Issue: March 2001

March time to plant cool season seeds for early spring gardens

As the strong sun rays of March begin to break the frozen grip of old man winter on the soil, it's time to plant the seeds of new life for an early spring garden.

The application of humus-rich compost and a balanced fertilizer to most of our windblown, tired garden soils will ensure that the spring garden gets off to a good start. Turning the compost and fertilizer under with a garden fork or rototiller will help ventilate the soil for optimum root penetration. A garden rake can be used to help level the garden, break up clods, and remove any rocks or trash that may interfere with seed germination.

Cool season seeds include a variety of vegetables, such as radishes, peas, leaf lettuces, spinach and carrots.

The distance between rows and depth of planting will vary for each type of vegetable planted. Radish rows can obviously be planted closer together than trellis-supported peas. Peas should also be planted on the north side of your garden so they don't shade shorter crops like spinach and radishes.

Small-seeded crops like lettuce and carrots should be planted at a depth of one-quarter inch. Firm the soil over the seed for good soil seed contact. Keep the soil moist until young seedlings emerge. Larger peas can be planted at a depth of 1 inch. A general rule of thumb is to plant most seed at a depth of four times the diameter of the seed.

Radishes are one of the easiest crops to grow in the early spring garden. Stagger plantings at one- to two-week intervals for continuous harvests. Cease planting when weather warms up later in the spring as roots will become pithy and very pungent in hot weather. Popular varieties include the red "Cherry Belle" types and the slightly more pungent and later maturing "Icicle" varieties.

Leaf lettuces are another favorite in the early spring garden. Like radishes, successive plantings will ensure plenty of fresh greens for tasty salads. Other favorites include butterhead types that form a loose head of crumpled leaves with a soft, buttery texture. Romaine, or cos lettuce, develops elongated heads of long leaves with heavy midribs. The outer leaves tend to be somewhat coarse and dark green. Inner leaves are lighter green with a finer texture.

Spinach makes a great salad green as well as a potherb or cooked green. Spinach forms a compact rosette of leaves that may be crinkled or smooth. Thin it several times and then use the thinned plants in salads. Harvest the entire plant when it matures, or pick older leaves periodically as they mature. Plants will eventually bolt or send up a seed stalk in response to an increase in day length and temperature.

Garden peas are generally classified into two types: the traditional English pea, which must be shelled after pods swell, and edible-podded peas, which are eaten pod and all before the pods mature. Edible pod peas are broken down into 'stir-fry' types (which include sugar peas, snow peas, and China peas) and snap peas, which can be eaten raw in salads, served raw with dips or relish trays, or cooked like green beans.

Carrot varieties differ primarily in size and shape. Shorter types can be used in heavier soils. Carrots prefer a porous soil to ensure unimpeded straight, symmetrical growth. Plants can be thinned several times using baby carrots in salads.

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For more gardening information, visit New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service publications world wide web site at

George W. Dickerson, Ph.D., is is a horticulturist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.

Also Please join us on Southwest Yard & Garden, a weekly garden program made for gardeners in the Southwest on: KNME-TV Albuquerque at 9:30 p.m. Saturdays, KENW-TV Portales at 10 a.m. Saturdays, and KRWG-TV Las Cruces at 11:30 a.m. Saturdays (repeated at 1 p.m. Thursdays.)