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 the flavor.
For more information on backyard sugaring, visit http://www.uvm.edu/~uvmaple/mapleinfo.htm
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.
MAKING MAPLE SYRUP AND OTHER MARCH GARDENING TIPS
By Dr. Leonard Perry and Lisa Halvorsen n Extension Nursery and Greenhouse Crops Specialist University of Vermont