have given March the lions share of my thinking this winter. March does not agree with me. Not ever. But I thought that maybe, just maybe, I could make it work in my favor. I could find a way to burn through it. So I looked up from the end of my nose to see what I could see and lo, there is much to be made of this month-that-makes-winter-seem-like-it-lasts-forever.
The seedlings are under lights in the guest room and don’t really need much from me. But the high school needed a pit orchestra for “Pirates of Penzance” so I went ahead and bit off more than I could chew and took my violin to rehearsals. Perfect. Practicing a part that is light years over my head was just the ticket.
But then I noticed that the seedlings were drowning. In my concern that I might forget all about them and they would dry out (a no-no to the nth degree) I over-watered them. There is nothing so sad as a near drowning in the seedling tray. Goodness. A half hour before “call,” I found myself, dressed in black, frantically potting up soggy tomatoes. They did a snappy recovery fortunately. If they had succumbed I would have started over. It isn’t too late, just in case you are thinking about getting some tomatoes started.
The next move to burn through March was to keep the book club going that I have belonged to for so long that I can’t remember how long. Between that and Knit Night you would think there would be enough things to talk about but I have a tendency to turn the topic to gardening. It is March, and I want to be gardening but the next best thing is to talk about it with somewhat like-minded people. I think my friends humor me, which is what friends are for.
Then there’s the clothesline. John wants to take it down every winter because he is convinced that the thing will deteriorate in the weather. Now I ask you — just how long does that clothesline need to last? Does he intend on willing it to his heirs? Leave it up I say, he agreed, and with this remarkably mild winter I have been putting it to use.
If you don’t have a clothesline, may I be so bold to suggest that you get one? Mine is a carousel so it takes up a minimum of space and, yes, it comes down for easy storage. I like to at least fold it down when I have a garden party so no one tall need duck under it. A friend has one that is on a pulley. She stands on her deck, hangs the laundry, pulls the line and off it goes. We both stand in one place and just hang away, me spinning, she pulling.
At the end of an overcast day in March, the laundry is mostly dry. Not a bad system and it gets me out looking at the fat buds on the lilacs and the juicy primula auricula that will soon be bursting into bloom.
I was sure the cold snap we had a couple or weeks ago spelled death for some of my perennials. The clematis alpina was showing tiny tender leaves. The columbine was up and looking hale. I could go on and on with what was showing signs of life. My fear for them was deep and real. After all was said and done I ventured out to take a look at the damage and — ta da! — so far all looks well, although my fingers are still crossed.
I have become a devout follower of weatherunderground.com. I check the site every morning, hoping for the best. The ten day forecast is my favorite feature. Do I trust it? What about March is there to trust? But I can hope that we are past the worst of it. Even if it snows, and there it is in the forecast, it won’t have any damaging affect on the garden. It’s the single digits with wind that the death bell tolls. That’s March for you. Uncertainty.
Each and every year I take a look at the mock orange shrubs, there are three of them, and calculate how much to prune them. One of them gets a good grooming every year. The second one gets a hit or miss job. And then there is the third — I can’t seem to bring myself to cut a single cane from this magnificent shrub. The books say you will know when to prune when the shrub no longer blooms with vigor. Mine are blooming maniacs. So there I am with three shrubs in three stages of pruning. I think this will be the status quo forever.
But now is really the time to take a good look at your shrubs and take out any old canes. I prune the red twig dogwoods every three years. That seems to do the trick. The object with these beauties is to keep the canes looking very red. If you let them go too long, they will lose their color and the whole point is the vivid red branches. There are three of these thriving in this garden. In early summer they have an inconspicuous bloom cluster. They are all about the color, so prune to keep them lively. The birds seek shelter in these shrubs. I truly love to go out there very early in the morning and listen to the birds rustle around as they start their day. Excellent.
Take a look at your raspberries. Now would be a good time to prune out last years canes. You can tell which bore fruit last year by the paleness of the bark on the cane, and the stems left behind from the berries. Get them cleaned up now, one less chore to do when spring really and truly arrives.
The rugosa roses are looking excellent. Without any snow this year they are standing straight and tall. Usually they are flattened by the snow load this time of year and need some help to pull themselves up to their former glory. Check them out. They may need a light pruning to freshen them up, or ignore them, they won’t mind. I have the Hansa (the double dark pink that are in front of the Pratt and the hospital); Theresa Bugnet, a double medium pink that has an open urn shape and a heavenly aroma.
Then there is the rosa glauca that has magnificent navy blue and burgundy canes and small pink, rather insignificant blooms. This one gets tall and you really need to put it where you can see it from the house in the winter because the color of the canes in low light is a sight to behold.
So there you are: nurture your interests and your friends. Keep planning your garden. Make the most of this most forlorn of months.
Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener. She has been writing Kachemak Gardener since 1990.