March: Try new perennials, shrubs and vines, and keep those pests at bay


Spring has arrived, though officially not until the 21st. Bulbs are already up and blooming, fruit trees perfume the air, and the days, thankfully, are getting longer. With the arrival of daylight saving time, gardeners get an extra hour outdoors for their favorite activity, and there is no shortage of things to do.

If no other soaking storms slide down from the north, be sure to water the garden deeply as needed. Stay out of garden beds if it does pour.

Still time for flowers

If you never got around to planting bulbs and flowers last fall or winter, plenty of spring bloomers at nurseries will go for another month or more if planted now. Good bets for late-planted but long-lasting spring color include diascia, the newer kinds of nemesia (such as Blue Bird), pansies and violas in sunny spots, and primroses and the frost-tender cineraria in shade. Later in the month, you can begin planting warm-weather annuals and bedding plants, such as marigolds, cosmos, lobelia and verbena, and bedding begonia and impatiens in the shade.


in particular

It’s an especially good time to plant any perennial since they are probably blooming — so you can see what you’re getting — and there’s still plenty of time for them to become established in the garden before the stress of summer.

For spring flowers, try alstroemeria, armeria, bearded iris, brachycome, campanula, columbine, coral bells, true geraniums, nicotiana and veronica. Things that will bloom in summer are agapanthus, coreopsis, daylily, gaillardia, penstemon, various salvias, scabiosa, scaevola, Shasta daisy, tulbaghia, Verbena bonariensis, V. rigida and yarrow. For late summer or fall blooms, look for aster (Aster frikartii is especially lovely), helianthus and Japanese anemone.

Some plants sold as perennials are shrublike, including tough and reliable anisodontea, euryops, heliotrope, lion’s tail, Mexican marigold (Tagetes lucida), pentas, Santa Barbara daisy, shrimp plant and wall flower. These are often the toughest and longest lasting of flowers, blooming nearly year-round in the Southland. And, don’t overlook the perennials grown mostly for their foliage in shades of red, gray and chartreuse.

Shrubs and vines too

Along with the citrus blossoms, you can’t miss the fragrance of winter-blooming jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum), common in nurseries at this time of year. It’s a good time to plant this medium-sized and useful vine, as well as azaleas and camellias, which also are plentiful at nurseries now. Abutilons can be viney or shrub-like, and they are also in bloom at nurseries, in many dramatic colors.

Now is the time to turn summer-blooming hydrangeas blue, by sprinkling aluminum sulfate (available at nurseries) around plants to acidify the soil. Not all hydrangeas turn blue; some are naturally pink or white.

It’s time to prune hanging fuchsias back to the sides of the containers; on upright kinds, prune off a little less growth than grew the previous year.

Plant a salad,

hold the tomatoes

It’s too early to plant tomatoes, unless you can find a warm, sheltered spot for the aptly named ‘Early Girl,’ but it’s the perfect time for a fast crop of lettuce or mesclun greens, including the peppery arugula that can really liven up a salad. Root crops such as carrots, beets and radish also grow quickly planted now from seed, so you can add these to your homegrown salads.

As the month progresses, start planting the first warm-season summer vegetables such as beans, beet, carrot, chayote, corn, endive, kale, New Zealand spinach, potato, sunflower and Swiss chard. Wait until April or May to plant most tomatoes, peppers and squash.

Repot water lilies

Hardy kinds of water lilies (most often colored pink or yellow) are usually grown in their own pots in lily ponds or pools, and they need to be repotted every year or their spreading tubers will end up outside the container. Now is the time. Tropical water lilies also require repotting, but much less often. So do other aquatics, which can quickly get away from you because they grow so fast. When they do outgrow their containers, it’s time to divide and repot.

Pest alert

Warming weather brings out the slugs and snails, so don’t wait a day to put down bait or deterrents around new plantings. They like to hide in agapanthus, clivia, ivy and iris, so those are good spots for baits. There are now nonpoisonous kinds, though their effectiveness may be hard to judge since slugs and snails live long enough to crawl back to their hiding places. There are other barriers that will stop them, the best of which are special copper strips, but also rows of crushed eggshells, or even liquidambar balls, some say. Watch for rose slugs (actually sawfly larvae), which pepper rose leaves with tiny holes. A spray of nonpoisonous light horticultural oil applied about every two weeks will control them if you start as soon as damage is noticed, before they become numerous.

Back from the dead

Plants nipped by frost should begin recovering this month. Look for buds or new growth and then cut back to these live parts of the plant. Some plants will never recover, especially in inland areas where some cactus and succulents, among others, were turned to mush. If there are still no signs of life by April, assume the plant is dead.