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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

April in the Garden
Buds break with warm sunshine

by Carolyn Singer
April 9, 2011

tulips at AnandaWhen I saw the limp daffodils lying flat on the ground after the snow melted, I did not even think they were viable enough to pick for a bouquet. I've never seen them look quite so sad. Amazing that just a few days later, all the daffodil flowers perked up and are giving one of the most lush and joyful displays I have ever seen. All the bulbs seem stronger this year, perhaps because of the winter cold.

Bright yellow, soft yellow with orange cups, fragrant species Narcissus from the Sonntag homestead, and delicate miniatures with multiple blossoms on each stem fill the view from the window seats in my living room. As soon as we get some cloudy weather later in the week, I'll use a garden fork to move more into the area. For years I have been doing the same thing along my driveway. Each year is better than the previous years.

Potentilla canadensisAt the same time the narcissus are in full bloom, the first rock garden perennial echoes the bright yellow as Potentilla canadensis (photo,right) opens even under the snow. This is one of my favorite deer-resistant perennial groundcovers, attractive in every season. Gray-green evergreen foliage is tidy and never needs grooming. The yellow flowers fade into the foliage just as it begins new growth for the season. A rare plant in the nursery trade, this is one of the most popular plants in my June propagation class.

Phlox paniculataCreeping phlox adds color along walls and in rock gardens beginning in April. Now is a good time to find this tough perennial groundcover in nurseries, often available even in six-packs. Blue-violet, bright pink, white and enchanting combinations of white and red are common. This is a great plant in dry areas, and always deer-resistant.

A reader asked this week about seed sources for the quinoa in my last column. Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply offers it, as does Seeds of Change online. This very ornamental grain from the Incas prefers nighttime temperatures under 60 degrees, and not too much water. The photograph was taken in the Luther Burbank demonstration garden in Santa Rosa, where a single raised bed was devoted to quinoa. I visited when the grain was in full bloom with yellow, pink, and orange flowers on four-foot tall plants.

Gardeners below 2000-foot elevation are beginning to plant many of their vegetables. At my 2600-foot elevation, I will seed greens and peas with the waxing cycle of the moon between April 10th and 15th. The ground in my vegetable garden is still quite cold, so all the seeding is done into flats or small containers. Since I can still expect snow, and even a hard frost, flats are protected with a row cover if they are outside, or placed in a cold frame. Bottom heat from an electrical pad will hasten germination. I have also used manure under the flat to generate heat. But warming the soil also dries it out sooner, so keep the seeds and young seedlings well-watered.

If I can find vigorous starts of broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, those can be planted directly into the garden in soil prepared last fall. Spreading a row cover over another garden bed warms the soil, and very soon I will be directly seeding carrots, beets, turnips and radishes.

The heat-loving vegetables will have to wait until mid-May when danger of frost is past. Remember last year? Like most gardeners, I'm always tempted by the availability of tomatoes in April. But they do not go into the garden. Instead I mix up compost, vermiculite, colloidal phosphate, oyster shell, and sometimes alfalfa meal and kelp for a good start for heat-loving vegetables. Squash, beans and cucumber seeds are seeded into 4-inch containers. Peppers and eggplants purchased from local organic growers go into 1-gallon pots. And the tomatoes are always grown in 2-gallon containers before they are planted in the vegetable garden after frost danger is past. And when that might be is anybody's guess!

©2009 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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