health of the trees. Colorado State University has an excellent fact sheet on pruning young fruit trees that is accessible on-line. It is called Training and Pruning Fruit Trees – 7.003. Also, check to see if mice have been chewing on the bark under the snow, or if rabbits have damaged the trunk looking for a winter snack. Pull the snow away from the trunks, and consider putting tree guards around the trunks before next winter. 

Smaller fruits, like grape vines or raspberries, need pruning while they are dormant as well. Grape vines should be severely cut back to a few buds on each stem. Raspberries should have old, dead stalks removed and dead tips cut back.

If you are considering planting fruit trees this year, this is the time to make those decisions and order your plants. In most years, soil will be thawing around the end of March or into April, and it is best to plant bare-root trees while they are dormant. Supplies may be limited this year, so think ahead. Order soon, and nurseries will deliver at the appropriate time, usually in April. If you buy trees locally, such as at Brady’s in Salida or Salida Greenhouse, and they are in pots, this timing is less critical, but any time you transplant trees, it is better to do it when they are dormant.

Since the pandemic, it seems that more and more people are gardening, and this has created high demand for seeds. The extreme cold we saw in mid-June of 2020 may have impacted supplies as well. Many seed suppliers are announcing shortages. High demand for micro-greens may also be impacting supplies. I ordered greens combos in late January, and had to find a different supplier, because the nursery was already sold out. Fortunately, I have been saving my own lettuce and kale seeds for years, so I have a back-up. I suggest other gardeners save seeds this year.

March is also time to start seeds of plants that need more than the 90 frost-free growing days we can usually expect. I start my cole crops, such as broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower, as well as the warm weather crops like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, in the early part of March. Many gardeners with greenhouses start them earlier in February, but I find early March to fit my schedule best. 

All cruciferous vegetables are super nutritious, and they all do well in the mountains. Generally, if you plant seeds in early March, you can transplant them into the garden in May.

Of course, deer and rabbits know their value as well, so protecting them from these critters is imperative. If your fencing isn’t top notch, put that on your to-do list. In the meantime, you can protect small transplants with Reemay, aka Floating Row Cover, which gives some protection from late frosts, as well as small animals.

Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, along with their relatives, such as tomatillos and ground cherries, need warmth and lots of time to mature fruits in the mountains. I wait to transplant them outside until around June first, when I can expect the soil to be warmer and the late freezes behind us. Usually, my plants are a few inches high by that time. 

Sometimes I use Wall-O-Water protectors around my tomatoes. These collect heat during the sunny days and release it slowly during the night. They also protect from late freezes. If you want to try them, now is a good time to purchase, as all garden products are in high demand. 

Late March is an excellent time to upgrade your irrigation system. If you have read previous articles, you know that I prefer a soaker hose system for my gardens. Over the years I have tried many systems and types of soakers. There are positives and negatives to each. One of the problems I have encountered is the variety of sizes of hoses and connectors, and the complications of trying to fit these different sized components together. 

Now, a few companies are trying to simplify the process for gardeners by making up kits of compatible components. Purchasing one of these systems may be a good way to start if you want to try a soaker system on a modest-sized garden. 

Gardener’s Supply offers their Garden Row Snip-n-Drip Soaker System, which will water four 25 ft. rows, plus all the needed connections for $52.95 plus shipping. A. M. Leonard offers something that looks identical but with different colors for $41.24. It’s called the Leonard Simple Soak Garden Row Watering Kit. Flexon Industries offers a kit called the Flexon Soaker Kit, with somewhat different components, but also with 100 ft. of soaker hose that you can customize to some extent. This is available through several retail outlets, they say. 

I’m going to try one of these kits on one of my beds. I’ll give you a report later. Happy Spring.