Snowdrops are blooming, crocuses are up and so are some of the daffodils and here and there the grass is quite green. Spring is here.
Of course it depends what you mean by "spring."
For most guardeners, spring is when things at last start to grow again and snowdrops bloom and buds swell. The witch hazels are out, the new leaves of clematis are half an inch long.
For others, spring means no shirt and coffee in the summerhouse. They will never acknowledge spring until April 14. But for us, the die-hard gardeners, spring is already here, even though we may have snow, an ice storm or two and ground frosts for another six weeks.
This is a good time to be warned against sowing too many seeds indoors. I am already up to my ears in pots of sweet peas, and that is virtuous, since they go outdoors as soon as I can harden them off and as soon as the earth is diggable.
But it is not virtuous, it is merely folly, to fill the house with zinnias and tomatoes now. They go outdoors after May 10, and April 1 is soon enough to start them in flats or pots inside. If you sow them now and they sprout promptly, you have weeks and weeks to keep them going indoors before you can possibly set them out. During those weeks, they will not get enough sun, they will grow spindly and weak. So wait.
I should remind you that every year thousands of gardeners show up to buy clematis in April. They are always astonished to see clematis plants in cardboard cartons in the seed stores already sprouted. Usually the stems are a foot long and pale whitish-green, utterly tender, and obviously they will perish if the long pale sprouts are set out then.
Check with the garden center you go to, to see when their clematis are due to arrive. Plant them out the instant the plants are received. They will not have any leaves on them, and all will be well. But once they have sprouted in warm stores, you cannot set them out until settled weather arrives. This means you take the sprouted pale clematis home and put them in pots, give them as much sun as you can indoors, and set them out in May.
It is much better to plant them outdoors in the first place, before the pale drawn shoots have sprouted. And you accomplish this either by planting them outdoors in March, as soon as you can get the dormant plants, or by planting them outdoors in November and January (from clematis specialists who have shipped them to you then).
All through the late fall and winter, theSee EARTHMAN, Page 2, Col. 2 First Sign Of Spring EARTHMAN, From Page 1
All through the late fall and winter, the clematis looks as if it is dead. Gardeners often feel cheated by fall-shipped clematis. They do indeed look dead, and the worst thing is the old leaves are hanging on, withered.
All the same, that is the best time to plant them.
Since gardeners rarely do anything really right or really well, it is all right to plant them in the spring. But either get them planted outdoors before the shoots lengthen, or else pot them up, get them growing well indoors, and plant them out in May.
Surely there are enough options here? But commonly the gardener waits till April, sets out spindly shoots which are killed back, and complains for some years afterward that clematis are hard to grow.
Such a gardener has refused all three options, and is angry that his own notion has not been a success.
There are several delightful vines that are annuals, such as morning glories, moon vines, cardinal vines, cup and saucer vines and so forth, that will not do anything until warm weather arrives. It may indeed be an advantage to start these things from seed indoors, but remember they may not be planted out until the second half of May.
So I would never plant any of them indoors before the first week of April. And often nothing much is gained by that, either. Often it works equally well or better to plant the seeds outdoors, where you intend for the vines to grow, on May 5. It is not merely a case of these vines' being killed by frost; it is the case that they will not begin to grow properly until settled warm weather arrives in May.
This is an ideal time to spread stable manure about the garden. People say they cannot get stable manure. I never said they could; merely that this is a great time to spread it about.
Horse manure often is a miracle on heavy soils such as those that most of us are lucky to be gardening in.
One year I used fowl manure on some Japanese irises. All but two of them died, and I suspect the manure. Probably fowl manure is alkaline, and Japanese irises will die if lime gets near them. I shall not use it again on them, but shall stick to horse manure.
Incidentally, gardeners who see Japanese irises listed in catalogues for several dollars a plant should know they are as easy as radishes from seed. Plant the seed any time now. They will bloom a year from this June from seed planted this spring. Park Seed Co. offers a superb mixture, "Higo," that will give flowers as good as the named varieties listed in catalogues.
This year I am growing -- or at least I have planted -- a batch of iris seeds from the cross of two spuria irises, I. ochraleuca and I. monaurea. There was a time that I was on fire for spuria irises (which are like Spanish or Dutch irises such as you see now in florist shops, only with several flower on a stem about three or four feet high; the leaves growing from two to four feet high) and acquired a nice collection of the newer varieties. None of them ever bloomed worth a hoot.
They really abhor being transplanted, I think.
The old wild or semi-wild spuria varieties I mentioned are favorites of mine. The first is white with a yellow patch on the falls, the other is pale soft yellow. But even they may require two full years of settling down before they bloom.
At least they do bloom, once they settle in, which is more than can be said for many of the fancier newer sorts.