Harbingers of Spring

Friday, February 20th, 2015 by Jenny Watts
    • Potatoes can be planted this month. Plant red, white, yellow and russet for a variety of uses and flavors.
    • Blueberries make delicious fruit on attractive plants that you can use in the orchard or the landscape. Choose varieties now.
    • Last chance to spray peach and nectarine trees for peach leaf curl before the buds break open. Use copper spray for the best results.
    • Plant bright and cheery primroses to brighten your flower beds and boxes.
    • Plant strawberry plants now for delicious strawberry shortcake this summer.

Harbingers of Spring

Spring is on its way – cold mornings give way to beautiful warm days, birds are building nests, and here and there, the beginning of spring’s colorful show of flowers can be seen. Some flowering plants are always the first to bloom in the spring and thereby signal its approach.

The very first shrub to bloom each year is witch hazel, Hamamelis. Their spidery petals are twisted and ribbon-like forming radiant yellow, coppery orange, or dark red flowers that are surprisingly fragrant. They are slow-growing but will become large shrubs if not kept smaller with pruning.

An added bonus is their beautiful fall show of yellow, purple, orange and red leaves. Grow witch hazel plants in full sun to part shade in well-drained soil. They are are nice in woodland gardens, but you’ll sacrifice some blooms if you don’t grow them in full sun.

Witch hazel has a special adaptation to cold: while a sunny day above freezing will pop the flower buds open, a sudden chill will cause the petals to roll up for protection, then, at the slightest hint of warmth, they unfurl again.

Flowering quince, Chaenomeles speciosa, is one of the first shrubs to greet us with a burst of color. This unassuming shrub blooms delightfully anytime from February through March with waxy flowers in shades of red-orange, rose, pink or white.

A deciduous shrub, it grows from 6 to 10 feet tall and spreads as wide. It is a twiggy, tangled, multi-stemmed plant that makes a good barrier or hedge. The 1-1/2 inch, apple-blossom-like flowers are borne in clusters and are quite showy for over a month. Flowering quince will tolerate a wide range of soil and site conditions, including dry sites. For best growth and flowering, plant in full sun.

Forsythia ‘Spring Glory’ is a deciduous shrub that explodes each February in brilliant masses of yellow flowers. Flowers are produced in groups or clusters along the stems. Leaves emerge shortly after flowering and are medium green in summer.

Plant it as a single specimen in an out-of-the-way place where it will be a burst of golden color then blend into the background for the rest of the season. It will grow to 6-8 feet tall and wide, and can be used as a screen.

Since they bloom on old wood, forsythias should be pruned immediately after flowering. Pruning the shrubs from mid-summer to late winter will drastically reduce flowering in spring. Plants are drought-tolerant once established.

The lovely winter daphne, Daphne odora, is one of the sweetest fragrances of spring. In February, clusters of pink buds appear at the tips of the stems that open into white or pale pink flowers that are intensely fragrant with a citrus-like odor.

The leaves of winter daphne can be solid green, or bordered with a pale yellow edge. It makes a very neat evergreen shrub year-round and grows to about four feet tall and at least as wide. Plant it in a spot where it gets protection from the hot mid-day sun and has good drainage.

Enjoy the harbingers of spring as the longer days bring new life to the natural world.

Living Holiday Gifts

Saturday, December 19th, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • Living Christmas trees make a fine tradition. Slow-growing Colorado spruce trees can be used for 3 to 5 years before they need to be planted. Water them every other day while indoors.
    • Check your nursery for stocking stuffers: kids’ gloves, watering cans, bonsai figurines, seeds and bulbs.
    • Spray for peach leaf curl with copper sulfate. Peach and nectarine trees may suffer from this fungus disease without a protective spray.
    • Water living Christmas trees frequently while they are indoors, and put them outside after a week or ten days.
    •Feed the birds this winter and enjoy the pleasure of their company. Bird feeders come in many styles and make wonderful gifts.

Living Gifts

Head to the nursery this month for plants that can be enjoyed long after the holidays. Evergreen shrubs like Daphne, Camellias and Rhododendrons are lovely gifts that will be enjoyed even more when they come into bloom in the spring.

The sweet fragrance of Daphne is one of the pleasures of springtime. The small, evergreen shrubs have handsome foliage and a profusion of pinkish-white flowers that bloom in February. One stem will scent an entire room.

The beautifully shaped flowers of Camellias cover the glossy, evergreen leaves throughout a long season. The early flowering ones begin blooming now with dainty, single flowers and those that bloom in April and May have perfectly formed double flowers. They are lovely in a partially shaded area and do well in containers on the patio or deck.

Rhododendrons also have spectacular flowers in large clusters in the spring. They are generally deer-resistant, like partial shade, and will grow for many years in a large container.

Roses are available this month at the best prices of the year. For best selection, look for bare-root roses this month. If you want roses for cutting, choose hybrid teas, like ‘Fragrant Plum’. For small spaces or containers, choose varieties that stay compact, such as ‘Sunsprite’, and to add a focal point to any landscape, choose a tree rose, like ‘Betty Boop’.

The interior landscape will welcome a fresh, new houseplant. From hanging ferns and spider plants to tall palms and dracaenas, there’s a plant for every situation. They add life and color to the area and clean the air at the same time. Or create a dish garden with a combination of small plants in an attractive container, for a unique gift.

Bonsai plants and succulents also make nice gifts, and a bag full of Daffodil bulbs will be happily received by almost any gardener.

Trees of all kinds will grow into beautiful specimens that will outlive us all. From fruit trees to dogwoods, Japanese maples, and flowering magnolias, trees become an important part of any piece of property. Beauty, shade, fruit, and a greener planet are all good reasons to plant a tree this season.

Give a gift that will continue to grow and remind them of your thoughtfulness for a long time to come.

Sweet Fragrance of Daphne

Friday, February 20th, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • Potatoes can be planted any time now. Choose from red, white, yellow and purple varieties.
    • Cut back suckers on lilac bushes. Wait until they bloom to prune them, then you can bring the fragrant branches indoors.
    • Bare root fruit trees, grape and berry vines, and ornamental trees and shrubs are still available.
    • Plant seeds of broccoli, cabbage, lettuce and other spring vegetables now.
    • Start peas and sweet pea seeds indoors now. You’ll be able to plant the sprouted seeds on the next warm day.

Fragrant Winter Daphne

The sweet fragrance of Daphne is one of the pleasures of springtime. The small, evergreen and deciduous shrubs which make up the Daphnes, all have handsome foliage and numerous white, rose or lilac flowers that bloom in the spring. One stem will scent an entire room.

Of the 50 species of daphne, Daphne odora, winter daphne, is the most familiar. It is an evergreen shrub growing to about four feet tall in this area, and at least as wide. In early spring, clusters of one-inch flowers appear at the tips of the stems. The pink buds open to white or pale pink flowers that are intensely fragrant, with a citrus-like odor. The leaves of winter daphne can be solid green, or bordered with a pale yellow edge. It makes a very neat, handsome, evergreen shrub year-round. Plant it in a spot where it gets protection from the hot mid-day sun.

Less common is the Garland daphne, Daphne cneorum. It makes a choice rock garden plant, staying low, about a foot tall, and spreading to three feet wide. Its trailing branches are covered with small, narrow, dark green leaves. In April and May, masses of fragrant, rose-colored flowers open in clusters at the tips of the branches. It is probably the showiest of all the Daphnes, and has a sweet, intense fragrance.

This daphne also likes partial shade. Mulch underneath the plant with peat moss or potting soil to encourage stem rooting and the development of a larger clump. It also makes a good container plant. The variety ‘Ruby Glow’ has larger, more deeply colored flowers and often re-blooms in late summer.

The wonderfully fragrant ‘Carol Mackey’ Daphne is not easy to find but it is a real garden gem. From pink buds, it’s fragrant white flowers open in the month of May. This daphne is similar in growth habit to Daphne odora, but has smaller, variegated leaves.

Daphnes need air around their roots, so they must be planted in light, well-drained soil. Put a little dolomite lime in the hole at planting time. If you don’t have fast-draining soil, you can grow them in containers for many years.

Plant daphne where it will get at least three hours of shade a day. Be sure it is set so the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface. Daphnes will tolerate acid soil but do not require it. Fertilize right after bloom with a complete fertilizer, but not acid plant food.

During the summer, water as infrequently as the plant will allow. Light watering in summer increases flowering next spring and helps prevent sudden death from water mold fungi.

Prune daphne just after it finishes flowering to shape the plants. All parts of daphne plants are poisonous, and deer seem to leave them alone.

Daphnes are slow to take off but once they do they are generous in flower and fragrance. Enjoy the sweet fragrance of daphne in your garden, or make a gift of one to a friend.