Spring’s arrival turns thoughts back to the garden

You wouldn’t know it judging by today, but spring is slowly but surely working its way back into the area.   In just the past 10 days, soil temperatures have risen nearly 5 degrees.  By the end of the month, average temperatures cross the magical 50 degree F mark – the threshold that really revs up the motors of most plants.

Already some of my earlier performers are center stage, like dwarf iris and heather. Star magnolias are now in bloom and the early cherry blooming trees are already at peak!

Of course, the internationally renowned cherry trees at the Tidal Basin still are just on the verge of blooming and peak is forecast to be the last week of the month or first week of April, depending on the source. If you have never been, make this the year. The crowds should be lessened from last year’s centennial, and consider the park ranger guided tours on weekend evening’s during the festival. They add so much to appreciating this fleeting but memorable event.

But back to your gardens!

In the next few weeks look for emerging perennials.  I like to mulch around them just as the emerging plants are getting about two inches tall. That way I am sure not to bury them but also get a jump on all the weeds that are itching to get started as well. This also helps to insulate roots from any late cold pushes. Deciduous trees and shrubs should be leafing out shortly, although the forsythias and redbuds flower first and leaf later. In any event, if there are branches that have died back, now is a good time to trim away the dead wood. However, there are some slow pokes, like our ubiquitous crepe myrtles that take forever to leaf out, so be patient.

This is a great time to take stock of your bulb crop. I will inevitably have dead spots where last summer’s heat took a toll on some tulip species, or wetter spots have done in alliums. Take advantage of your cell phone to snap some pictures to remind yourself later in the year just where to plan next fall’s bulb planting.

As I grow older I have learned that when it comes to bulbs, bigger is not always better. Planting 200 giant tulip bulbs or large-cupped daffodils is a pain! I have become addicted to the little bulbs of which some can be planted in just the indentation of a finger.

You all know about crocuses and I have photographed my early iris which are easy planting. But check our anemones, they are wonderful and long lasting aster-like flowers. My list now has miniature daffodils on it for next fall. I saw them in some local gardens and they are delightful. Another great thing about these smaller flowers is that they are less tempting to those demons that walk down the sidewalk helping themselves to reachable blooms.

Many of you will be putting in new plants soon and I include here a link to the latest plant hardiness map from the USDA. Most of us are firmly in zone 7 meaning that the average annual minimum temperature over the past 30 years has been between zero and 10.   This link gives you a nice listing of all the plants hardy in your zone.

Does being in zone 7 mean you can’t take a chance on zone 8 plants? Heck no! If you site it in a sheltered area around the house or live downtown like me, there is good reason to expect to succeed. I have kept dahlias and calla lilies going strong without digging up every fall by mulching the heck out of them to keep the frost from penetrating as deep. The same holds true for some shrubs like butterfly bush. I failed to mulch them as much this fall and will be making a trip to the nursery to replace one this spring, sigh.

Please share your spring garden experiences and, as always, I am happy to address any questions you may have.

David Streit grew up on a farm/ranch in Nebraska. Witness to severe weather of all varieties focused his career path. Degrees from the universities of Nebraska and Wisconsin prepared him to be a forecaster for Capital Weather Gang as well as his day job as COO of Commodity Weather Group.
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Ian Livingston · March 18, 2013