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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

Garden Detective: March chores

It's been such an unpredictable winter, who knows what kind of weather March will bring? We could find ourselves buried under snow or going out without jackets. But one thing is certain: Gardening chores will increase as the month progresses and another growing season nears.

1. It's time for my sixth annual Spring Garden Watch: Upload photos of your crocuses, pansies and other signs of spring at

2. If you're planning to plant potatoes next month, order them now.

3. Time to relocate shrubs, while they're still dormant.

4. Fertilize spring-flowering bulbs as soon as shoots poke out of the ground. Use a 5-10-5 product.

5. If you didn't get around to it in the fall, cut back ornamental grasses and spent perennials from last season.

6. Test soil pH levels in planting beds. Buy a kit or bring a soil sample to a Cornell Cooperative Extension office (516-228-0426 in Nassau, 631-727-4126 in Suffolk).

7. Prune fruit trees before new growth begins.

8. Start planting new trees and shrubs, but don't fertilize until they become established.

9. Start seeds of annuals indoors under grow lights or by a sunny window.

10. Daylight Saving Time begins at 2 a.m. tomorrow, so set clocks ahead an hour before going to sleep tonight.

11. Spend your first extra hour of daylight planting cool-season crops like lettuce, arugula and spinach outdoors in the garden.

12. Prune butterfly bush nearly to ground level. It'll grow back in no time and will have a nicer shape and bloom better.

13. If the soil and grass happen to be frozen, avoid walking on them.

14. Sow seeds of broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower indoors.

15. Beware the Ides of March: Don't get any ideas about fertilizing the lawn yet; it's illegal in Nassau and Suffolk to do so before April 1.

16. Start caladium tubers (knobs up) and tuberous begonias (hollow side up) 2 inches deep in a 50/50 peat-perlite mix indoors. Bury cannas only halfway, eyes up.

17. It's St. Patrick's Day -- time to sow peas directly into the garden!

18. Thin brambles (raspberries, blackberries, etc.) and prune blueberry bushes, maintaining just six to nine branches per plant.

19. Add some nitrogen-rich fish meal or blood meal to the compost pile.

20. It's spring! Pot up some pansies for early season color.

21. Remove broken stems from lilacs and rhododendrons, but don't prune intact ones with buds on them.

22. As long as the soil isn't too moist, incorporate lime and compost into the vegetable garden, then cover with plastic mulch to warm the soil.

23. Start seeds of peppers, tomatoes and eggplants indoors.

24. Cover bare spots in the lawn with grass seeds. Repeat once a week and keep them moist until filled in.

25. Cut smooth hydrangeas to the ground, thin last year's growth on peegees and remove dead wood at the base of oak-leaf hydrangeas, but let macrophyllas be.

26. Pull weeds as soon as you see them. You'll be glad you did.

27. Replant houseplants into pots that are 1-2 inches larger, just before they start their active growing phase. Fertilize now, too.

28. Plant mail-order bare-root plants as soon as you receive them.

29. If you planted garlic last fall, fertilize as soon as sprouts shoot up.

30. Start dividing and planting perennials.

31. You know how you raked leaves in the fall? Chances are they're back; it's one of the garden's many mysteries. Clear them away now.


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