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Tips for the Compleat Gardener: Ever changing season


As a gardener one cannot avoid being stirred by warm days especially when they follow a serious freeze and one wants to rush out and clean things up, muck around in the dirt.

But let good sense prevail. The ground is wet and frozen underneath and you will only compromise the soil. It is still winter in the Delaware Valley and the last two years March has been the worst month. Let the garden alone.

When the weather warms, bulbs start to come up and many gardeners worry about that. In protected places established clumps of daffodils are known to bloom enthusiastically weeks before their kin and snowdrops are likely to appear at any time now, pushing out of the ground already in bloom, an offering for early bees.

Most people fail to notice that Pachysandra terminalis is one of the first groundcovers to send out sweet scent from tiny white flowers on stamens. This non-native species is commonly used as a deer-resistant groundcover from zone 4 south.

Pachysandra procumbens, native to North America, also blooms in early spring with clusters of stalks of fragrant flowers amid green leaves with tan accents. The native is taller than terminalis and slower to spread, and it isn’t as evergreen but well worth it in a shady location, perhaps as companion to Helleborus niger with her large, palmate leaf of dark green.

Speaking of hellebores when the ground dries enough to walk on, cut back the dead leaves of the hellebores to show new leaves and opening flowers. Remember it is a poisonous plant and wear gloves.

While you are staying out of the garden take the time to check catalogs for non-hardy summer bulbs, seeds and new perennials. If you do not get garden catalogs look online.

I like to use the catalogs because they are easy to refer to when the plants come. I admit ever year there is something or some seed that never gets planted because I have forgotten why I wanted it, or in the case of the elusive blue poppy, the procedure is too tedious for me.

My daughter has found some really interesting plants for her zone 4 garden in catalogs and seeing them always makes me determined to look carefully at what is being offered by growers this time of year, before things are sold out.

Certain annuals are better from seed in my experience – I consistently buy allysum, bachelors button (centaura), calendula, cosmos, larkspur, nasturtium, nigella (love-in-a-mist), sunflowers and zinnias. Other annuals enjoy the head start of a professional grower.

Do not rush out to buy annuals the first warm week of March though the truth is nurseries are putting things out later. It all depends on the weather for the next two months. For the grower and the farmer too many rainy days mean crop failure.

This is the time to talk to your lawn service about chemicals. The most condition-tolerant lawn is a natural one with native sedges and carex and naturally low growing grasses that put down deep roots and hang in there. A pampered, overfed and overwatered lawn is weak and dies off easily because shallow roots have no leeway for bad conditions.

You do not need herbicides and pesticides in your environment. If you haven’t noticed the number of birds, bees and other wildlife is dwindling, the climate is one factor and choices we make as consumers is another.

Be a steward of Earth. She breathes out the oxygen that sustains our lives, She feeds us our daily bread, and tries to clean up our messes.

We need to give something back by making choices that promote life.

Enjoy the moment.

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