News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Here’s a ‘to-do’ list for almost Spring

Linn County Master Gardener

In March there are occasional days of sunshine between atmospheric rivers and night-time snows in the Canyon. Temperatures waiver as high as mid-50’s in the day, but dip into the 30’s at night. What’s a gardener to do? 

It’s not practical to plant even the cool-weather crops until the soil temperatures are consistently above 40 degrees. But wait! There are signs of new life from established plants, even if it’s too cold for native bees to hatch out of their cocoons. 

Flower bulbs previously planted are spiking up and the bunnies are nibbling at them (except they’re not nibbling the daffodils and narcissus…they seem to know they are poisonous). 

The dandelions are greening up and sending their taproots down to loosen up the soil for the microbes. Now is the time to add them to salads, since they get bitter when the flower stems appear. The seeds can be dormant up to seven years, just waiting for us to disturb the soil on a sunny day. To interrupt the life cycle, cut the tap roots with a serrated steak knife a couple inches below the surface then pull up the leaf rosette. 

Some people pull up the roots and roast them like chicory for beverages. A local herbal tea business has recipes for dandelion beverages from roots, but most of the recipes we can find, like jelly, use the yellow flowers of summer.  For sustainable gardening and a healthier environment we avoid use of chemicals whenever possible.

We used to put out the bee cocoons by now because the fruit tree buds were breaking. The buds are swelling, waiting for more sun, so we’ll wait to put out the native bee houses and cocoons. 

The birds are looking for bees and other insect life but it’s still too cold so we can help the birds by putting seeds in feeders. Be sure the feeders are placed where the spilled seeds that sprout will not be a nuisance. Commercial birdseed often includes thistles, the seeds of which can sprout up to 40 years later. 

Be consistent and keep filling the feeder because the birds will come back and become dependent on your generosity. When a hard freeze is predicted the birds appreciate suet to help them stay warm from the inside. 

Place the feeder where it can be watched from a window. It can be more entertaining than most television, like the antics of ravenous baby chicks some of us are raising under heat lamps.

When we layer up with warm clothing to go out for short periods on occasional sunny days there are many things we can do to have a better garden next month and beyond. Wait until the grass thaws and dries a bit to cut it, setting the blade at 1 to 2 inches. If it has gotten tall, a higher pass might be appropriate before the shorter height. Compost grass clippings if no weed-and-feed or herbicides have been applied. Spread compost over garden and landscape area to let Spring rains wash the nutrients into the root zone, but wait until the soil dries out a bit before walking on growing areas. 

Feed rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, and roses with organic fertilizer that has ahigh middle number (N-P-K) for more lovely early blossoms. Wait until after the blossoms fade to prune spring-flowering shrubs, or there will be no blossoms left on the bush at flowering time. 

Caneberries, asparagus, strawberries, rhubarb and other early perennial crops will perform better with a broadcast of complete (equal N-P-K) fertilizer or composted manure, feeding the microbes that feed the roots that feed the plant growth.

Looking for more things to do outside on the occasional sunny March day? There is are great lists of recommendations from agricultural specialists for each month at extension.oregonstate.edu/calendar. A search box leads to timely articles and publications about plants and practices. “Ask an Expert” link allows us to email questions and photos of plant problems to experts who will answer with useful advice.

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