Garden Planner: March

As spring takes hold this month, get ready for one of the busiest times of the gardening year.
imerial bromeliad

As spring takes hold this month, get ready for one of the busiest times of the gardening year. Weather may swing back to rain and frost, but rising temperatures and longer days revive gardens and energize gardeners who plant and prune, fertilize and fine-tune everything from perennial beds to backyard orchards. Nurseries brim with tempting new plants, and opportunities abound to polish gardening skills and find design inspiration. Make time to enjoy the season of rebirth.

Adoptable Bromeliads

For an Adopt a Plot garden in Balboa Park (part of this year’s centennial celebration), landscape architects Cindy Benoit and Chris Drayer picked bromeliads to accent new succulent-themed beds planted outside the Timken Museum (north and east sides) and Casa del Prado (west and north sides).

“The foliage is stunning all year long,” says Cindy, a board member of the San Diego Horticultural Society, which sponsors the planting project. Here are some landscape favorites, all available at Rancho Soledad Nursery in Rancho Santa Fe (

Blanchet’s Aechmea (Aechmea blanchetiana) — Intense yellow-orange leaves glow on this Brazilian native that grows up to 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide. In spring, soaring, branched flower spikes bear bracts in shades of yellow and red that last for months. Grow in sun near the coast, part shade inland.

Imperial Bromeliad (Vriesea imperialis) — Another giant, this bromeliad with lavender-gray leaves forms rosettes to 4 feet tall and wide. In summer sun, the foliage deepens to dramatic maroon-purple and a thick tall flower spike rises from the center.

Neoreglia ‘Fireball’ — Though small in stature, this dwarf bromeliad forms clusters of rosettes with bright red leaves that darken to burgundy in the sun. Tiny blue flowers repeatedly bloom in the center cup. Grows 6 to 8 inches tall. Foliage is sharp-edged; handle with care.

Portea — Also native to Brazil, this slender-leafed bromeliad takes on a golden glow in the sun as its spiny green foliage turns yellow. It makes a statement in the garden, growing 3 feet tall and up to 5 feet wide and sending up flower spikes in shades of salmon, purple and pink.

Ready, Set, Go

Two popular garden tours at the end of the month kick off this year’s garden-tour season that stretches into early May. On March 28, six private gardens in the desert community of Borrego Springs are open for touring. The daylong event that benefits the Anza-Borrego Desert Nature Center also includes other garden-related activities, entertainment and refreshments. Details and tickets are at On March 28 and 29, the California Native Plant Society’s third annual Garden Native Tour showcases 19 public and private gardens. Stops range from Old Town to Poway and Carmel Valley. Tickets and details are at

Heaven Scent

Along with the heady smell of citrus blossoms, the perfume of jasmine signals the arrival of spring. Its tiny star-shaped white blossoms dress any structure this strong evergreen vine embraces. A native of China, Jasminum polyanthum is sometimes known as pink jasmine for its rose-hued flower buds or winter jasmine for the start of its bloom cycle. Handsome foliage is dark green with a lighter green underside. A vigorous grower, this vine can reach 20 feet, easily covering a fence or trellis. The sweet scent, a staple in perfumes for centuries, lures pollinating moths but works its magic on humans too; so plant it where you can enjoy it. The vine can be cut back after bloom to groom the plant and promote growth. Jasminum polyanthum is available in most area nurseries.

Flavory Savory

The International Herb Association’s 2015 Herb of the Year — savory — has been favored by cooks and honeybees for centuries. Both summer savory (Satureja hortensis) and winter savory (S. montana) are handsome, fragrant additions to water-wise and edibles gardens. Leaves are a mouthwatering combination of mint and thyme flavors that accent everything from soups to vegetables. Grow in a sunny, warm spot in the ground or in a container where you can enjoy the scented leaves and summer flowers. Keep on the dry side; neither species tolerates damp soil. Look for savory in the herb section of area nurseries or shop the Herb Festival at the San Diego Botanic Garden on March 14 and 15 (details at

In Their Element

Help established and new plants thrive with an application of fertilizer rich with the nitrogen San Diego soils often lack. Nitrogen content is indicated by the first of the three numbers on a fertilizer bag; pick one with more nitrogen than phosphorus (the second number) or potassium (the third number). Scatter fertilizer granules lightly and evenly at the base of plants, scratch it into the ground, taking care not to harm feeder roots, and then water lightly if soil is not moist from recent rain or irrigation. For container plants, a time-release fertilizer is a good choice to keep nutrition high in the limited amount of soil available to the plant

Regroup and Refresh

With spring’s bountiful bloom just weeks away, take time to replace declining fall and winter annuals with spring and summer bloomers. Look in nurseries for six-packs or 4-inch pots of colorful coleus, cosmos, verbena, marigolds, petunias, vinca, celosia and other favorite annuals. Popular heat-loving perennials also can be planted now, including lavender, kangaroo paws, sage, pincushion flowers (Scabiosa), asters, penstemons, heliotropes, artemisia and African daisies. When spring bulbs finish blooming, resist the urge to cut off the foliage until it fades so that the bulbs can store food for next year’s flowering. Tulips are an exception. Since they don’t rebloom here, yank them from the ground.

Turn Up the Heat

Chileheads — fanatic fans of burning-hot peppers —will savor The Complete Chile Pepper Book by Dave DeWitt and Paul W. Bosland (Timber Press, 2014). Drawing on research from New Mexico State University’s famed Chile Pepper Institute, the authors profile 100 searing chiles from around the world, offer growing tips and share recipes sure to make mouths and eyes water. Available in area bookstores and online, including at

Seeds of Opportunity

Add variety to your tomato bed this year by starting plants from seeds. Tomato Growers Supply Co. ( has dozens of options ranging from heirlooms to green, orange and even black favorites. If seeds are sown now, plants will be ready for beds and containers in about six weeks. Place sterile, seed-starting mix in pots or trays. Moisten the planting medium, make a 1/4-inch-deep furrow, drop in the seeds about 1/2 inch apart and cover lightly with soil. Put the container in a warm spot (75-80 degrees F.) with strong light and keep evenly moist as seeds sprout and grow. Baby leaves will be followed by the first true tomato leaves, which means it’s time to transplant seedlings into 4-inch pots of good-quality potting soil. Bury stems up to the true leaves and keep at 65 to 70 degrees F. until ready for the garden.


Don’t forget to:

• Add to your Earth-friendly gardening knowhow at the annual Spring Seminar sponsored by the San Diego Master Gardener Association on March 21 (

• Continue to pull pesky weeds before they set seed and pop up everywhere.

• Find garden-design inspiration in the 17 display gardens at the Spring Home/Garden Show, March 6-8, at Del Mar Fairgrounds. Details and discount tickets can be found at

• Shop for tomato seedlings and learn how to tend them when Tomatomania returns to San Diego Botanic Garden, March 14-15 ( Come early for the best selection.

• Dislodge aphids from roses with a blast of water.

• Prune frost damage from affected plants as soon as the danger of frost has passed in your area of the county.

• “Shovel prune” underperforming plants and replace with more vigorous and disease-resistant varieties.

• Start a compost pile. For a list of free how-to classes, visit the website of the Solana Center for Environmental Innovation (

• Add alstroemerias to perennial beds and borders. Garden Glories in Vista ( has a good selection of these prolific bloomers and long-lasting cut flowers.

Categories: Gardening