March On

The weather this past month should be enough to convince anyone
that we live in a global environment. Colder-than-normal waters in
the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of South America are
responsible for shifting the jet stream far to our north this
winter. The result, now familiar to most people as La Niña, means
lots of warm and dry weather for us on the South Coast. While there
is still hope for measurable rain in the next two months or so, it
has been decidedly summer-like for weeks. Pretty inspiring for
gardeners maybe, but a bit confusing for some plants who like a bit
of chill in the winter before starting spring growth.

Now is a great time to give shape to overgrown hedges of
boxwood, pittosporum, and other evergreen shrubs. Cut them back
hard to give them a new, crisp shape. As seasoned gardeners know,
“hedges have edges” and sometimes you need to cut back to older
wood to re-establish the original line. Done in late fall or early
winter, you would have to look at that dead-looking wood for
months, but done next month, the plant will soon burst forth with
lots of new greenery. It may help to make yourself a template for
corners or mark a stick with the desired height to move along with
you. There’s nothing as discouraging as getting down off that
ladder and stepping back to see that you’ve created a sloping top
line or a canting side instead of the plumb and perpendicular one
you were trying to achieve. Follow with a new topdressing of
compost or an organic fertilizer high in nitrogen to give them an
extra boost.

Another plant that responds to a good pruning now is fuchsia. If
you have hanging baskets, trim them back to the rim of the pot and
thin out any weaker stems. Upright bushes can be cut down by
one-half to two-thirds of their original size. Again, a dose of
fertilizer afterward will bring rewards in foliage and flowers. Use
a more balanced one that has both nitrogen for leaves and
phosphorus for blossoms.

Many perennials and annuals can go in the ground now either from
seed or pony packs. Look for some to add that you can cut for
bouquets later. Some easy annuals to consider are cosmos, cleome,
godetia, sunflowers, and zinnias. Perennials such as alstroemeria,
campanula, delphinium, penstemon, and yarrow make long-blooming
plants and long-lasting bouquets. Don’t overlook bulbs (and tubers
and corms) that produce lovely additions to both the garden and the
living room. Dahlias, freesias, gladiolus, iris, narcissus, Persian
ranunculus, and calla lilies are easy to find in nurseries and
catalogs and easy to plant and grow.

The switch from cool-season vegetables to warm-season ones is
also upon us. You can still sow beet and carrot seeds, but you can
also add corn and beans to the mix. Swiss chard and other greens
like arugula and spinach are made for this season. Lettuces, too,
will germinate well and provide leaf cuttings in a few weeks,
forming heads in late spring and early summer. If you have room
inside to start seed of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, you can
get a jump on the season by doing so now. As fruits begin to form
in the orchard, thin them out to channel energy into fewer,
tastier, and bigger apples, pears, and stone fruits such as peaches
and nectarines. There is usually no need to thin apricots and
plums. Check mulches now while the foliage cover is still sparse.
It will be easier to spread when you can see what you are
doing.

All the new plant growth is sure to attract a number of garden
pests. Aphids will attack the burgeoning buds of roses and other
flowering shrubs. Wash them off with a strong spray of water or rub
them out with your fingers. Snails are hatching. Keep a close eye
out for damage and pick them off as soon as you find them. Setting
out dishes of beer will also attract them to death by drowning of
their own volition. Whiteflies may soon reappear on their favorite
plants: fuchsia, canna, and hibiscus to name a few. They can be
trapped on sticky yellow cards hung in advance of their arrival.
Should those late rains materialize, be sure to check the cards and
replace them if they’ve gotten too soggy. Spring is upon us in the
coming weeks and it is a great time to influence the course of your
garden in the coming months.

Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer
your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent,
122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to
vahayes@lotusland.org.

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