What can I plant in March?
What can I plant in March?
Every gardener who looks forlornly out the window at the first signs of spring asks themselves the same question. What can I plant now?
Are you itching clean up and prepare your garden beds? To run your fingers in the damp, fresh soil and inhale once again that rich, organic smell? To create those neat little furrows in the dark soil and drop those precious, tiny seeds in, knowing magic will run its course and soon wondrous seedling of the most tender, vibrant shade of green will appear?
I do. Every year, right around the turn of February, the itch starts and grows stronger and stronger until by mid-March, I cannot contain it anymore. And it’s all for the better, because there is plenty that can be planted at this time of year!
Here are 5 of my favorite Early Spring crops that can be direct seeded when the nights are still dropping below freezing (March to mid-April for us here in Connecticut). You will need to adapt this guide to your own growing zone!
Comes March, most gardeners are quite ravenous for fresh food coming from their garden and lettuce is sitting right there at the top of the list of the crops we’re most likely to crave.
Fresh lettuce is indeed quite superior to anything you can buy from the store and is one the fastest crop you can grow in your garden.
While it’s true you can grow lettuce year round in my Zone 7a under the protection of a hoop house, most gardeners do not have that luxury. Even without additional protection, you can still start lettuce seeds as soon as the soil can be worked. If you find yourself extra-impatient, like me, you can also start them in trays and bring them outside when the plant are about 4 weeks old, provided you harden them first!
Not all varieties perform the same in damp, cold soil and frequent frost conditions. Here are the lettuce varieties I love growing in early Spring:
Royal Oakleaf lettuce: a very cold tolerant variety that yield nicely flavored leaves of a pale green color. A must in the early spring.
Merlot lettuce: This is the lettuce I grew when I started my very first garden and I still grow it to this day. The leaves are stunning with their dark, deep red color and have a great flavor and texture. It is both cold and heat tolerant, meaning a long harvest window.
Lollo Rosso: So cute with its frilly and curly leaves, Lollo Rosso is a garden favorite. I love playing with the different colors and texture when planting my lettuce beds and this is one I seldom omit. Great cold tolerance and slow to bolt, it can be used as a head lettuce or just harvest the larger outer leaves for an extended harvest.
I usually wait another 2 or 3 weeks to plant daintier varieties like Tom Thumb but it all depends on your own micro climate.
Do you have a favorite variety that I have not listed for cold season growing? Let me know in the comments below and I’m sure to try it out!
I have a long love story with Swiss Chard! It is one of the most underrated greens in the home gardens. There isn’t much not to love about them: they grow easily from seeds, skipping the need to start them inside where space is restricted, they lend color and texture to the garden with their large, crumply green leaves and contrasting stems on upright, impressive plants.
To add to all those qualities, they are true biennial, meaning they are incredibly resistant to bolting, producing the delicious greens from early spring right into the depth of winter. I even move mine under protection in November to keep enjoying the new growth as soon as the daylight start increasing in the spring.
Why don’t more people grow them? I do not know. All I know is that I start rows of Swiss chard at the same time as my lettuces, right when the soil thaws enough to be worked.
Here are my favorite varieties, but there are many, many more to enjoy out there!
Fordhook Giant Chard : this one is a HUGE hit. LOL, yes, that’s a mom joke. But truly it is my daughter’s pride and joy to pick the 2 feet long stems and bring them inside for a quick side dish. I would grow them just for the raised eyebrows they cause! But be reassured, they are just as delicious as they are impressive.
Pink Lipstick chard : this one is an easy favorite. The neon pink stem are truly stunning, making them an accent in any part-shade spot in the garden. They are so pretty with the dark green, generous leaves that I could never go without.
Perpetual Spinach: this one is a trickster! It is no spinach at all but a true chard. While the taste is not exactly the same as spinach, I find them to be the closest thing to a spinach substitute out there. I plant a full bed of those right in the spring and harvest my “spinach” all summer, long after fresh spinach is but a memory relegated to my freezer!
Kale is a longtime favorite in America’s garden and for good reason. The plants grow large and fast as long as they receive ample support in the form of nitrogen (keep it organic!) and make for one of the most nutritious crops you can grow.
I start mine in newly amended beds and grow them under sheer fabric to keep hungry critters and cabbage moths away, but you don’t need to if you don’t live where those pests are a problem.
One of the greatest thing about kale is that you can start harvesting baby leaves quite early and keep going until the plant is fully mature. In some region, they may even overwinter without protection (mine is always protected by mid-Winter) and pop the most delicious flowering sprouts in the spring, just like the more finicky sprouting broccoli that thrives in milder climates. This makes them a delight year round!
Although there are many, many varieties of kale out there, here are my family’s absolute favorite:
White Russian Kale: large plants give plenty of jagged, nutritious leaves. I find them flavorful and easy to grow. Very cold tolerant, it is one kale that I grow every spring and then again in the Fall for harvest through the winter.
Red Russian Kale: by far my favorite kale. It has the same delicious flavor and ragged leaves as White Russian, but with a red tint along the stems that becomes more pronounced under cold weather. I can overwinter both in my Connecticut gardens with only minimal protection and harvest leaves right up to Spring.
Another greatly underrated greens are the mustards. I am not talking about the Asian-type of salad greens like Mizuna or tatsoi, although they are totally delicious, but the large types of mustards plants that produce huge yields of nutritious greens.
The mustards can be planted about a week or two after the kale and the lettuces and will pretty much take care of themselves from that point on. Be sure to space them correctly: the plants become quite large. I make sure to prepare the spring best I intend to use for mustards with lots of fresh compost. Few pests bother them and they make statement plants in the garden that attracts lots of compliments!
The whole plant is edible, from baby greens to large leaves. The characteristic pungent flavor develops as the plants grow into warmer days, but is mostly tamed by cooking. The blooms are lovely with 4 feet high flower stems and clusters of tiny flower. They are edible as well, and I always pick a few right before they open to toss in stir-fries, but make sure to leave some for the pollinators, which will flock to them in droves.
Here are my absolute favorite large mustard varieties:
Red Giant Japanese mustard: a stunning plant indeed! As the plant matures, the leaves grow deeper in both flavor and color. I love the beautiful display them make so much that I never pull them out, instead allowing them to go to flower. The flowering stalks are tall and the cluster of tiny yellow flowers are a pollinator magnet. They are edible as well and unopened they make a tasty addition to soups and stir fried.
Miike Giant mustard – also known as Giant Leaves mustard. This is one mustard plant that reaches monstrous proportions! The plants have large, generous leaves and need a lot of fertility to reach their full potential, but you will be rewarded with a show-stopper. Not only impressive, it is incredibly nutritious like all mustard and the leaves remain tender even when large. Flowering stalks are also edible and are wonderful for pollinators.
The treat of a freshly picked garden pea is many a gardener’s favorite time of the year. Peas have everything to please in the garden: pop them in moist, cold ground (after a night of soaking) and you will be rewarded with the most stunning seedling about 7 days later. The color and shape of those pea seedlings are something I look forward to every spring.
Just like so many of our garden treasures, everything is edible in a pea plant. Shoots and young leaves burst with pea flavor and blooms make a sophisticated addition to salads or garnishes. The peas themselves cannot be discounted, obviously!
My own family loves snow peas best, but I also make sure to grow plenty of shelling peas to enjoy throughout the year as they can be frozen easily. Peas are legumes and thus can fix their own nitrogen meaning you can skip amendments where you grow them if you find yourself in short supply.
Here are my two favorite peas, both of which are low growing, skipping the need for trellising as I always find myself short of trellis space!
Oregon Giant Snow Pea: A giant snow pea that only grows about 3 feet tall and require little to no staking! My daughter is a fan of the sweet, crunchy peas and although I love it as well, she rummages through the patch so much that we seldom can bring any inside the house!
Early Frosty Shelling Pea: I must admit that it took me some years to finally grow some shelling peas, wrongfully believing it not worth my time or my garden space. I was so wrong! Freshly picked shelling peas are tender and incredibly sweet and the harvest is abundant enough to yield enough peas to freeze for the winter. I always grow two planting of them, one in the early spring and one in the late summer for a Fall harvest.
There are so many other wonderful peas out there. Leave a comment below with your favorite variety for others to explore!
That's it for now! Stay tuned for the next installment where I'll tell you all about my next Spring planting: root vegetables!