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Garden wisdom from deer country!

Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer

The seasoned gardener

published in The Union in Grass Valley CA

A burst of early spring blossoms following the snow

by Carolyn Singer
March 12, 2011

spireaInspired by the bloom of the first spring bulbs and flowering ornamental shrubs (Spiraea,photo right), most gardeners are eager to be outside in the garden. Enough of studying catalogs! Even if it is as simple as picking up broken branches from the last storms, this connection with the beginning of the new season is meaningful.

As soon as the raging storm stopped, I wandered into the garden in my snow boots, and marveled at all the buds swelling. Some of my favorite shrubs bloom before any leaves show. Reaching down to free a branch of the star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) pinned by the snow, I accidentally broke off a section. While this hardy ornamental shrub is one of my favorites and I have often written about it, I have never picked it when it was coming into bloom. A single spray is exquisite, a sequence of soft buds swelling, then opening into multi-petaled white blossoms.

flowering quinceA shrub that stands out with its colorful flowers in early March is the Japanese flowering quince (Chaenomeles japonica, photo left). At the Happy Kitchen in Chicago Park, a group of these is in full bloom now. I've seen them in Grass Valley and Nevada City too, their masses of carmine flowers all the more noticeable with snow on the ground.

Soon comes the vibrant yellow of the Forsythia, which also blooms on bare branches. Like the star magnolia and the Japanese flowering quince, this March bloomer is a tough shrub, growing with little or no irrigation. If deer are a problem in your garden, only the magnolia is reliably deer-resistant, though its trunks can be damaged by rutting.

When I picked pussy willows last month, I placed some of the thick stalks that had no buds into water. Roots are now over four inches long, and there is even a green shoot growing under water. This is one of the few plants I would root in this way. Of course if it were growing where I plan to put it, it would be under water right now anyway!

If you are starting seeds indoors, don't start too early with annuals that must have warm weather to thrive. Basil, for example, should be started from seed three to four weeks before the safe planting date. In my garden, that is the end of May, so I plant the seed the first week of May unless I am planning to protect the young plants until danger of frost is past.

If young plants do not get the light or heat they need for optimal growth, they may decline in vigor and not recover when planted out in the garden soil. The "Western Nevada County Gardening Guide" available at the Farm Advisor's office (206 South Auburn in Grass Valley) is a good reference for determining the date of your last frost. Plan your indoor seeding accordingly. Gardeners at lower elevations can begin seeding many vegetables sooner than gardeners who have a spring freeze as late as mid-May.

I do begin the seeds of parsley in March because the young seedlings grow slowly and they tolerate cold, even frost. Dill and cilantro are started in May to keep them growing without going into a flowering stage. And these two are succession planted through the summer months for best production. Last summer I grew a "slow-bolt" variety of cilantro from Johnny's Selected Seed with pleasing success.

March is a good time to sow seeds of most perennials. If you plan to grow them outside where the light is stronger, cover the seedbed or containers with a row cover to add a little protection from cold. Rain will be able to penetrate through the covering. Also take a look at the microclimates on your property. There might be a warm spot good for early germination and growth of perennial herbs and flowers.

Cover crops may be turned into the soil this month, giving them a few weeks to decompose before any planting. Poultry manure may be turned in at the same time, and even added on top (one to two inches) to hasten decomposition. Remember to work the soil only when it is not wet. March is the month to grab gardening days in between storms.
dwarf narcissus

©2009 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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