March Highlights

Crape murder on the left; a lovely crapemyrtle growing naturally on the right. Photos by Kit Flynn.


By Kit Flynn

I love March in the North Carolina Piedmont. The sun is out (for the most part), the sky is blue, the temperature is pleasant, and to a gardener’s delight, the perennials are waking up. By the end of the month, the Japanese maples have leafed out, the Camellia japonica has made a major statement, and the feeling that all is right with the world hugs the gardener.

I’m always surprised at some of the plants in my collection. At the beginning of March, my Spirea was in bloom. Now, for approximately fifty weeks of the year, these shrubs are nondescript, meaning that they fade into the woodwork. However, they are valuable additions to the garden because they bloom at a time when they have little competition and are most welcomed.

Another shrub worthy of notice is Viburnum burkwoodii. Suddenly in March this nondescript shrub bursts forth in lovely blossoms that perfume much of the yard. Unlike some of my other viburnums that bloom in April, this species only flowers once – but what a treat it is when it’s in bloom.

At the top of the page are two visions of the same tree, the crapemyrtle. As they don’t come into flower until June, why do I feature them for the month of March? The trunks of the crapemyrtle are so smooth and enticing that I always want to reach out to touch them. The silhouette of the tree is gorgeous (notice all the ones around town that remain unmassacred). Ask yourself which vision you would you rather look at for five months of the year.

Yes, I’m on my old sawhorse, crape murder. Why submit such a lovely tree to such carnage? This murder weakens the tree, gives it a ridiculous lollipop shape when it is in flower and bestows on it a hideous shape for at least five months out of the year. Please, please think before you cut.

The Camellia japonica makes us wait until winter is almost over before putting on their show. I have two that I look forward to with great anticipation every March: the large ‘Lavender Prince’ and the smaller, slow-growing ‘Jacks’. If I could have just one camellia, it would be ‘Jacks’. Camellias are one of the reasons we love to garden in the Piedmont, so take advantage of them—put them in your garden.

Last week, I mentioned the genus Cercis, which includes our native redbuds. Again, these are small trees that we are totally unaware of until they burst into bloom. I love the way they peek out around other woodland trees. Just be sure to plant them (either the native Cercis canadensis or the Chinese Cercis chinensis) where they have some protection from the harsh summer sun.

Two weeks in March can totally change the landscape. At the beginning of the month, we see the Forsythia in bloom, along with various fruit trees, including the various cherries and the lamentable Bradford pears. The late blooming Camellia japonica last throughout the whole month whereas the Forsythia and the various fruit tree blooms have petered out by the last week in March.

The hostas are slowly emerging while the Bletilla are itching to flower. I first planted these hardy orchids four years ago. Two years ago, a sudden deep freeze caused them to ignore their bloom cycle but did not hurt the plants. This year, they have spread. Where three once stood, I now have thirty, a sight that pleases me. Because these are bulbs that will eventually spread their wings, give these small plants some space so they can expand.

One of the reasons I take so many photos of the garden is that I can refer back to them. “Surely the leaves of the Japanese maples have appeared early this year,” I think to myself. Upon scrolling back to March, 2023, I now have the knowledge that, actually, they are behaving on time.

The power of observation grows this month as each day introduces us to a new old friend. The rose, ‘Old Blush’, has already put out several blooms. The Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ is small still but is happily in flower. B. macrophylla ‘Alexander’s Great’ should be a larger version of ‘Jack Frost’ but has failed to distinguish itself in size from its cousin in my garden. However, I shall keep this version for as long as it wishes to reside in the garden as I enjoy its silver leaves.

I purposely have not mentioned the hellebores as I have developed an antipathy towards the hybrids (Helleborus x hybridus) as to me they are invasive plants. At the same time, I must admit that hybridizers such as Tony Avent of Plant Delights have developed several strains that are blessedly sterile. Once the offspring appear at the age of two, they are deep rooted and a pain to get rid of. I cherish the chartreuse blooms of the February blooming Helleborus foetidus as their offspring are blessedly easy to pull out of the soil.

My advice is this: Enjoy the wonderful month of March in the garden when daily change is so evident. And the best part? April follows.

After being an active member of the Durham County Extension Master Gardeners for 13 years, Kit Flynn now holds emeritus status. For five years she was the gardening correspondent for “Senior Correspondent” and shared “The Absentee Gardener” column with fellow Master Gardener Lise Jenkins. She has given numerous presentations on various gardening topics to Triangle organizations and can be reached at

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