March 20 is officially the first day of spring, but Southern California gardeners don’t have to wait until then to start their spring planting, say experts at Agromin, an Oxnard-based manufacturer of earth-friendly soil products made from organic material collected from more than 50 California cities including the cities in Santa Barbara County.
» Prepare garden soil: Cultivate the soil down one foot. Mix in appropriate organic soil amendments before planting. If the soil is mostly clay (sticky and clumpy), use an amendment that will loosen the soil, allowing roots to grow and water to penetrate. If the soil is sandy, add organic humus to build up the soil.
» Plant warm-season vegetables: Cold-weather vegetable yields have just about run their course in March. It’s time to trim the hardy plants for possible regrowth or remove them and plant summer vegetables as long as the danger of frost has passed and the soil is warm. Soil should be consistently about 60 degrees. It’s early enough in the season to plant vegetables from seed. These include tomatoes, peppers, green beans, cucumbers, squash, eggplant, onion, potatoes, spinach, turnips and corn. You can still plant cool-season vegetables including broccoli, lettuce, cabbage and kale.
» Keep weeds under control: If you have been adding mulch to your garden over that past several years, weeds should be relatively few. Besides suppressing weed growth, mulch adds to the nutrients in the ground as it slowly decomposes and it keeps moisture in the soil as the weather warms. Add at least 2 to 3 inches around trees, shrubs, flowers and plants. Be careful to keep the mulch from touching tree bark or plant stems.
» Fertilize citrus and avocado trees: Spring and fall are the best time to give your trees nutrients. Feed avocado, citrus trees, fruit trees and roses with a well-balanced fertilizer containing nitrogen. Fertilize prior to new signs of new growth.
» Prepare lawns for spring growth: Depending on the type of grass, lawn growth may have come to a standstill during winter. To encourage growth, rake the lawn lightly and aerate to loosen compacted soil (aerators can be rented at local nurseries).
» Divide perennials: Over the winter, perennials such agapanthus, asters, bellflowers, callas, cymbidiums, daylilies, rudbeckia, Shasta daisies, penstemon and yarrow can become crowded. Divide them by digging up each clump so that the rootball comes up intact. Wash or gently shake off excess soil, then cut into divisions with a sharp knife. Each division should have plenty of roots and a few leaves. Replant immediately, leaving several inches between each plant.
» Plant blooming flowers for full garden: If you can’t wait for summer flowers to come in season, there is a variety of blooming flowers available at nurseries this month. Purchasing plants in bloom provides instant color to gardens. Favorites include azaleas, camellias and Indian Hawthorne.
» Natural protection from snails: Snails can decimate fruits and vegetables. Here are natural ways to keep them away from your garden. Place a small copper wire around your garden bed. Snails will receive a small shock when they come in contact. Place crushed eggshells around plants. Snails have a soft underbelly and will not try to pass over the sharp shells.
— Diane Rumbaugh is a publicist representing Agromin.