Spring in the Garden

    • Plant peas in well-drained soil for a spring crop. Protect from birds with bird netting or lightweight row cover.
    • Last chance to spray peach and nectarine trees for peach leaf curl before the buds break open. Use copper sulfate powder for the best results.
    • Blueberries make delicious fruit on attractive plants that you can use in the orchard or the landscape. Choose varieties now.
    • Deciduous Clematis vines can be cut back to about waist height, to encourage bushiness, more flowers and a nicer looking vine. Do this in late winter before the new growth starts.
    • Potatoes are now in at local nurseries for early spring planting.

The Primrose Path

What happier choice of blossoms to start a spring garden than primroses? Even the Latin name comes from primus, meaning the first. This is a large family of plants having 400 to 500 species, mostly occurring in the Northern Hemisphere. Some are hardy garden species and others are only for heated greenhouses. Only a few are well adapted to the long, hot, dry summers of most parts of California.

The most popular are the polyantha hybrids, often called “English primroses”, which do very well in this area. Planted in a good location, they will come back year after year, larger and more floriferous each time! Flowers have just about the widest range of colors possible: white, yellow, gold, orange, pink, red, maroon, blue or purple. Planted as a mixture they are a dazzling display for three or four months of the year: January through April.

All primroses have leaves that stay close to the ground and are arranged in a circle and in the center is a flower stems that rise up above the leaves. The ‘Pacific Giants’ make an 8-inch tall stem with a cluster of flowers at the top of the stem. Individual flowers are an inch across and clusters contain a dozen or more. ‘Pageants’ have the same basal leaves with flowers on individual stems rising out from between the leaves to about 3 inches high.

Primroses are best appreciated right at your feet, where you can enjoy their perfection at close range. Plant them along a path for a colorful walkway. Suitable primrose companions for a moist, partly shaded spot include astilbes, ferns, hostas, Japanese iris, forget-me-nots, and Bethlehem sage.

Provide primroses with rich, woodsy soil enriched with compost, humus, peat moss and well-rotted manure. Choose a place in the shade, in a woodland garden, or in a spot that gets sun in the winter and shade from trees in the summer. Make sure you can water them throughout the summer. Under native oaks, it is better to plant them in flower boxes or barrels so that you don’t overwater the oak trees in the summer.

Cut off old flower stems as flowers fade and trim off tattered leaves. Plants will continue to produce new flowers through April. Give them a light feeding after bloom to strengthen the plants, and mulch them through the summer. When the clumps become thick and overgrown, divide them in May, every 3 or 4 years.

If you don’t want to use primroses as perennials, they also make lovely annual bedding plants. They are available during the winter and spring months and make a colorful display.

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