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Talkin' Dirt - March 2016

by Mary Beth Riggs


“Talk’n Dirt” also appears monthly in our newsletter "The Garden Gate" as well, providing helpful garden tips each month. Many of our club's lifelong gardeners have agreed to contribute their substantial gardening knowledge and we encourage you to do the same.  Please get me your tips by the 5th of the month so I can incorporate them into the monthly article.  This information is only as good as the folks providing it so it's bound to be outstanding!



Counting the days till spring?  I am so excited to be officially welcoming spring on March 20th!


March is an amazing time in the garden. The birds sing, the borders become more colorful every day as trees and shrubs break bud, spring bulbs open up in the gentle sunshine and the greenhouse goes into full production. Finally we feel we can start really gardening again. It’s time to gather your gardening tools and get outside to enjoy some fresh air!


Pruning and more pruning


This is the last month to prune fruit trees, so sharpen those pruners. Entire books have been written on how to prune apple trees, but here are the basics of pruning a mature tree.  

  • Remove dead, dying or diseased branches.

  • Remove branches that are growing toward the trunk, straight up or straight down.

  • Remove branches that are rubbing against each other.

  • Thin out the canopy enough to allow light to filter through even after it has leafed out.


Interetsting tidbit: It only takes 6 Mason bees to pollinate an apple tree that would take 360 honeybees to get the job done.  This is because Mason bees don’t have to bring back pollen to their hive, so they just “belly flop” into the blossom and get it all over their bodies, unlike the honey bees who only store it on their skinny legs.  There is a wealth of information about bees available on the Internet.


Keep going Toe to Toe with the weeds

It's a sad fact that weeds seem to be the fastest-growing plants on the planet this time of year. Be sure to spend some time each day removing them before they set seed.


Plan for next year's daffodils

After weeks of watching the stems get taller and the buds get fatter, we can finally see golden daffodils fill the garden. When the flowers have faded, cut off the dead blooms but leave the foliage to die down naturally, which will encourage the bulbs to become even bigger and better next year.


Battle the slugs

As soon as bulbs begin to poke through soil, slugs start feeding.  To get a jump on controlling these voracious chewers, put out slug bait when you see bulb shoots.  Slugs are most active during mild, rainy weather.  You’ll likely spot three types of slugs:


  • European black slug:  They are usually brown but occasionally black or white.  This slug feeds on new growth and poses a large threat to garden plants.

  • Banana slug: Most often yellow or black-spotted yellow, banana slugs can also be green or white.  They feed on mushrooms, leaf litter, and dead plants.  As a result, they pose no threat to the garden.

  • Leopard slug: This slug is gray with black spots.  It’s omnivorous, eating garden plants but also feasting on insects and even European black slugs.

  •  Wait to dig until after soil has warmed and isn’t too wet. Watch maple trees to know when soil is warm enough for planting.  When leaves start to emerge, soil should be good to go.

    A well-meaning friend once suggested that I simply pick off the slugs and feed them to the birds. Sounds fair enough, doesn't it?  Except she had a tiny pocket garden and I have 5 acres.

    My preferred method of slug control for ornamentals, edibles and containers is Sluggo Plus. It is safe around children and pets but kills slugs, snails, earwigs, pill bugs and other mollusks.

    Housekeeping for the birds

    March is the time to clean out their nesting boxes, to get them ready for the new brood.

    Love the birds and encourage them to visit your garden.  Swallows, especially, help keep the mosquito population under control.


  • Early spring is the ideal time to divide crowded clumps of summer and fall blooming perennials.  These include purple cornflowers, Shasta daisies, asters, garden mums, and many others.  

    Get Ready, Get Set, Start Planting!  


  • This’n That (NEW!)                                                                                                                        

  • Our OGC membership is growing, and includes new gardeners who may have questions, as well as more experienced gardeners who would like to share their experience.  Each month, there will be a section of Talk’n Dirt that will cover a question or helpful hint.  All members are encouraged to join in.  This month’s question is “What are you most looking forward to planting this spring?”  Jump on board and become part of Talk’n Dirt by emailing me at




March 4th:  Northwest Horticultural Society Plant Sale


March 12th:  Northwest Perennial Alliance Plant Sale


April 2nd:  Heronswood Plant Sale                         


April 16th: Rhodie Species Sale, Weyco, Federal Way

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