Your Lowcountry garden's March to-do list

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The sun is shining and the ground it’s warming; it’s time to begin laying the groundwork for your spring garden. Here are four ways to get started.

Is there anything sweeter than March in the Lowcountry? The air fills with the sweet scents of wisteria, the land begins to send out lush new growth and the nurseries brim with fresh, colorful new offerings. But March is also a busy month, one filled with a long list of planning, planting and maintenance tasks. Knowing where to start in this seemingly overwhelming “to do list” can be a great help; here’s a quick primer to get you started:

Step 1:
Cleanup

Start by getting rid of all the branches that have come down over the winter and rake up all leaves, pine cones and accumulated pine straw. Pests and diseases like to overwinter in the top layer of the organic matter that surrounds your plants, so removing it early will reduce future infestations and help you start the season with a clean slate. (But be careful not to damage the new, emerging sprouts when working around plants!)

Your Lowcountry garden's March to-do list

Still, even after cleanup, you’ll need to give your greenery a chance to flush back — we’ve had a long, cold winter, and many plants that haven’t gone dormant in years did so this time. Philodendron and ginger are particularly root-hardy in the Lowcountry, and perennials such as cannas, salvias, and ruellia will emerge once soil temperatures begin to warm.

But keep in mind that sometimes — well, a lot of times — gardening can be a practice in patience. Before rushing out to replace any treasures you think you’ve lost, wait until the Crape Myrtles have leafed out — these are among the last trees to do so.

Step 2:
Get ready to prune

Now is the time to do any of the heavy trimming required to rejuvenate, shape and control the size of your plants. Viburnum and ligustrum are examples of fast-growing shrubs that can handle being pruned back hard — to within a couple of feet from the ground if needed. Podocarpus and boxwood, meanwhile, are more slow-growing and will benefit more from a light pruning — to no more than one-third their size.

Understanding a plant’s growth pattern can help you determined how much pruning it needs. The process of “selective pruning” can also increase the health of woody landscape material. Start by removing any diseased, dead or injured branches.

Next, gradually thin the older stems. And finally, give an overall haircut to eliminate spent flowers and encourage uniform growth. (Contrary to popular belief, your Crape Myrtles need only to be selectively pruned.)

Wait to prune spring blooming plants, such as azaleas and gardenias, until after they bloom. Cut perennials and ornamental grasses back to six inches. And if liriope and ferns start showing signs of winter damage, shear them back before the new growth gets too tall.

Step 3
It’s time to fertilize

Start by taking a soil sample. Our county’s horticultural extension service provides this service, which is invaluable in determining exactly what supplements our plants really require.

Once your needs are established, I advocate using slowrelease organic fertilizers. They won’t burn your plants, aren’t as high in salt content and are much safer for our treasured waterways. Finally, add compost to improve soil structure and natural mulches to conserve water.

Step 4
The finishing touches

Include edging bed lines and check your irrigation and lighting systems. Once cleaned, groomed, and functional, your yard is now ready to receive a season’s worth of new, exciting plants.