March 22, 2013

March lawn & landscaping tips

This is the first of my monthly lawn and landscaping calendars for Tidewater Virginia residents. I have lived here for ten years and learned some of these the hard way--by planting the wrong plants for our seemingly omnivorous deer. We also have some unique soil conditions here, and we are on the dividing line between plant hardiness zones 7a and 7b. Northern Virginia is in 7a. At Richmond, it turns into 7b. 

March weather is rather fickle with frost possible, so plant with caution! Be sure soil is workable (doesn’t clump up) before you prepare it for planting. 

SOIL TEST: You may be applying more fertilizer—or the wrong kind—if you haven’t had a soil test done in the last 3 or 4 years. Get a “Turf Love” soil test and home visit by a Master Gardener for $30 by calling Virginia Cooperative Extension at (757) 564-2170. The testing will give you information on your soil texture and composition, pH, lime content, and available phosphorus, and potassium. 
CRABGRASS: Apply a pre-emergent herbicide to prevent weed seed—like crabgrass—from germinating if you haven’t done so already. Better late than never. You do NOT need to wait for the forsythia to bloom. You’ll see crabgrass preventer PLUS fertilizer in many garden aisles. However, cool-season fescue lawns do NOT need fertilizer in the spring—unless you forgot to put down those three applications last fall. Look for a pre-emergent alone product.
MULCH: It’s a good time to apply more organic mulch to keep down the weeds. I prefer pine straw or "mulch manna from heaven" for a lot of reasons. Pine needles remain loose and don’t form a hard crust as bark mulches do. Then rain can soak into the soil, reducing runoff. Also, it breaks down slower than wood mulch and doesn’t wash out of beds. Best of all, it’s lightweight and much easier on your back muscles. For new beds, three inches, which settle into one and a half inches, is recommended. Then one inch topdressing is usually needed annually.
LIRIOPE: Rejuvenate your liriope (if the deer haven’t already pruned them) by mowing it to a height of 2 to 3 inches. Avoid damaging the crown of the plant since that is where the new growth emerges. Divide and transplant hostas, liriope, daylilies, dicentra, Shasta daisies, and coral bells before new growth starts.
DAFFODILS: Fertilize daffodil bulbs with bonemeal as leaves emerge. Do not mow the area until the bulb foliage begins to die back because the leaves “feed” the bulbs for next year.
NEW TREES & SHRUBS: If you missed the ideal time (fall) to plant small trees and shrubs, plant a few now. Our colder than average winter months did not allow fall-planted trees to do much anyway. Just be sure to completely remove that plastic material that looks and feels like natural burlap.
PRUNING: Once new growth begins on trees and shrubs, cut back winter-killed twigs to living, green wood. However, trees that bleed, such as birch and maple, should not be pruned until their leaves are fully developed. If your pyracanthas are “out of control,” prune new growth now and you’ll probably still get berries. Prune spring-flowering shrubs after flowering is completed. Encore Azaleas will bloom throughout the year, so do not prune them. Please, please: do NOT "murder" your crape myrtle trees by cutting them back so severely that they resemble a coat rack. We very rarely trim ours and they look terrific. I only cut back any inner branches that will start rubbing against other branches and eventually grow together (not healthy for either branch).
PRUNING HEDGES: Prune evergreen shrubs and hedges before growth starts. Be sure to leave the base of hedge plants wider than the top. Otherwise, sunlight can’t reach the bottom of the plant, and those lower branches will die back. NOT the look you want!
CHEMICALS: Don't buy more chemicals than you can use in a season. If you have old garden chemicals you no longer use, do not pour them down the drain or onto the ground as this can pollute the water systems, damage the soil and possibly injure or kill plants, people and animals that come in contact with the chemicals. Dispose of them at James City County’s next Household Hazardous Waste collection day on April 13. 
You can also check out the James City County Master Gardeners' website at www.jccwmg.org for other good info.

Or Newport News Master Gardeners' website at www.nnmastergardeners.org