March is Still Pruning Time

March is an excellent time to prune everything except spring flowering shrubs. Fruit trees can still be pruned up until they start to leaf out. Now that the weather is improving, get out and prune those overgrown shrubs. If you don’t feel you have enough knowledge to prune, I can come teach you the basics in your own yard. In most cases, it only takes an hour or so.

Pruning Grapes

Established grape vines usually consist of a major trunk with several older, dark colored vines extending outward on a trellis or arbor. After several years, the older vines may become too numerous and some of them may need to removed clear back where they are connected to the main trunk.

Lighter colored vines extend from the main lines (and sometimes directly from the trunk). These lighter colored vines were produced last year. If most of these vines are allowed to remain, growth will become too thick and fruit will be limited because of lack of light. Some of them may need to be removed completely back to where they connect to the older, dark colored vines. Most of the lighter colored vines should be shortened to a few inches, leaving only 2 to 4 nodes where new shoots will grow. These nodes will produce flowers and fruit. By limiting the number of fruiting buds, vines produce larger clusters of grapes with larger fruits in the cluster. Some of these short vines may need to be tied to a wire or trellis to give them support.

Shortly before harvest the lower leaves surrounding the grape bunches can be removed to provide better sun exposure. This helps to ripen the grapes and also improves air circulation, which helps to prevent disease infection.

Improving Planting Soil

Adding bark dust, compost, peat moss, or other organic amendments will improve any soil. For flower beds and vegetable gardens, 1 to 3 inches or more can be placed on top and then tilled or spaded in. When planting trees and shrubs, dig a hole three to four times the diameter of the root ball. Then spade amendment into the entire area, including the soil for backfilling. This encourages roots to grow into surrounding soil. Where you are planting several shrubs or trees in an area, mix amendment into the entire area before planting.

Planting Time

Although container trees and shrubs can be planted year round, spring is one of the very best times to plant. The cool weather allows root systems to become established while top growth is just starting. This is also a great time to plant roses, berries, ground covers and perennial flowers. We can also plant summer flowering bulbs such as lilies, ranunculus, gladiolus, and anemones. These bulbs will all withstand light frosts. Wait until April to plant dahlias and begonias. Their new growth is frost tender.

Lawns can be planted from sod almost any time the soil is not frozen. Wait until April to plant lawns from seed.

Critical Planting Reminders

Check plant roots after removing from the container. If there are several layers of roots, loosen bottom roots and make several vertical cuts with a knife around the sides of the root ball. With 4 inch or smaller pots, loosening bottom roots is sufficient. This encourages new roots to grow downward and outward instead of continuing to grow round and round. After placing the plant in the hole, burlap covered root balls should have all twine and nails removed, and burlap should be folded down into the hole before backfilling. Twine wrapped around the trunk can girdle bark and kill the plant. Be careful to place trees and shrubs a little higher than the surrounding soil and then mound the soil up to slightly cover the root ball. If the plant sinks after watering, lift it so it is back at its previous level. More plants are stunted or killed by planting too deep than any other reason.

Fertilize Lawns, Trees, and Shrubs

Established lawns, trees, and shrubs will appreciate fertilizer while they are making their new spring growth. I have learned from experience that trees and shrubs do very well with lawn fertilizer, so I use the same fertilizer for all of them. However, if you have broadleaf weeds in your lawn, use weed and feed. Do not apply weed and feed to trees and shrubs, and be careful to keep it off the leaves of all ornamental plants because it will damage or kill them, just like the weeds. I like to use lawn fertilizer which contains some coated or slow release nitrogen because its effect lasts much longer. Organic fertilizers are also long lasting.

Spring Lawn Care

I like to lower my lawn mower to about an inch (usually about the second notch) the first time I mow. If the mower bogs down I will raise it a notch and then cut it at one inch about a week later. This removes some of the accumulated thatch. Apply moss control to areas with moss. Apply lime and fertilizer to the whole lawn.

Fruit for Northwest Gardens

The Pacific Northwest has been and continues to be one of the main sources of fruit for the world. Why not grow more fruit yourself? Then you can control exactly what fertilizer and pesticides are applied. If you have limited space, berries are your best choice. Tristar is my favorite strawberry variety. It bears fruit continuously from June through October. Strawberries and blueberries can be worked right into an ornamental landscape. Strawberry plants make good ground covers. Blueberries, with a little pruning, are attractive shrubs. Raspberries and blackberries need some support but a row does not take up a lot of space. Grapes can be very ornamental on a trellis or fence.

Just about all the deciduous tree fruits can be grown here. Apples, pears, cherries, apricots and plums are the most successful. Peaches and nectarines need a spring application of lime-sulfur to prevent leaf curl just as the new leaves are emerging. Dwarf and semi-dwarf tree forms are available. Trees with multiple varieties grafted on the same tree are available in some nurseries. I purchased two espalier grafted trees. These two trees are trained on wires which only require about a 4 foot by 15 foot space. Each espalier has 4 different varieties.

TNT Country Nursery in Brush Prairie Washington is an excellent source for inexpensive bare root fruit trees (which are grafted and grown right at the nursery). Trees must be purchased in early spring (March and April).