March—the month when the weather alternates between winter and spring. It’s when bulbs might start peaking out of the ground, or snow blankets your grass. March and early April are tricky weather months, especially if you’re eager to start gardening.
But even though the weather can’t make up its mind between winter and spring, you can still get ready for your summer garden. It’s the right time to make a plan, prep your soil, and start seeds or plant hardy crops—and don’t forget about your fruit trees. And if you don’t have a yard, you likely can still find room to grow a garden in your community.
Make a plan
Even though nurseries and garden centers haven’t started stocking vegetable plants, they do have seeds. And probably now is when they’ve got the best selection because it’s early in the season. So start by figuring out what you’re going to plant, and where because you shouldn’t put some plants together. For example, you shouldn’t plant tomatoes next to mature dill or kohlrabi. And you don’t want to put beans next to garlic, onions or shallots because they shunt the growth of beans. So start your gardening season now by figuring out your garden layout with the locations of all your planned plants.
Prep your beds and soil
If you want a successful garden, first you’ve got to take care of the beds and soil. Do you garden directly in the ground, or do you have raised beds? If you’ve got raised beds—or want them—now is the time to build or repair any damage that happened over the winter. Then focus your attention on the soil. Send a sample to your local extension service for testing if you want to be as accurate as possible about what your soil needs. If you’re in Utah, the Utah State University Extension Service has detailed instructions for sampling and where to send soil on its website.
Once you know what your soil needs, it’s time to add some amendments. According to USU, organic matter is the best thing to add to your soil. In addition to providing needed nutrients, it will improve your soil tilth and soil drainage. This decomposed organic material is commonly called compost and looks like dark soil. People sometimes call this mulch, but mulch is different—it’s not decomposed and sits on the soil surface to prevent weeds and reduce evaporation.
Organic matter includes
- kitchen scraps
- manure (But not from meat-eating animals like cats and dogs. Because unless it’s been hot composted, this type of manure may spread pathogens to humans.)
- grass clippings
You can buy compost from nurseries and other stores, or make your own.
When you’ve got your organic matter ready, it’s time to mix it into your soil. You can pour it onto your soil and mix it using a rotary tiller or a shovel. Or you can dig out your soil, mix it with the organic matter, and then return it to your garden or box. Experts say to add two to four inches per year. But if you’re using manure, don’t use more than two or three inches annually because more than that will cause salt problems in your soil. You can’t have healthy, productive plants unless you start with healthy soil. Figure out what your soil needs, and then mix it in before you start planting.
Plant early-season crops
Along the Wasatch Front, you can start planting cold-hardy vegetable plants at the end of March or beginning of April—as long as your ground isn’t frozen. Cold-hardy plants include
In general, you can plant cold-hardy plants in Utah between March 1 and April 15—as soon as you can work the soil. Then as it gets closer to summer, you can plant more and more groups of plants, depending on their hardiness and the average date of the last frost in your area. USU or your local extension service has more detailed information about last-frost dates. You can get a head-start on your garden by planting cold-hardy crops in early spring.
Don’t forget your trees!
Your fruit trees need attention in the early spring too. USU’s experts advise to start by removing bad branches—anything that’s dead, broken or looks diseased; suckers, aka branches growing from the roots; and water spouts, which are branches that are growing straight up. Then look for weak or drooping branches and branches growing toward the tree’s center, and remove those too. You may need to do additional pruning based on the type of fruit tree. You can find more tree-specific information here. And if you don’t have fruit trees yet, USU Extension’s gardening expert Jaydee Gunnell says early spring is the best time to plant bare-root fruit trees. So when you’re doing your early-season garden work, don’t forget to prep your fruit trees for the growing season too.
What if I don’t have garden space?
Plenty of people don’t have garden space where they live, but still find ways to garden. In Utah County, there are several low-cost community garden options. Community Action Services and Food Bank offers small garden plots in Provo for $20 for the entire season. Garden renters need to water, weed and maintain the plot. Intermountain Healthcare also provides community garden spaces in Utah. You can find other community garden spaces with a simple online search. If you want to garden but don’t have space, look online to see options in your area.
The weather may be alternating between snow and springtime temperatures, but it’s the right time to get ready for your summer garden. So make a plan, prep your soil, start seeds or plant hardy crops outside, and remember your fruit trees. And don’t worry, if you don’t have space for a garden at home you likely can find community gardens near you.