To Do In The Northwest Edible Garden: March 2013

My gardener Spidey Sense tells me that we Maritime Northwest Gardeners aren’t going to see some crazy late super cold snap this month. I could be wrong, for sure, and your microclimate milage may vary, but I think it’s safe to start thinking Spring is here-ish.

Here’s what Maritime Northwest gardeners should be doing this month.

If you want to plan with the big picture in mind, download the Year Round Vegetable Planting Guide for free in the Downloadables section. To help keep your plantings and record-keeping organized, I humbly recommend my (not free) downloadable Garden Planner and Journal

Seed Potatoes

Plan & Purchase

If you haven’t ordered your seed potatoes yet, don’t delay – local potato specialist Irish Eyes Garden Seed is already out of many popular varieties. My absolute favorite, most productive variety of potato from last year was French Fingerling.

  • Asparagus Crowns
  • Bare Root Fruit Trees
  • Bare Root Fruit Bushes
  • Bare Root Cane Fruit & Vines
  • Seed Potatoes
  • Garlic – yes, you should have done this last October. But if you didn’t get to it, stick a few cloves of seed garlic in the ground. You might get lucky.

Chard Seedlings

Start Indoors

If you are new to starting your own seeds you might want to check out my three-part Seed Starting 101 series: Key Components For Healthy SeedlingsA Step-by-Step Visual Guide To Growing Seedlings At Home, and Up-Potting.

  • Tomatoes – late February or early March is a great time to start tomatoes indoors.
  • Peppers & Eggplant – these are more tender than tomatoes, so standard practice is to start them a few weeks after tomatoes. I find it’s just easier to start them at the same time and up-pot them in a gallon pot so they have the longest grow time, but I have a greenhouse for hardening them off through that awkward “cool May and June” time. If you don’t, you may want to start your peppers and eggplants towards the end of the month. Peppers and eggplant germinate very slowly in cool soil, so this is a crop for which you want to break out the seed heater mat (I use this one). Remember to use cool-climate cultivars. Like tomatoes, small peppers and eggplant (think Asian, not Italian) will tend to ripen more reliably than big ones. Give these crops the warmest, sunniest, most protected spot you can.
  • Brassicas – broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower & kholrabi can all be sown under light lights early this month, or wait until after mid-month and sow outside under a cloche. If you’re going to sow out, make sure your cloche is in place a few weeks before you plan to sow so the soil can warm and dry out somewhat. Watch for slugs! (I use Sluggo. I get a big tub at Costco at this time of year.)
  • Hardy Herbs – Parsley, chives, fennel, chervil, oregano, dill, mint, sorrel, marjoram, lemon balm, pansies etc. can be started under lights.
  • Salad Greens – Sow salad greens! Once a month at least for continuous harvest! Outside, your seeds will take quite awhile to germinate with soil temps this low.
  • Spinach – Just like the other salad greens: new month, more spinach.
  • Kale & Collards – They are very hardy and can be started in at the beginning of the month and transplanted out while still small towards the end of the month quite happily. You can also seed them directly. They’ll take a bit longer to germinate but they’ll grow. I usually grow kale year round but if you don’t love it as I do, hold off and grow it as a fall crop.
  • Swiss Chard – Start now, or sow outside to a cloche after mid-March.
  • Onions & Leeks – Give them a shot from seed if you want, but I buy plants from Dixondale.

Mesclun Seedlings

Sow & Plant Outside

Fruit & Perennials:
Nurseries have all their fruit trees and perennials in right now, and places like Raintree are shipping bareroot. As long as the ground isn’t frozen or waterlogged, bare root or potted fruiting trees, bushes and perennials can be planted out. The sooner you can get them in, the better.

  • Bare root fruit trees – these should be put into previously prepared ground while still dormant.
  • Bare root fruit bushes (currants, gooseberries, blueberries, etc.).
  • Bare root cane fruits (blackberries, raspberries, etc.).
  • Asparagus crowns – these can be purchased at a good nursery. Look for an all male variety.
  • Rhubarb crowns – these can be had by dividing established plants or purchased at a good nursery.
  • Horseradish roots – these can be invasive!  It’s a good idea to plant them in a very large container sunk into the ground to control their roaming.

Vegetables & Annuals
Remember that any veggie sown or transplanted out in March will be happier and give better results under a vented cloche kept in place through May. Make sure to prevent heat build-up by venting during the day, especially if it’s sunny! Also keep the ground moist enough to assist germination.

  • Peas & Favas –I started my peas and favas inside in mid February. (How to Sow Peas in Guttering) I’ll be transplanting those asap and sowing more directly outside.
  • Salad Greens – Spinach, mustards, arugula, Asian greens and cress can be sown directly for baby salad greens. They all will want to bolt the moment the sun starts showing some real strength so when you see something harvestable, use it. If you started greens last month under lights they are ready to transplant out. Harden them off before you settle them into their outside bed.
  • Carrots, Parsnips & Root Parsley – If you have fine, loose, sandy soil they will probably do fine sown about mid-month. If your ground is heavier and holds water I’d wait several weeks until it’s drier and you can rake it out to a nice fluffy consistency without clods.
  • Radishes – Can be sown out directly. It works well to intercrop radishes and carrots or parsnips.
  • Turnips & Rutabagas – I don’t bother with rutabagas in spring. For me they are a purely fall-winter crop. Spring turnips are lovely though. Harvest them little before maggots tunnel through them.
  • Beets – Can be sown out directly towards the end of the month.
  • Onion Sets – For early green onions, you can plant sets this month and use them before they bulb. I tend to just deliberately plant a bit too close and eat the thinnings.
  • Potatoes – the gardener tradition is to sow potatoes on St. Patrick’s day (March 17th). But really they can go in anytime from mid March to June, depending on when you want to harvest them and if they are early season or late season varieties. Avoid a situation where the green growth of your potatoes might get killed back by frost – even though the potato won’t die, it will use a lot of it’s energy up rebuilding green leaf mass and won’t produce as nice a harvest later.



The goal of almost any vegetable that’s survived an entire growing season and gone through winter at this point is to make seed as soon as is reasonable. March is the last month you should expect to be able to harvest from your 2012 crops, as the longer, warmer days of April will send pretty much everything to bolt. If your cole crops make flowers and you can possibly leave them in the ground, please do so – bees and other beneficial pollinators love the simple yellow brassica flowers and will swarm to them on warmish days when little else is in bloom. Let those brassicas go to seed and, as a bonus, you may get some tasty mystery-kale-type self-sown starts popping up around your yard.

  • Beets – any remaining beets should be used before they go to seed next month.
  • Cabbage – Brussels sprouts and any remaining overwintering cabbage should be used soon – any remaining sprouts should be picked this month. Sprouting broccoli and overwintering cauliflower should be ready this month and, depending on variety, into April or even May.
  • Carrots & Parsnips – finish off the overwintered carrots & parsnips, they’ll go to seed soon.
  • Kale & Collards – if your kale is sprouting, the shoots are delicious used like broccoli.
  • Cauliflower – I have three heads of over-wintering Cauliflower this year, but they aren’t as pretty as last year’s.
  • Sprouting Broccoli – sprouting purple should be ready to harvest this month and possibly into April. Mine is just forming side shoots now.
  • Kohlrabi – still lovin’ my winter kohlrabi but it too is threatening to bolt. Time to eat the last of it.
  • Chard – if any Swiss Chard has overwintered, it will be putting on new growth now and can be harvested. My chard planting this spring is pathetic. Oh well, what are ya gonna do?
  • Leeks – Still quite harvestable. Next month leeks will probably send up a seed stalk.  If this happens, check the flavor and texture before consigning them to compost.  I have harvested leek scapes that were sweet, mild and crunchy. I wish I had grown leeks last year!
  • Turnips & Rutabagas – harvest the last of the turnips and rutabagas; leave them into April and they’ll probably start going to seed. Rutabaga-Cauliflower puree is a great option at this time of year.
  • Salad Greens – I am still harvesting radicchio and some arugula, but little else in the salad greens department this year.
  • Jerusalem Artichokes – Enjoying them more this year, what with my recent focus on Sunchoke Soup.
  • Stored Potatoes – my storage potatoes have gone all sprouty on me. The French Fingerlings are alien-crazy-sprouting and the Yellow Finns are just a bit sprouty.
  • Stored Winter Squash – I only have one squash left, but it is still in good shape. See also: how I store my winter squash. And here is a great recipe for using up the last of the squash: Winter Curried Squash Soup with Spice Toasted Squash Seeds.
  • Rhubarb-is your rhubarb coming up yet? I’m not seeing any growth from mine yet.

March in the garden is typically pretty busy around here. Is it for you too? What are you planning to do this month?


  1. says

    Thanks so much for the link to Dixondale! I try growing onions from seed almost every year, but the success rate is miserable. And I can never find them at the nurseries as early as I want.

  2. says

    May I shamelessly suck up by putting in a plug for the garden planner? Erica has such a gift for organization. I am learning so much here, and I have been gardening for decades, not years. I spent the $16 and can assure you that it is money well spent. I am having a blast planning the contents of my unheated 11×20 greenhouse to the last foot, thanks to the handy sheets with squares. I missed much of last year’s garden season and am just chomping at the bit now. Early greens and leeks are thriving under the grow lights, but they need to move soon to make room for tomatoes. Just might buy another grow light thingy. As I keep reminding Old Man: golf or bingo would cost more.

  3. Lucy says

    I am so jealous! I live in zone 3b (Canada eh?) and I can’t even start to thinking about putting anything outside until the very end of May (or June). We do get wicked long summer days though which helps us catch up a bit with you lucky folks. Until then I will live vicariously through you as I enjoy all your garden adventures :)

  4. says

    I am also going to shamelessly kiss ass here. The Planner rocks! I love the idea or organization and this puts everything you might need in an easy customizable format. I see this being used for decades to come!

    Great post.
    I have 3 week old peppers and tomatoes that i started from seed using a local seed saving company uprising organics. Cute little plants.

    I am also on my second rotation of brassica starts with the first set ready to go under cloche in a week or so.

    My garlic is already 4inches tall and i am hand digging the rest of my garden. Would have been done last week but we caught a nasty stomache bug that went every few days from person to person.

    Hmmm oh we have aquired 4 compost factories…..i mean sweet bunnies! so i may never have to buy compost again!

  5. Steve in Eugene says

    I have a grow light set up with a heating mat that I am using for the first time. I got the $25 thermostat to go with it. What do you do about nighttime temperatures – just leave it on? Or unplug it every night. I wish I could program it for nighttime temps. Am I being overly fussy?

    I love, and rely on, your website as I continue to learn as a gardener. Thanks so much!


    • says

      Steve i just purchase one of those mats too. I am hoping it is worth it for my tomatoes and onions. I dont have it temp monitered. I have the heat mat off between 2-4am with one of those timer things. I am hoping this will allow a night feel without cooling them to much.

      • says

        The goal with heat mats is to keep “soil” temperatures steady when the outdoor temperatures don’t yet match them. Keep the mats on 24/7 until your seeds germinate (it’s the germination that usually requires the warmer conditions). If what you’re starting is a cool spring crop (lettuce, onions, etc), then once you have decent seedlings, you can take them off the mats and get them used to normal temperatures (I do this in an unheated greenhouse, but you can just move them into the sun during the day in a window or outside and back on to the mats at night). If you’re starting a summer, heat-loving crop like tomatoes or peppers, they need to be kept at steady temperatures that don’t drop below 50-55 degrees. Again, you can do this by keeping them on the mats at night and then bringing them to room temps during the day, or I just keep them on the heat mats in the unheated greenhouse and throw some row cover over them at night to keep in the heat when the outdoor night temps are still below that. Depends a little on your set-up. But steady heat=steady growth!

        • says

          Just to add that Steve Solomon’s Vegetable Gardening West of the Cascades is wondeful for giving germination temperatures, ideal night temperatures, etc. The book can be a bit overwhelming for newbie gardeners, but it is a wealth of information as a reference.

  6. says

    Still a-waitin’ here in central NY. I started some cauliflower and parsley on Feb. 27, and I noticed the first germination on the cauli’s this morning. And, it’s snowing. [sigh]. We don’t have an awful lot of snow on the ground, so if we get the mid-40’s they’re predicting for next week, it should go fast.

    I’m planning on seeding the first cool crops on March 12 under row cover, but I’ve never done that before. I’m not sure what approach to take; the PVC pipe over rebar seems simplest but I picture the PVC wanting to pop off. Have you ever posted on this? (I’ve searched before but may have missed it.) How are yours constructed?

    Also, regarding seeds. Great article in the NY Times today. Seems the Monsanto/Semenis issue isn’t all we have to be concerned about.

    • says

      I do PVC over rebar. I have never had one randomly pop off. Pound 2ft rebar stakes in the ground leaving about 8 inches sticking out. Slide PVC over it. My trouble is finding something to clip the plastic to the PVC with that doesnt KILL my hands trying to grip it.

  7. Steve in Eugene says

    As I get ready for the season, I have lots of containers that need cleaning – and at least a dozen are big 25-gallon tree tubs I use for tomatoes and the like. I read advice saying they must be sanitized or can spread disease. I know it’s possible this could happen, but is it likely? Or, perhaps said a different way, how am I going to clean and sanitize these big containers, not to mention the 30-some 15-gallon tubs I own.
    What do you do?


    • JP says


      Dishwashing gloves, a dishrag, a dishpan, one tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water, swab out those containers and let them air dry. If you’ve had issues with wilt or rust in the past, you can go as high as three tablespoons per gallon according to the data sheets I’ve found online. It breaks down to harmless components very quickly so don’t “save it for later”, and if there is any left over in the dishpan, just let it sit outside until the chlorine smell dissipates; it’s safe then.

  8. Stefanie says

    Thank you so much for all the work you put into your blog…it is one of my absolute favorites! Please keep these monthly to do lists coming, they are extremely helpful!

  9. Steve in Eugene says

    You once mentioned seeds on sale at Fred Meyer/Kroger. On the way home from work week before last I had a feeling I might check. Sure enough – all seeds were 50% off. Not old seed. Ed Hume & Ferry Morse. I am cheap and bought. I plan on watching for that sale next year. It ran 2/24 – 3/2. Great value.

    They also had Chinese seeds from New Dimension Seed out of Scappoose. These were not included in the sale, but I’ve heard great things about their White Stallion cucumber, so I bought a packet.


  10. says

    I’m really excited for your April post! I live in Seattle, and I have a question about my pumpkin sprouts, if anyone has an answer for what I can do to stop it.

    Something is eating my pumpkin sprouts, little circle chunks out of the end of the leaves. I think it might be cucumber beetle? I don’t think it’s slugs, but I don’t know. I’d prefer to not use pesticides, but if I get too annoyed I might be persuaded… any advice?

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