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For The Garden

March 2014 Gardening Checklist for Arizona’s Low, Mid and High Elevations

Author: Cathy Cromell
Issue: March, 2014, Page 142
Baja red fairy duster


March is a terrific month for adding most plant types to low-desert landscapes. Warming soil temperatures enhance seed germination and root development before the arrival of summer’s intense heat. Visit spring plant sales at public gardens to score unusual or hard-to-find species, but arrive early for best selection.

Desert-adapted landscape plants—Transplant trees, shrubs, vines, groundcovers, perennials, ornamental grasses, cacti and succulents. Select plants with varied bloom seasons to provide nectar and seed sources for birds and other pollinators throughout the year. Limited space? Choose a few plants that will bloom almost year-round (if no freeze), such as Baja red fairy duster, Mexican honeysuckle and orange bells.

Cool-season veggies—Sow a late crop of carrots, green onions, lettuces and radishes so that they will mature before the heat hits.

Tomatoes—Plants should be in the ground no later than March 15 in the low desert. Protect from frost as needed.

Citrus—Do not remove lower branches after transplanting, as their foliage provides energy for the tree to grow and shades sensitive trunk tissue from sunburn. Also, it is easy to harvest fruit from low branches.

Herbs—Transplant basil, bay, chamomile, chives, epazote, feverfew, lavender, lemon balm, lemon grass, lemon verbena, oregano, rosemary, sage and santolina.

Flower power—If you have had trouble last year getting such summer vegetables as squash or cucumbers to mature, plant flowers nearby that attract pollinators. Sow or transplant coreopsis, cosmos, gaillardia, hollyhock, marigold, Maximilian sunflower, Mexican hat, Mexican sunflower and zinnia. Also transplant dyssodia, salvia, verbena and yarrow.

Tomatoes—Transplant from mid-March to mid-April so that plants can establish roots and get a jumpstart on flowering and fruiting before the heat arrives. Cover plants if a late frost is predicted.

Herbs—Transplant cold-tolerant herbs, such as dill, parsley, sage, tarragon and thyme. “Harden off” small tender transplants by gradually increasing their outdoor exposure over 7 to 10 days before planting in the garden.

Cool-season vegetables—Sow or transplant bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, peas and spinach. After mid-month, sow beets, carrots, radishes and turnips.

Bare-root and container-grown fruit and shade trees, shrubs and roses—Dig a hole that is 3 to 5 times as wide as, but no deeper than, the root ball. Finish transplanting by the end of the month.

Photos - From left: Carrots, Hollyhock

Vegetables—Sow cool-season broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, kale, lettuce and spinach indoors 8 weeks before transplanting outdoors.


Watch for aphids—These tiny, soft-bodied insects cluster on tender plant growth to suck plant sap. Aphids may be green, grayish-black or neon yellow. Control their population by periodically hosing them off with water. Another option is to leave them alone, as aphids attract green lacewings and ladybeetles. As long as a food supply is available, these beneficial insects will hang around your garden to consume aphids and other pests.

Feed roses—Apply a product formulated for roses according to package instructions. To prevent magnesium deficiency, work in 1/4 to 1/2 cup of Epsom salt (a magnesium source) around each shrub. Water to a depth of 2 feet after application.

Adjust timers—As temperatures warm, a plant’s water needs increase. How often to water depends on many factors, including plant type and maturity, soil type and weather. As a general guideline for spring, water desert-adapted plants every 2 to 4 weeks. Non-native high-water-use landscape plants may need irrigation every 7 to 12 days. Shallow-rooted annuals need water every 3 to 7 days.

Fertilize fruit trees—As buds begin to swell, apply nitrogen at the following rates for apples, apricots, cherries, nectarines, peaches and plums. Ammonium sulfate—1/2 pound per inch of trunk diameter, up to a maximum of 5 pounds per tree. Blood meal—3/4 quarters of a pound to a max of 7 pounds. For pear trees, apply half these amounts.

Tend roses—By mid-month, prune hybrids back by 1/3 to 1/2 to promote blooms. Prevent rot by clearing away wet leaf litter and soil that may have piled against the trunk during winter. Just as new growth begins, fertilize with a product formulated for roses. Apply a fresh layer of mulch to control weeds and maintain consistent soil moisture.

Prune—After your area’s last frost, but before buds break, trim summer-blooming shrubs and trees. Wait to prune spring-bloomers until after they finish flowering.

Expand your gardening skills—Attend the 21st-annual High on the Desert Gardening & Landscaping Conference in Sierra Vista, Ariz., March 13 and 14. Gardeners of all experience levels are invited to this event, which is sponsored by University of Arizona Cochise County Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners. Registration is $65 for one day or $100 for both days. For details, call (520) 458-8278, Ext. 2141, or log on to

Cathy Cromell is a Master Gardener and co-author of Earth-Friendly Desert Gardening (Arizona Master Gardener Press).
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