March in the Southern Garden
Winter's spell is broken. March signals the plant kingdom's new beginning. Our third month got its name from the Roman "Martius", honoring Mars -- god of war. Martius was first month in Rome until Julian's Calendar in forty-six B.C.. In France, March did not become their third month until 1564.
Daffodil is the birth-month flower of March -- bearing bright, yellow, fragrant blooms. The word "Daffodil" is derived from "asphodelus" -- meaning "king's spear". Slurred, the word became "affodylle", then "affodil", and finally -- daffodil.
Spring-heralding and spear-like, a single stalk rises from broad, strap-like leaves and supports a trumpet-shaped blossom. Hardy and growing over a wide range, Daffodil grew wild in Europe's woods and fields.
The old Chinese empire emblem of spring was the Daffodil -- called "Sacred Lily of China" and "Flower of the Gods".
Welsh custom was to wear a homegrown Daffodil on March first. London meadows were once so profuse with Daffodils that flower vendors went out annually -- gathering the blooms to sell on London's streets. By 1629, some two-hundred varieties were being cultivated. Raising Daffodils was widely competitive and bulbs fetched fantastic prices. Over ten-thousand named varieties are now registered. Most of the world's daffodil bulbs are grown by the Dutch.
If you're enjoying azaleas in your yard, feed them after the flowers are gone. Special azalea fertilizer maintains soil acidity and supplies iron -- two important details for azaleas' health.
Houseplants can be repotted into larger containers. Bisque-fired terracotta pots allows water evaporation more quickly than glazed ceramics or plastic. Either condition may be desirable -- depending on what you're growing and how often you wish to water.
Strawberries, soon available at the Farmers Market and local U-Pick farms, are best when full red, but still firm. Use your fingernail to break off the fruit at the stem -- leaving the cap on a berry that will last longer in storage.
March begins a long season of planting the warm-weather vegetables. Squashes, melons, cucumber, beans and sweet corn are easy to seed directly into the soil. Tomatoes, eggplant and peppers can be grown from seed but mature earlier if started from transplants. Choose transplants that are full but not blooming or top-heavy. Leggy tomato seedling stems can be buried so as to leave only the last few inches. This additional underground structure will produce a more massive root system -- essential for the heavy feeding necessary to produce a full crop.
Mulch in March -- as deep as you wish -- to keep the soil cool, smother weeds and feed the earthworms and their helpers. Also, cultivate the Cooperative Extension Office for free info.
Visit a Farmers Market and enjoy March to the fullest.
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