David C. Zlesak
Photo 1: Spring flowering shrubs like forsythia have flowers that are ready to open once placed in a warm environment. Cut stems harvested now are easy to force into flower indoors. David Zlesak
Are you ready for some spring blooms? Consider cutting and brining in some stems for forcing of early spring flowering shrubs like forsythia, pussy willow, and flowering almond. Stems of these shrubs have flower buds already developed and they are ready to quickly grow and develop in a warm environment after receiving their chilling requirement over winter. Treat cut stems like standard cut flowers by changing the water frequently and using floral preservative. Once the flowers begin to appear, their life can be extended by keeping them in a cooler portion of the house, out of direct sunlight, and away from drafts.
Continue to start seeds of bedding plants indoors at the appropriate time for each species. Different species grow at different rates and the slower ones benefit from being started earlier so plants will be of good size when it comes time to plant them out after danger of frost. March is a great time to start many bedding plants to provide them with about 8-10 weeks of growth before being transplanted outdoors. Common bedding plants that would be great to plant in March include: dianthus, cleome, cole crops, hollyhocks (those that flower the first year from seed), peppers, petunias, rudbeckia (black-eyed Susans), and snapdragons. Tomatoes grow very quickly from seed and can be started in late March or April for decent sized transplants in late May. If one wants to get a jump start on the season with tomatoes and has the space to accommodate them, they can be started now.
Photo 2: Cutting this very overgrown shrub to the ground a few years back resulted in a flush of new shoots and a more manageable shrub. David Zlesak
March is a great time of year to prune many trees and shrubs. Exceptions include species that tend to bleed heavily in spring like some maples and birch. Spring is a great time to conduct rejuvenation pruning on many shrub species. Rejuvenation pruning involve removing a small proportion of the oldest stems as close to the base as possible. If one does this periodically (each spring or every other year) this will help keep shrubs producing new, strong stems that tend to be more vigorous, healthy, and flower better. Extremely overgrown shrubs that have not been appropriately pruned for a long time can be cut completely to the ground as a last resort. Most commonly, this technique results in a lot of strong growth from the base as there is a well established root system to support it. Sometimes cutting an overgrown shrub completely to the ground may stress it out to such an extent that it may die or come back poorly at first. Spring flowering shrubs, like lilac and forsythia, are often pruned after they are done flowering so a season of flowering is not missed, although later pruning can add extra stress to the plant.