Did you hear about the penny-pincher who tried to hire a gardener? No one accepted, because the celery was too low. Or the lady who asked her experienced neighbor how to grow herbs, and he gave her some sage advice?

These might not be examples of knee-slapping humor, but a good joke does have something in common with gardening. A successful comedian is said to have good timing, and most yard and garden activities are all about timing. Nearly as important as knowing the how’s of gardening is knowing the when’s.

The following is a checklist of yard and garden tasks for February and March.


  • Order from seed catalogs soon. Demand is expected to exceed supply again this year.
  • Shop the seed racks of local garden centers while supply is abundant.
  • Some flower seeds should be started in early February, including begonia, lisianthus and seed-grown geraniums.
  • Observe the winter appearance of your home landscape, which can be beautiful even while dormant. Plan to add materials with colorful branches, interesting bark or evergreen foliage. Your local garden center can help with ideas.
  • If you installed fencing or other protection around trees and shrubs for rabbit, deer or vole control, check to be sure it’s intact. If you didn’t protect plants, and see animal activity, serious damage might be lessened if you take action now before injury continues to the point of no return.
    If rabbit activity is detected, such as on the roses, protective fencing can still be added before the damage worsens. David Samson / The Forum
    If rabbit activity is detected, such as on the roses, protective fencing can still be added before the damage worsens. David Samson / The Forum
  • Increase humidity around houseplants to mitigate the effects of furnace-dried air. Mist plants daily, or locate plants on pebble-filled water trays with the pot’s base above water level.
  • Check houseplants for insects, and treat with insecticidal soap, neem oil or a systemic houseplant insecticide at the earliest signs.
  • Dust houseplant leaves with a soft cloth so leaf pores can effectively filter indoor air. Give plants a gentle shower at the sink or tub, using lukewarm, room-temperature water.
  • Test last year’s carryover seeds by wrapping 10 seeds in a moist paper towel, enclosing in plastic and placing in a warm location. Check in 7 to 10 and count the percentage of germinated seeds.
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  • In early March, cut back wintered geraniums to 3 inches above soil level and provide direct sunshine or place under fluorescent or LED fixtures. Repot if needed, and begin fertilizing every two weeks. If cut back in March, geraniums will branch from the base and produce greenhouse-quality plants for outdoor use in mid-May.
  • Prune back overwintered hibiscus and mandevilla. Repot if needed, give plenty of sunshine and begin fertilizing every two to three weeks. Monitor for insects.
  • Flower types to seed indoors March 1 include petunia, snapdragon, coleus and vinca.
  • Seeds to plant March 15 include marigold, pepper, alyssum, salvia, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli.
  • Wait to seed tomatoes until March 31 or April 1. They grow rapidly and can easily become tall and spindly if started too early indoors.
  • Begin fertilizing houseplants in March, as they respond to increasing daylength and light intensity. Fertilize monthly through September, providing nutrition for growth spurts common during spring and summer.
  • Prune fruit trees after the coldest winter weather is likely done for the season. Yearly pruning maintains tree height, promotes a better shape and increases the tendency of apple trees to bear evenly every year, rather than every other year.
  • Deciduous trees and shrubs can be pruned in late March. There’s no need to apply pruning paints or sealers, which can adversely affect healing. Delay evergreen pruning until May and June.
  • Overgrown shrubs such as lilac, dogwood, spirea and potentilla can be rejuvenated in late March or early April by pruning back to 6 inches above ground level, which promotes fresh, healthy, vigorous new branching from the base and eliminates old woody stems.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at donald.kinzler@ndsu.edu.