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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

Leucojum (summer snowflake)February in the Garden
Most plants are still dormant, but signs of spring appear
by Carolyn Singer
February 27, 2010

Picking my first bouquet of the season for my class last Saturday, I gathered hellebores, Narcissus, winter iris, and even the misnamed summer snowflake (Leucojum). I gathered the flowers in the evening, expecting rain in early morning.

These February bloomers will not last as cut flowers unless they are carefully conditioned. The bottom half inch of the stems should be dipped quickly into very hot water (brought just to the boiling point) to seal the cuts before placing the stems into warm water.

The summer snowflake is one of my favorite bulbs. Like most spring-flowering bulbs, Leucojum needs no summer irrigation. Clumps and drifts of this handsome plant increase in size each year. Some in my garden have been there more than 30 years and have never been divided.

The deer do not eat the dark-green foliage or the delicate bell-shaped white flowers. Very shade-tolerant, Leucojum is a perfect bulbs planted under deciduous trees. After bloom, the foliage continues to look attractive for several weeks, and then fades quickly in warmer weather.

Last week I visited a one-year-old edible garden west of Penn Valley. Lush leaves of bok choy and kale were a testimonial to the value of first building soil with a cover crop. I removed the row cover that had protected the plants since December. Leaving it on now at this lower elevation would only encourage the plants to bloom.

leeks harvested in FebruaryIn my own garden at a much higher elevation, the row cover will stay in place to protect the greens planted last fall. Meanwhile, unprotected, the crop of leeks I have been harvesting all winter is still abundant since I planted so many seedlings in June. Even in the colder microclimates of our county leeks are an excellent winter crop. I begin with seed sown in May in seedling trays, then transplant into the garden in summer.

Right now I am planting peas into containers in my cold frame. Usually the soil is too cold in my vegetable garden to encourage germination. By starting them in a protected location with a row cover over the planting, I can get off to a better start.

soil builder cover crop under Tufbell row coverCover crops sown last fall may be two feet or more now at some elevations. Let them continue to grow, or cut them down (I use a sickle). If there is too much bulk for a rototiller, just add some poultry manure on top of the cut cover crop, adding to the soil fertility by sheet composting.

All this sounds like spring, doesn't it? But wait, dormant season isn't over! I still want to plant some blueberries, elderberries and maybe even another currant. And my grapes still need pruning. Days when it is not raining I will be working in the garden. There's precious little time for spring fever.

rhubarb in February

©2009 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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