Time to plant those cool season crops like lettuce, peas and kale | THE COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER

"But the soil is still too wet and cold for planting the heat loving seeds of nasturtiums, tomatoes, peppers and squash."

The last week of March is the best time to direct sow many flower and vegetable seeds into the ground. Cool season crops such as lettuce, cabbage, peas, kale, radish and spinach can be planted now and for more flowers in your garden the best bargain of all is to plant the seeds of calendula, columbine, sweet alyssum and pansies now.

But the soil is still too wet and cold for planting the heat loving seeds of nasturtiums, tomatoes, peppers and squash.

Q. I made a halfhearted attempt to save my fuchsia basket this last winter and placed it in a protected spot close to the house. Now I see that it has survived with signs of new growth. What do I do now? S.H.,Puyallup

A. Now you can do the happy dance because your fuchsia basket is going to bloom again this summer – but don’t expect buds and blooms until at least July. Unlike the fully flowering baskets you can purchase at the nursery in May, fuchsias and geraniums that are overwintered take a lot longer to wake up and are more prone to insects and disease problems in early spring.

First, clip off any dead wood and remove brown foliage. Then prune back the plants so that the branches are eight to 12 inches long. Repot into fresh potting soil or add a layer of compost on top of the potting soil from last year.

Next you will need to bring the potted plant indoors to a bright but cool room. Fertilize every week with a liquid plant food at half the normal strength. You want the fuchsia to pump out new leaves but not too fast.

When all danger of frost is past in May you can place your fuchsia basket back outdoors.

Feeling lucky? Sometimes a mild spring means you can ignore all the details above and just add a slow release plant food like Osmocote around the base of any fuchsia or geranium that survived the winter.

Q. I purchased lily bulbs and dahlias at the garden show in February. When do I plant them into the garden? C.G., Seattle

A. You can dig in today. March is a good month to plant summer blooming bulbs and tubers such as dahlias, lilies, calla and gladiolas.

To get them off to a good start dig a hole three times as deep as the bulb and loosen up all the surrounding soil to encourage the roots to spread out quickly.

Slugs will be watching you plant and waiting for the very first sprout of new growth. If you don’t use slug bait, set down a section of cardboard or damp newspaper nearby and collect the slugs that hang out under this damp den of darkness. (I like to slice the slugs in half and bury them into the soil – they are full of nitrogen.)

Bulbs do not need to be fertilized at planting time as the flowers and leaves are already formed inside the bulb. Loose, well-drained soil and protection from slugs is more important.

Q. I have a summer blooming clematis vine with purple flowers. Don’t know what the name is. The vines have grown crazy and I would like to know when I can prune it and how much I can cut off. T.H. Enumclaw

A. Grab your clippers and then grab the base of your clematis vine about three feet from the ground. Make a big cut. This drastic move is called the pony tail cut on clematis because you can grab all the vines in one hand like a pony tail.

Pruning clematis in March will delay the flowering until later in the summer but you do get a clean start. Do not prune spring flowering clematis like the white blooming clematis armandii or the pink Clematis Montana until after they are done flowering.

Your clematis will be a bit shocked after the pony tail cut so calm them down with a good feeding of compost or slow release plant food. Be ruthless with clematis now and you’ll have beautiful blooms on tidy vines in your future.

Marianne Binetti will be giving a free lecture on ‘The Unthirsty Landscape’ at 7 p.m. March 31 at the Skyway Water and Sewer District, 6723 S. 124th St. Seattle. For more info, visit www.savingwater.org/classes

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