Q: I’ve neglected my garden all winter, but I’m ready to start working outside again. What jobs should I do right now?
-Norinne Cruzat, Atascadero
A: For many on the Central Coast, March marks the official beginning of the gardening year. Most of the county has experienced its last frost, bulbs are peeking up and Mother Nature makes it clear that spring is upon us!
Even those gardeners who tend to “hibernate” during the winter are ready to leave their armchairs, go outside and reacquaint themselves with their gardens.
Although we don’t get the intense winter storms that have plagued the rest of the country, our December floods, seasonal rains and wind can take a toll on fences, watering systems and outdoor structures.
Take a walk through the garden cleaning up broken branches, checking irrigation equipment and performing repairs. Reset irrigation schedules if necessary. Deadhead plants as needed. And, cut back and feed ornamental trees, azaleas, camellias and poinsettias.
Wait to prune frost-damaged plants until new shoots appear, so you can prune back to areas that escaped injury. Cut off the leaves of faded spring bulbs only after they are completely brown.
If you’ve taken a break from pest control during the winter, you’re sure to find a bumper crop of weeds awaiting your attention when you step outdoors. Hand weed and apply a layer of mulch to suppress weeds. Aphids may quickly appear on tender new shoots. A strong stream of water will discourage them.
Snails and slugs, as well as insects and fungal disease, thrive during the rainy season so establish a good management plan. The Master Gardeners can refer you to University of California Pest Notes which includes management strategies for many common garden pests.
Now is the time to plant the bulbs, corms and tubers — gladiolus, dahlias, callas, and cannas — that will provide a profusion of colorful blooms during the spring and summer.
You can start planting seeds of summer vegetables now as well. Chard, carrots, kohlrabi and lettuces can be planted into the garden. In coastal areas there is still time to start some cool season varieties such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbages.
Warm season vegetables — tomatoes, egg plant, summer squash and melons — are better started inside for later planting outdoors. In the orchard, apples, pears and stone fruits are developing this month. Take time in the coming weeks to thin your trees. Fruit should be thinned when about ¾ inches in diameter, leaving the remaining fruit four to six inches apart. Consult the Master Gardeners’ handy “Gardener’s Journal” for a schedule of gardening tasks for every month of the year.