MAKING MAPLE SYRUP AND
OTHER MARCH GARDENING TIPS
Dr. Leonard Perry
and Lisa Halvorsen
Extension Nursery and Greenhouse Crops Specialist
University of Vermont
Although the calendar may say spring,
here in the north country, March only hints at the warmer
weather to come. For gardeners this can be a frustrating
month with late season snows, fluctuating temperatures,
and mud limiting outdoor activities.
One way to shorten the waiting period
until the gardening season is to force branches of spring
flowering shrubs like forsythia, pussy willow, hawthorn,
honeysuckle, apple, and crabapple.
To do this, cut the branches on a sharp
slant. Make a slit in the end of each branch. Scrape
off the outer bark of branches an inch or more in diameter,
to allow faster water absorption. Then place in warm
water. For best results, change the water daily.
Or attend a flower or garden show. The
Vermont Flower Show is at the Sheraton Inn and Conference
Center, S. Burlington, March 1 to 3. Or head over to
Portland, Maine, March 14 to17. The Portland Flower
Show will be held at the Portland Company Complex on
the waterfront (www.portlandflowershow.com; 207-775-4403).
The New England Spring Flower Show, the
largest in the region, will run from March 16 to 24
at Bayside Expo and Conference Center in Boston. The
theme for this year’s show is “Shades of Spring.”
For more information, log onto www.masshort.org or call
(617) 536-9280. Many tour companies offer day or overnight
trips to Boston for this event.
The eighth annual Breath of Spring Flower
Show is scheduled for March 22 to 24 at the Cheshire
Ice Arena in Swanzey, N.H., just outside of Keene.
You can learn more about this show by calling (603)
255-6335, ext. 159, or at www.hcsservices.org (Click
on “Flower Show”)
Celebrate March’s holidays, starting with
St. Patrick’s Day on the 17th. Buy a shamrock plant
(Oxalis acetosella) or a big bouquet of green and white
carnations for yourself or a friend. Blooms in the pastel
range make an ideal centerpiece to celebrate the arrival
of spring. Or fill a vase with tulips, daffodils, and
hyacinths, all popular spring flowers.
For Easter, which is March 31 this year,
purchase an Easter lily. When buying a lily, look for
a plant with many unopened buds and leaves all the way
down the stem. Select a well-proportioned plant, one
that’s about two times as high as the pot. Be sure to
inspect the plant for signs of insect pests and disease.
Or if you prefer, choose something a bit more unusual
like white azaleas or an Easter cactus, or perhaps a
pot of daffodils or tulips.
If you have a few sugar maple trees in
your backyard, enlist the help of your family to make
your own maple syrup. But because it takes between 30
and 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup,
don’t expect a high yield. In an average year you’ll
get three to four pints of syrup per tap.
Larry Myott, the University of Vermont
Extension maple specialist, recommends using one tap
for trees up to 14 inches in diameter, two taps for
larger trees. With a bit-stock with a 7/16th inch wood
bit, drill holes for the spouts. Make holes about two
and one half inches deep, aimed slightly upward to allow
the sap to drain out.
The sap will flow when nights are cool
and daytime temperatures reach at least 40 degrees F.
When you’ve collected enough to boil, set up a hot plate
or stove in a garage, on the back porch, or in the backyard.
Boiling sap on the kitchen stove is not recommended
as the steam may loosen the wallpaper or paint or stain
ceilings or walls.
You will need a large pan for boiling
and a hydrometer or candy thermometer to determine when
the syrup has reached the desired temperature of 219
degrees F. Filter the hot syrup through filter cloth
or several layers of cheesecloth into sterilized canning
jars. Seal, cool, and store in the freezer or other
cool location. Maple syrup stored in the freezer does
not freeze, only thickens. Once you open the container,
keep it in the refrigerator to prevent mold and preserve
For more information on backyard sugaring,
This sugaring season, attend a sugar-on-snow
party or visit a sugarhouse. Many sugarmakers welcome
visitors. Contact the Vermont Department of Agriculture,
Food and Markets at (802) 828-2437 and ask for a copy
of the free brochure, “Vermont Maple Sugarhouses
Open to the Public.”
Or plan to attend the Vermont Maple Open
House Weekend, March 22, 23 and 24, the first weekend
of spring. About 100 sugarmakers will hold an open house
at their sugarhouses with special activities scheduled
for that Saturday and Sunday. Fora list of open houses
and complete details go to www.vermontmaple.org
Early spring, before the buds open, is
a good time to control insects on trees and shrubs with
dormant sprays. Apply these oil solutions to the branches
to suffocate insects and their eggs. Spray as a fine
mist and only on a sunny day with no wind when temperatures
are above 40 degrees F.
Use dormant oils on apple and pear trees
to effectively control mealybugs, aphids, and mites.
On ornamental plantings, use lower concentrations of
oil as recommended on the package label. Some plants,
such as the Colorado blue spruce, should not be sprayed
as dormant oils will remove the waxy, blue protective
coat on the needles. Always read the product label carefully
for proper use and any precautions.
Other activities for March: start petunias,
leeks, onions, and other slow starters in early March,
cabbages, Cole crops, tomatoes, and marigolds at the
end of the month; prune to shape fruit trees before
buds open; turn the compost pile.