Ann Wright: March gardening is unpredictable


Photo courtesy of UC Master Gardeners

March is an unpredictable month – none is more unpredictable than March last year! This, a new March, is also a little unpredictable, especially when it comes to the weather. In many ways, it is difficult to predict what to do in the garden. Patience is short as the trees begin to bloom, the days are sunny but cool, and the plants are sprouting. However, there are likely to be a number of things you can do to prepare for the spring garden.

Even so, we’ll be patient – spring will be here soon. Despite the ongoing absence from our gardening community, Nevada County’s master gardeners are busy planning workshops to virtually bid, answer gardening questions through our website, and tease you from our live radio broadcasts on Saturday mornings (dial KNCO on radio 830 am ). We are also on social media Facebook, Instagram and NextDoor. Master gardeners are looking forward to the opportunity to sell plants in autumn – the spring plant sale on Mother’s Day weekend has been canceled. And maybe we can even use our “Bite Me! Tomato Tasting ”also in autumn.

Many vegetable gardeners appreciate the miracle of the tomato. In a range of colors, shapes, and flavors, tomatoes are in the spotlight for the time being. Tomatoes are some of the most popular fruits grown in home gardens and there are a wide variety of options. Growing tomatoes is not without its challenges, however. Planting disease-resistant varieties that are well adapted to the local soil and climate will help offset some issues.

The language of “talking tomatoes” is almost as beautiful as the colorful fruits. Heirloom varieties suggest tradition, origin, color and shape. Heirloom tomatoes are openly pollinated, which means that rescued seeds produce fruits that are identical to the mother plant. Sometimes a little difficult to grow, heirloom varieties are very fragrant – Brandywine and Cherokee Purple are two heirloom tomatoes. Hybrid tomatoes like Celebrity and Early Girl are a cross between two parents. Here two different varieties are pollinated with each other, usually with human intervention.

Grape tomatoes are small, oval, berry-like fruits with a firmer skin. Grape tomatoes are generally smaller than cherry tomatoes; There are many types of cherry tomatoes that can be grown in a variety of spaces. Despite the small size of these taste sensations, some cherry tomato plants can reach heights of over two meters. Sun Gold and Jasper are two very aromatic cherry tomatoes.

Then there is the massive beef steak tomato, which is a species on its own and can reach a sizeable two pounds. Slicers are generally round and uniform in shape, also known as globe tomatoes. Cutting tomatoes includes both heirloom and hybrid varieties. Dwarf terrace or dwarf varieties are compact and do well for planting containers or hanging baskets. Plum is the description of paste or Roma tomatoes that are medium to small in size and are shaped like red ovals. San Marzano are very popular and grow well here. These have thicker walls and fewer seeds than some of the other varieties.

Tomatoes are also described as definite or indefinite based on the plant’s growth habit. Certain or bush tomatoes generally grow more evenly and produce fruit within four to six weeks. Indeterminate tomatoes produce vines that continue to grow and bear fruit throughout the growing season. Many standard size tomatoes are indefinite.

To help home gardeners learn more about growing these lush plants, join a virtual “Totally Tomatoes” workshop today, March 20th, at 9:00 am. The Zoom link is on the website ( and when you have Zoom ready, the meeting ID is: 847 5660 0894 and the passcode is 313940. The workshop moderators will provide more information on how to choose best strains based on taste, needs and gardening skills.

The workshop discussion will include how tomato plants are made from seeds, the best growing conditions here in the foothills, and various cultivation strategies for healthy tomatoes (such as raised beds, trellises, spacing, crop rotation). Master gardeners will also include some of their favorite cherry, slice, and paste tomatoes. Finally, the pests and diseases that afflict tomato plants are discussed. A question-and-answer session will take place after the presentation. And as always, the workshop is FREE!

Some other gardening activities for an unpredictable March include laying out potato tubers, lettuce, rhubarb, parsley, and other vegetable starts in the cooler season. Direct seed radish, beets and carrots. This is also a good time to strengthen the compost pile by adding brown, dried garden waste. The addition of damp, freshly cut grass or an overabundance of mineral salad gives the compost essential, rich greens.

Now is a good time to prune ornamental grasses when new shoots appear. Cut shorter grasses that are no more than two inches above the ground. Depending on the species, taller grasses anywhere from 6 to 10 inches can be cut.

Despite the upcoming rain, water is a valuable resource, so watering planting is important for our Mediterranean climate. Visit Master Gardeners for the April 3rd presentation, Water Wise Gardening. This is followed by functional irrigation in two parts, April 17th and April 24th. Please visit the website for more information.

Ann Wright is a master gardener from Nevada County.