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Spring Gardening: March Garden Checklist Zones 4-5

While March is still very much shrouded in winter, in Zone 4 and Zone 5, this month still signals a pathway to spring. The excitement builds with all of the winter dreaming and planning that has taken place. You are likely eager to see the soil in some cases and do some planting, but it’s not quite time for outdoor planting just yet. There are some garden prep and planning, tool assessment, and some fun indoor growing opportunities that can help you keep your focus.

March may come in like a lion but hopefully out like a lamb, and before you know it planting season will be underway.  As thoughts of harvests and blooms fill your head, peruse our March Garden Checklist Zones 4-5 for tips on all you can do in your garden this month to ensure a robust and healthy garden this year.

Group of Gardening tools on table

Visit Your Local Extension Office

The month of March is the ideal time to visit your local extension office before the true gardening season gets underway. Each State Department of Agriculture has offices set up within local counties to help gardeners and farmers find local garden resources. These specialized agencies are staffed by experts on gardening and landscaping topics who are ready and willing to answer your questions, troubleshoot problems, and provide local guidelines, advice, and support to all who seek some help in the garden.

  • Soil Test: Obtain a sample of your soil and bring it to your local garden extension office or nursery for a soil test before planting time arrives. Experts can help you identify the quality of your native soil and provide recommendations for amending.
  • Before going to your local extension office or nursery, brainstorm some questions ahead of time. Bring along your garden journal and as you ask gardening questions, jot down suggestions and expert advice.
  • Find out about native plants and what grows best in your region.
  • Gain valuable planting information detailing when you can start thinking about getting new plants and seedlings in the ground.

Spring Garden Planning

There are still many cold and rainy days ahead where you can keep working on your garden planning in Zone 4 and 5. Keep your garden journal close at hand and dream of warmer days and fruitful gardens.

  • Grab some new gardening magazines and books. Scour your favorite gardening websites for ideas and tips.
  • Use your sketched-out garden design plans and dream boards to figure out where your future plants and seedlings will go.
  • Chart seed and plant varieties. Note their planting specifications, days to germination and maturity, and keep notes about what worked well and what was not entirely successful. This chart will help you plan from year to year by knowing when to sow seeds, plant with optimal spacing, when you can expect blooms, and when to harvest your plantings.
  • If garden pests or diseases were a problem for you last season, it is a great time to research companion plants and spacing provisions to protect and boost your plants’ productivity.
  • Decide what you still need to fill unoccupied spaces in your garden beds.
  • Use your vegetable garden planting charts to guide you on what to plant and when, so you will be ready for planting when warmer temperatures roll in.
  • Construct your new raised beds, trellises, and other garden structures indoors for later placement.

Garden Tools and Supplies Assessment

Spring will be here before you know it, so it is worth repeating on our March Garden Checklist Zones 4-5 that your garden tools should be at the forefront of your mind. If you haven’t done so already, be sure that you assess your tools for sharpening and cleaning needs. The lawnmower should receive a fluid change as well. It’s best to get all of your gardening supplies in tip-top shape so that when spring rolls in, you are fully prepared for yard and garden work, so you do not have any setbacks.

Check your tools for disrepair signs, tune-up and thoroughly clean and sanitize, sharpen blades, and oil up moving parts. These steps will give you confidence for a strong start to the garden season. It is also essential to keep your garden free from diseases that may have plagued your garden last season.

  1. Start by using steel wool or a metal grill brush to clean any debris off your garden tools.
  2. Wipe surfaces with a damp rag.
  3. Use coarse sandpaper to scuff away any signs of rust on metal surfaces.
  4. Dab vegetable oil onto a rag and wipe metal surfaces.
  5. Use a piece of sandpaper to slough away any rough or splintering spots on wooden handles.
  6. Wipe wooden handles down with a rag wet with linseed oil.

Stock up on Garden Supplies

Garden centers and nurseries should be putting out this year’s gardening tools and supplies. Peruse the aisles and snatch up some of the most sought out items on your list while the shelves are fully stocked.

  • If any tools were beyond repair, have gone missing, or you have longed to acquire, now is the time to do it!
  • Once you get your soil test results, you can gather some of the amendments that you need to boost your soil’s performance.
  • If you haven’t shopped for seeds yet, you can be sure to have them on time by purchasing them at your local nursery or garden center. The same goes for seed starting supplies.
  • Summer bulbs such as Elephant Ears, Caladium, and Dahlias will be fully stocked now, so while you cannot plant them in the ground yet, you can get a hold of the best selection now.
  • Bare root plants are also most plentifully stocked at this time. You’ll have the best options to pick from this month. This includes roses, berry bushes, fruit trees, and other favorites.
Using a pitchfork to add wood chips and shredded brush to a no-dig raised bed for permaculture gardening

Spring Garden Maintenance

If you live in Zone 4 or 5, winter still has its grasp on you, but that doesn’t mean that you cannot start prepping your garden. Once the ground is exposed and free of snow, you can begin some of these prep and maintenance tasks.

Mulching and Amending the Garden

If your backyard is free from snow during March, add mulching and amending to your March Garden Checklist Zones 4-5. Wake up your garden beds and stomp out weeds in early spring by adding necessary soil amendments and adding a couple of inches of mulch to your garden beds. These actions will bolster your soil and prevent propagating spring weeds from overtaking your garden before your gardens are in full swing.

Pruning Trees and Shrubs

Again, if snow is no longer on the ground, you can start some late winter pruning too.

  1. Evergreen trees and shrubs can succumb to the weight of heavy snow. Prune away winter damage before the new shoots of spring emerge.
  2. Remove any damaged branches from your plants, or you can tie the stems with twine to get them back in shape.
  3. It’s time to do a hard pruning of dormant woody perennials and dormant ornamental grasses. You can be aggressive about your pruning with these dormant plants and only leave the first bud at the plant’s base. This applies only to plants that produce blooms on new stems.
  4. Many perennial shrubs have already formed buds for next season’s blooms. It is not the time to prune these shrubs unless you are only growing them for greenery or hedge; otherwise, you risk cutting away their blooming potential. If your plantings are purely for greenery and privacy, you may trim the bushes’ tips to shape them. Boxwoods are an example of these green shrubs. Some of the flowering shrubs to leave intact at this time include:
  • Forsythia
  • Rhodendrum
  • Azalea
  • Viburnum
  • Daphne
  • Weigela

Pruning considerations can get confusing at times. If you have any doubt on whether or not to prune back a perennial dramatically, simply let it be and prune it after it flowers. Do some more research on your plant variety and gain more insight for the next time around.

Look for Signs of Spring

Take some time to assess what things look like outdoors. Take a walk around the yard and inhale the last few weeks of winter as you dream of the planting season.

  • If it has been a milder winter and some rain has washed away the snow from the soil, you may see some hopeful perennials popping up, or there may even be bulbs peeking through the snow! Snowdrops, daffodils, and rhubarb leaves may be emerging in some areas.
  • Don’t forget about the wildlife throughout the month of March. Fill up some bird feeders or hang some suet and watch the array of birds that flock to the feast. Attracting these colorful friends to the feeders will provide entertainment and joy as you await the milder days to come.

Inviting birds to your backyard significantly help control the insect population which can protect your plants.

  • Avoid walking on your garden when the soil is saturated. Compressing the soil with weight will result in soil compaction, leading to a plethora of problems in the garden bed.
Peat pellets macro closeup on black tray for potted plants containers by window on table for growing tomato and peak indoor garden seedlings during winter

Indoor Garden Planting

Indoor garden planting can be a real pick-me-up for gardeners when the weather is unpredictable, and winter still has its hold. Planting indoors can be done in some unexpected ways. Here are some things to try:

  1. Growing Plants Under Grow Lights: While you won’t be able to plant outside quite yet, it is possible to bring your growing indoors by growing vegetables under grow lights and implementing warming mats. Some easy growers to get started with are lettuces, mixed greens, spinach, and herbs.  When you gain some confidence, try out more high-yielding plants. Planting fewer plants with higher yields allows you to reap a plentiful harvest without taking up too much space indoors.
  2. Starting Seeds Indoors: Before we discuss starting seeds indoors on our March Garden Checklist Zones 4-5, it is crucial to identify your growth zone’s last frost date. This date varies with each zone and is just an estimation.  The last frost date is essential because this is how you will calculate what you can start planting indoors by counting the seed maturation days backward from the last estimated frost date so transplants will be ready for outdoor planting.
  • Zone 4 – The last frost date ranges from April 24 – May 12
  • Zone 5 – The last frost date ranges from April 8 – May 1
  1. Force Bulbs Indoors:  You can force any bulb indoors. If you simply cannot wait until spring to see blooms, these flowers will make quite a show either planted in a pot of soil or a low dish of water and gravel or marbles.
  • Amaryllis
  • Narcissus
  • Daffodils
  • Tulips
  • Hyacinths
  1. Force Branches Indoors:  Consider pruning a few branches from some flowering shrubs and trees. Make a clean cut and arrange the branches in a vase of clean water to force an early bloom. The following make great branch sources:
  • Forsythia
  • Dogwood
  • Ornamental Cherry Trees
  • Ornamental Pear Trees
  • Magnolia
  • Pussy Willow
  • Flowering Fruit Trees

Outdoor Planting in Zone 4 and Zone 5

The ground is still frozen and temperatures are not conducive to outdoor planting in Zone 4 and Zone 5. So, there’s not much on the March Garden Checklist Zones 4-5 for outdoor planting.  If you are lucky enough to have access to a greenhouse or some cold frames, you may be able to try direct sowing certain cool-season crop seeds outdoors before the temperatures begin to rise in your grow zone. Use some trial and error to see what successes you have.


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snow on pink flowers
little sprouts in soil

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