Warm weather is on the horizon. Despite the occasional dustings of snow, the birds are singing in the morning, signaling that spring is right around the corner. It’s time to get busy in the yard!
Although there is a lot of work to accomplish after a long winter, my advice is to focus on the three most important yard care tasks in March. These include watering, pruning, and cutting plants back. By finishing these jobs early, you’ll build a strong foundation for a healthy and attractive landscape all summer.
March is a critical time to water your landscape.
If you can do only one thing in March, water your landscape. It’s an absolutely critical time to moisten the soil.
Here’s why. As soon as the soil begins to warm up, landscape plants begin to form a new flush of roots. These are the roots that will be most active in taking up water and nutrients all summer. This process starts gearing up when the soil temperature rises above 40 degrees F, which happens in March and April along Colorado’s Front Range.
By moistening the soil, your landscape plants can grow the healthiest set of new roots possible. This allows your lawn, trees, and shrubs to be more resilient when the heat of summer arrives. Why? Because a deep, strong root system transports water and nutrients so much better than a shallow, stunted set of roots. Healthy roots grow happy plants.
Whether we realize it or not, the soil dries out over the winter. If the soil remains dry in spring, your plants’ roots will be stunted for the summer. This will cause your landscape plants to be more susceptible to wilting, brown spots, and leaf scorch in June, July, and August.
With the periodic snow storms the Front Range has experienced this winter, it’s been tough to water consistently all winter. Take care of this critical task over the next few weeks.
My advice is to try to water your most valuable landscape plants two to three times in March. Since spring in Colorado can bring cold temperatures, most people don’t turn on their sprinkler systems until mid-April to prevent freeze damage. That makes it necessary to use hose and sprinkler. Since it’s a little different the summer watering, I’ll cover how to water a dormant landscape in more detail later this week.
March is the best month to prune trees and shrubs.
March brings the ideal weather for pruning. This is because it’s cold, but not too cold.
Pruning cuts can be sensitive to temperatures that drop well below freezing. If you prune right before very cold weather sets in, like in December or January, the wood can die back farther than where you cut. This causes a problem because the pruned area may not heal correctly, causing long-term problems.
So, while it can still be cold in March, it’s unlikely that the temperature will drop below zero. This means the pruning cuts you make in March are likely to heal well over time. That’s a good thing.
While March weather is not too cold, it’s still cold enough that pruning will not stimulate the tree or shrub to grow right away. That’s beneficial because you want to prune in a way to direct the remaining growth rather than cause the plants to break dormancy and grow a bunch of water sprouts and suckers.
Pruning is both a science and an art. Although learning everything you need to know about pruning can take a while, the most fundamental knowledge is to know how to make good, solid pruning cuts. Good pruning cuts heal quickly. Bad pruning cuts don’t, allowing decay to set in and weaken the tree or shrub over the years. This will be an important topic over the next two weeks.
March is the ideal time to “cut back” many plants.
Ah…spring cleanup. I’ve heard this work described by gardeners as “cutting off the dead stuff.” While not particularly eloquent, this is exactly what you want to do for perennial flowers, groundcovers, and ornamental grasses, as well as that tricky group of plants, the subshrubs. It’s important to cut off the growth that will never green up ever again.
Cutting off the dead growth makes the plant look healthier and tidier, making your landscape look better. Each plant has its own ideal technique and timing based on its growth habit. However, I’ll try to cover some of the more common landscape plants in future posts.
So although it can be easy to get caught up in spring fever by buying a bunch of plants at the nursery, try to hold off for now. Instead, focus on watering, pruning and cutting plants back in March. Once you’ve got a good handle on those items, you’ll be set to move on to the fun stuff!