Spring Female Redwing Blackbird

Willamette Valley, Oregon, USDA Zone 8b

It is not unusual for my kids to complain about the temperature in our house—too cold in the winter, too hot in the summer. To which I reply, “It’s important to feel the seasons. It keeps us in tune with nature.” After an epic eye-roll and groan, she shuffles off to find a blanket.

However, if the inside is always a comfortable 70 degrees, then the outside feels uncomfortable. I prefer to be in tune with the outdoors so I can harmonize with the seasons. Try it! Embrace your weather app, turn down your heat, open a window a get some fresh air. Go outside in all weather, turn your face skyward and watch the clouds race each other. Then put your finger tips in the dirt and tune into nature. Learn her language and moods. Sometimes in March a warm weekend can be followed by snow on Monday. 

Seed Starting

Watering Paper Pots from the tray

This is when your winter planning really pays off. In the frenzy of seed starting season, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but when I look at my schedule, I look at what needs to be started this week and do that. Then I also do whatever else strikes my fancy. It’s more of a guideline really…

Hardening Off

Towards the end of March, begin getting your veggie babies ready for the rigors of life out-of-doors. Exposing your tender babies to the harsh conditions outside a little at a time will drastically improve their odds of survival in your garden beds. Start with mild days and bring your starts outside for about two hours.  

The wind, sun, and air-temperature will trigger them to reinforce their cell walls making them stronger and more resilient. Watch out for any extremes: intense sun will blanch the leaves white, the wind and rain can snap tender stems, they also dry out faster outside. Stick with about two hours a day for the first three or four days then gradually increase the hours. You’ll be rewarded with lush new growth—no grow light can compete with sunlight. 🌞🌱

I do this process by feel. Sometimes I make mistakes. If I catch them before they are too damaged they usually come back with strong resilient new growth—and sometimes they die. Only the strong survive at Second Breakfast Gardens, but I generally have enough redundancy to have enough starts for my garden and extras to give away at the end of the process.

Getting Your Beds Ready

First, a Cautionary Tale

If you are a soil health enthusiast like me and take the “keep it covered” principle to heart, your garden beds are covered with something. In late fall, I cover my beds with leaves and a thin layer of compost, and/or I’ll broadcast cover crop seed.

The first year I winterized my beds this way, I was so pleased with how crumbly and rich the soil was in the spring. That smell—so good! (In prior years my spring soil was compacted and leached of nutrients and life by the relentless rain.)

That April, I pushed aside the mulch that hadn’t broken down and my daughters and I tenderly placed our hand sown veggie starts in the soil. After a few days, every single plant was eaten. My oldest daughter cried the tears I was biting back. I posted about the problem in my Permaculture Design Course group and our instructor, Andrew Millison, gently replied that in March he removes any leftover mulch and releases his chickens into the garden to eat the overburden of insects and slugs that shelter and multiply in the mulch over the winter. After sowing and transplanting, he refrains from adding any mulch to the garden until the area has thoroughly dried and the slugs have retreated, around mid-June. I have followed this method ever since with excellent results. Although, sadly I do not have chickens. 🐔

So you have permission from the foremost permaculture guru of the PNW to leave your soil uncovered until the dry weather arrives.

Check out the Bed Prep Guide to let you know when and how to get your beds ready for an awesome growing season. Then once that is done, let’s see what we can plant outside this month.

Try my Slug IPM plan to keep the hoards from ravaging your crops.

Potato Planting

The type of buried treasure we love most.

St. Patrick’s Day 🍀 is for potatoes.🥔

If it seems too chilly, you can check the soil temp and make sure it’s about 45 degrees. (Don’t tell my husband, but I borrow his fancy ThermaPen to check.🤐 It is fast, accurate, and easy to read.)  You can plant most potatoes March through April. 

Other Direct Sow Plants for March

Once the soil temp is 40 degrees or warmer.

  • Peas
  • Carrots
  • Spinach
  • Garlic Chives
  • Onions (some – check your packets)
  • Nasturtiums
  • Calendula

Irrigation System Maintenance or Set Up

Although irrigation is not necessary at this time, it is a great time to get your system ready. Pull  out your drip lines, soaker hoses, or other gear. Lay it all out and assess the system for damage, make repairs, rethink parts that weren’t adequate. We have a drip system and it’s much easier to lay everything out when I don’t have to work around tender young plants, but after any hoeing. Wait until April (after last frost) to charge the system.  

Lawn Care


Soft spring soil makes it easier to remove weeds with long tap roots. (Not that I can ever get them all.) Following the below will also reduce weeds by having thick, lush grass that denies weed seeds the sunlight they need to germinate.

Lawn Cutting

Wait for a couple days of dry weather before cutting your lawn.  

Keep it Tall-ish and Follow the 1/3 Rule of Thumb. Never remove more than 1/3 of the total height. (E.g. if it’s 6″ cut to 4″.) Benefits: Grass stores its food in green blades. Going from tall grass to very short grass scalps away most of the food stores, resulting in root dieback, and patchy grass. Long tops mean adequate food and long roots that can reach deeper for water and nutrients. Long tops also hold moisture, shade out weeds, and keeps the soil cooler.

Cut on a mulching setting. Clippings break down in a matter of days and add nitrogen back to the soil. Clippings do not become thatch. It also means less work for you. Win-Win!

Looking ahead: Sometime in April or May when the soil is not waterlogged, we will want to dethatch, aerate, and over-seed. Then add first lawn fertilizer application around Memorial Day. Turfgrass fertilizer has a very high nitrogen content and little or no phosphorus. E.G N-P-K like 25 – 0 – 15. (OSU Extension: Fertilizing Lawns)

A Good Time to Plant

  • Cane fruits: raspberry, blackberries, grapes 
  • Strawberries
  • Fruiting Shrubs: blueberries, currants, gooseberry

Tips for Planting Perennials

Ensure the pH is correct for your plants and amend if necessary. Soil Testing Video

  • Raspberry and blackberry 5.5 – 6.5 (slightly acidic)
  • Strawberry 5.5 – 6.5 (slightly acidic)
  • Blueberries 4.5 – 5.5 (very acidic)
  • Currants & Gooseberries: 6-7 (neutral)
  • Grapes: 5.5 – 6.5 (slightly acidic)
  1. Remove nursery pots
  2. Wash away potting soil
  3. Prune away any circling or tangled roots.
  4. Build a dome at the bottom of your hole.
  5. Keep crown (where roots meet plant) at soil line or slightly above.
  6. Splay roots out in the hole. Trim away any circling roots or roots that stick up.)
  7. Back fill with surrounding (or native) soil.  It’s important that the soil in the hole is the same as the surrounding soil. 
  8. Top dress with compost, but don’t bury the crown or contact the stems with compost. (Except blueberries. Compost typically contains salts that raise the pH.)
  9. For more detail: Guide for Planting Trees and Other Perennials.

Notes on Planting Fruits

Strawberry Snacks
  • For strawberries, make sure the crown is not buried. The crown looks like part of the root system, but it needs to be above ground. Only the thread-like roots should be buried. Buried crowns tend to rot.
  • For shrubs and canes: also don’t bury too deep. With raspberries, consider planting in a raised bed or an elevated berm to prevent root rot.
  • With the exception of blueberries, keep all mulch material away from stems and trunk to prevent stem rot. For blueberries: mulch with pine shavings, it’s OK to contact the stems. 

There’s Still Time for…

Wildlife Care

  • Bird Feeders: Continue to clean and refill suet cages, finch socks, and hummingbird feeders every week.  
  • Bird Bath. Empty, scrub, and refill it weekly to keep algae and diseases away. It’s OK to take your feeders and bird baths down if you get tired of cleaning them.
  • Window Strike Prevention: robins and other birds can get feisty in March and attack window reflections or simple fly into them. Window strike decals like these from WindowAlert can prevent harm to our feather brained friends.

Beneficial Insects

  • Most of our native insects emerge from winter hibernation in March when the temperature is above 55 degrees. To be safe, choose a warm 60 degree day to do your yard cleanup. After this time it should be safe to remove any leftover flower and vegetable chaff from your yard and do a thorough cleanup without harming our insect friends.
  • Mason bees become flight active around 55 degrees. They emerge hungry for pollen and nectar. Oregon Grape, Mahonia, dandelions are all a good source of early nectar and pollen. When adding new flowers, try to add some that bloom in March for our native friends. 
  • Mason bees also need access to clay soil for building chambers for their eggs. When Ron Spendal (our local superstar citizen scientist) installs a new mason bee house, he also puts in a small hole near the house for bees to have easy access to clay.

Further Information

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