Hands in the Dirt: MLT Gardening Tips for March – plus don’t forget the seed swap Sunday

Crocuses are blooming, daffodils are budding and threatening to burst, and the ornamental cherries and plums are starting to wreak havoc on folks with allergies. March must be here!

Plants are starting to break their dormancy and set buds, and I’ve seen new growth on both the blueberries and raspberries. Now is a good time to prune out any raspberry canes more than 2-plus years old on varieties that fruit on last year’s canes. Older canes will be brown, while new canes will be green. Pruning raspberries can be done any time after fruiting, and older canes are way easier to identify before the canes start to leaf out. If you’ve ever wished you could harvest those super sweet blackberries that are just out of reach on the top of the blackberry mound, pruning can help keep the fruit closer at hand.

What else is breaking dormancy? WEEDS! A walk around the garden can find a surprising variety of weeds that can thrive in these cool and wet early spring days. Spending 10 minutes weeding now will save you hours of weeding in a few months. One of the worst offenders at the BOG is Shotweed (Cardamine oligosperma), a low-growing weed with pretty white flowers – which turn into little rockets that send tiny seeds flying all over the garden once the seed pods ripen. This menace has been growing all winter, and can set seeds as soon as March. Pulling the plants as soon as they first sprout will save your sanity come June. I’ll offer this warning – don’t forget to pick up your pile of weeds after you pull them, because these little buggers have the ability to re-root themselves.

Greens are the winner for early spring sowing. Lettuce, spinach, and mustard seeds can all be sown outside under cover, or transplanted out successfully now. Lettuce seeds sown thickly can provide a nice harvest of baby greens when it comes time to thin. Later in the month, beets can be successfully planted in the garden, and St. Patrick’s Day is a good reminder to plant potatoes.

Broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, chard, and kale can all be started indoors all month. Kale and chard may sprout if sown outdoors, but will get a head start if started indoors for a few weeks before transplanting. Tomatoes and peppers can be sown in March. Peppers are more sensitive to cold and may need to be coddled indoors for a few weeks longer than tomatoes, but due to their slow growth, I tend to plant them both at the same time. I’ve learned my lesson starting tomatoes too early and ended up with giant plants that are a pain to manage indoors, so I tend to err on the side of “too late” and wait until mid- to late month to start tomatoes and peppers.

If you want to grow more interesting varieties than may be available at the big box store, but are not inclined to start your own seeds, never fear! Pop-up spring plant sales are a great source. King County Master Gardeners have their annual plant sale scheduled for April 24-25; Snohomish County Master Gardeners and Tilth Alliance have plant sales scheduled for May 2.

Do you have extra seeds that you saved last year, or a packet you one used one or two seeds? Bring them to our annual seed share and take home new ones! If you’re a beginner or don’t have any seeds to share, you’re invited too. This is a great opportunity to pick up the seeds you need to get started.  The Seed Swap will be held at the MLT Library (23300 58th Ave. W., Mountlake Terrace) from 2:30 to 4 p.m. on March 1.  For more information, see our Facebook event page or the event notice on MLTnews.

Have a question about gardening?  Ask below or post it on our Facebook page!

About the BOG

The Ballinger Organic Garden (BOG) is a volunteer-led effort to develop a community garden at Ballinger Park. The BOG, in partnership with MLT Recreation & Parks and the MLT Senior Center and funded by a grant from the MLT Community Foundation, is currently in “Phase 0” while larger construction activities (creek restoration and trail installation) are completed.  Phase 0 includes maintenance of the existing raised beds and a garden plot on the south side of the MLT Senior Center in Ballinger Park. Phase 1 will involve installation of a larger garden with plots available for community members to maintain. Want to volunteer, or have an idea of what you want to see in the future garden? Please let us know!

To stay up to date on what is happening at the BOG, including what’s growing, work parties, and events, follow us on Facebook (facebook.com/mltbog) or Instagram (Instagram.com/mltbog).

— By Robyn Rice

Robyn Rice grew up in Eastern Washington, pulling weeds and picking up rotten fruit as dreaded chores assigned by her Master Gardener father.  Today, Robyn is a fisheries biologist for an environmental consulting firm, and has been gardening on her own in the Seattle area since 2010.  Her science background leads to endless research about the “correct” way to do things, but her enthusiasm and sense of adventure leads her to garden fearlessly because hey, what’s the worst that could happen?

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