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March planting guide

With the arrival of warmer weather, gardening is on the minds of more people: here’s how to get planting in March.

The Farmer’s Almanac estimates the average last frost to be March 22. The possibility of a frost occurring after this date is 50 percent. However, some farmers are willing to take this risk with hardy plants or to get early crops.

A light freeze (29 to 32 degrees Fahrenheit) can damage tender plants. A moderate freeze (25 to 28 degrees Fahrenheit) will damage most plants, especially blossoms. You may have noticed this effect this past month, when Camellia bushes put out blossoms early, only to be killed by cold weather conditions. A severe freeze of 24 degrees or less will damage almost all plants and certainly all vegetables.

Starting seeds indoors is an ideal way to get the early crops without the risk of a frost wiping out your garden. Seeds can be planted into a multi-compartment seed starter. By the time the frosts are over, you will have tiny seedlings ready for transplant.

Frost is not the only thing to worry about in cooler weather. Different seeds require a certain soil temperature to germinate. They will remain dormant until they are warm enough to sprout. Most vegetables require a temperature of 75-90 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you are willing to risk the cold or are starting seedlings inside, here is a list of plants that the Florida Extension Service recommends planting in March:

Beans, Bush: If you have a small garden, consider using pole beans instead, as they yield two to three times more in the same space, according to Cornell University. Bush beans enjoy full sun but will tolerate partial shade. They take 50-60 days until harvest. They should be planted two to three inches apart and one to two inches deep.

Beans, Pole: Pole beans take a bit more set up than bush beans but the benefit comes in the yield. These should be planted three to six inches apart and one to two inches deep. These take 55-70 days until harvest.

Beets: Like most root crops, beets are frost-resistant so a late frost will not affect a beet. The leaves of a beet are edible, though most people only eat the roots. Plant beets three to five inches apart, as overcrowding can result in smaller plants. They should be sown shallowly at only one-half to one inch apart.

Cantaloupes: Cantaloupes take 75-90 days until harvest. Plant them widely at 24-48 inches apart. These are not recommended for small gardens because of the space they take up. If you do have a large space, address irrigation before planting; the melons require a plentiful water supply until they are about the size of tennis balls to ensure proper maturation. Plant seeds one to two inches deep.   

Carrots: Carrots take 100 days until harvest. Place seeds one-half inch into the soil. Space plants one to three inches apart. Keep soil consistently moist so that you will have juicy carrots come harvest time. This is the last month to plant carrots.

Celery: Celery takes a long 150 days to mature. That’s five months. Plant seeds one-quarter to one-half inch into the soil. Space plants six to 10 inches apart. Save this one for the expert gardener, as celery requires a lot of moisture during germination. This is the last month to plant celery.

Collards: Collards take approximately two months until you can begin harvesting the lower leaves. Collards like cold weather; the cold gives them a sweeter flavor. Plant early in February for sweeter collard greens. Plant seeds 10-18 inches apart and one half to one inch deep.

Corn: Corn yields 115 pounds of produce per 100 square feet of space. It requires rich, fertile soil and plenty of water, so address these factors before planting. Corn can take up a lot of space; to mitigate this, co-plant with pole beans. The pole beans will use the corn stalks as support (and you don’t have to build supports) and the shared space will allow a higher yield for smaller gardens. Plant corn 12-18 inches apart and one to two inches deep. A single row of corn will not do corn should be planted at least four to five rows deep for proper pollination. It takes 60-95 days until harvest.

Cucumbers: Cucumbers can be broken down into two categories: picklers and slicers. Picklers can still be eaten fresh and they are simply better suited for pickling. Bees are required for pollination. Space rows widely, giving 36-60 inches between rows. Plant seeds one to two inches into the soil.

Eggplant: Eggplant yields 200 pounds of produce per 100 feet of space. (Peppers, for a comparison, only yield 40 pounds per 100 feet.) It takes 90-110 days until harvest, though the time can be shortened to 75 days if using mature transplants. Eggplant can be fried, stewed, boiled, eaten raw and prepared in a variety of other ways.

Endive: Endive, or “Chicory” as it is more commonly known in the United States, has several varieties. You may know it for the Radiccio variety; these red and white leaves can often be seen in bagged salad mixes. Plant seeds eight to 12 inches apart. The plants will be ready for harvest in 80-95 days.   

Kohlrabi: Kohlrabi take 70-80 days to mature. They are a high-yield crop. Plant seeds one-half to one inch into the soil. Space plants three to five inches apart. The root and leaves are edible and red and white varieties are available. They are rather like radishes or turnips and can be prepared similarly.

Lettuce: Lettuce should be planted soon; they are not cold-tolerant but require enough cool weather to avoid becoming bitter. They take 50-90 days until harvest. Seeds should be sewn very shallowly, no more than one-half inch deep, as the seeds require light to germinate.

Mustard greens: Mustard greens are easily damaged by frost, so cover these when the temperatures look like they’re going to drop too low. Cool weather, however, makes these sweeter. Mustard greens mature quickly, taking only 40-60 days until harvest.

Okra: Okra takes 50-75 days to harvest, so plant soon for an early summer harvest. Plant the seeds one to two inches deep and six to 12 inches apart.

Onions: Bulbing onions are out of season, as they prefer winter temperatures but green bunching onions can be planted starting in March. These onions are primarily prized for their tops, not their bulbs. These plants require well-drained and rich soil; standing water will spoil the bulbs.  From transplants, they take only 30-40 days until harvest. Plant in groups every 10 days to have a continuous supply.

Peas, English: English peas take 50-70 days until harvest. Plant one to two inches into the soil. Space plants two to three inches apart. English peas need only half the fertilizer of other plants— too much will inhibit yield (this is why we plan). They also love the cold so a warm winter is not a good planting time for English peas.

Peppers: Peppers include sweet and hot varieties. Transplants are often more successful than starting from seeds. Pick peppers as they become mature; plants that are picked often produce more. From seeds, plants take 80-100 days until harvest. From transplants, the time can be as little as 60 days.

Potatoes: Potatoes take 150 days to harvest. Plant three to four inches into the soil. Space plants eight to 12 inches apart. Plant certified seed pieces with at least one eye. These love fertilizer, water and a little bit of cold weather. March is the last month to plant potatoes.

Potatoes, Sweet: Potatoes should be planted January through March. If you missed out on soil preparation in this time frame, never fear; sweet potato planting begins in March and ends in June. They take a long 120-140 days until harvest and can only be started from transplants. They are easy targets for sweet potato weevils so do not plant in the same space two years in a row as this will give the weevils a head start on your second-year crop. Plant 12-14 inches apart depending on variety.

Pumpkins: They take a lot of space for planting but can be planted under taller crops. You may already be using a large space for the corn (which requires at least five rows for good pollination), so co-planting in that space will ensure that the pumpkins will not overrun your garden. Pumpkins take 90-120 days until harvest.  The seeds prefer warm soil and no frosts.

Radishes: Plant every two weeks for a continuous supply. For a sweeter taste, do not allow these to over-mature but water frequently. Plants mature from seed to harvest in a lightning-fast 20-30 days.

Summer squash: Summer squash can also be used in Three Sisters planting, instead of the pumpkins. Yellow crookneck and zucchini are the best known varieties. Alternating these plants in a single row is a great idea for the supper table. Summer squash takes 40-55 days until harvest (or 35-40 days from transplant).  Plant 24-36 inches apart; squash plants enjoy their elbow room.

Squash, Winter: Winter squashes include spaghetti, butternut and acorn squashes. They have a much longer period until harvest than summer squashes (80-110 days). Plant these 36-48 inches apart. Winter squashes are rich in vitamins and minerals and low in fat and calories.

Tomatoes: Most gardeners prefer to use transplants as these are a slow-growing crop that can take up to 110 days to mature. When placing a transplant, go ahead and place the stake or tomato cage. Putting the support system on later could damage the plant.

Turnips: Turnips are a high-yield winter crop, providing 150 pounds of produce per 100 feet of planting space. The roots are often boiled with a little salt, pepper and pork fat. They can be treated like potatoes when cooking. Turnips reach maturity in 40-60 days.

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