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Time to get in the garden

In the Garden
Time to get in the garden Time to get in the garden
By Ralph Purkhiser, Purdue University, Master Gardener

We will have an early spring this year, literally. Spring begins with the vernal equinox, which may fall on March 20 or 21 in various years. This year, we reach the point of equinox at 5:37 a.m. (EDT) on Saturday, March 20, so it is definitely an early spring.

We have had some spring-like weather during the final days of winter, but this is not unusual. In fact, several people have noted that their first daffodil blooms were a couple of weeks later this year. This has allowed gardeners to get out and get some clean-up work done.

I had good intentions, but a stint in the emergency room and intensive care unit last week wrecked my gardening plans. I will be doing as much as possible the next couple of weeks to get back on schedule.

Spring’s clean-up is always an important task. I generally do not do much garden clean-up in the fall. I leave seed heads to feed the birds and stubble to help protect the crowns of perennial plants.

In late winter or early spring, I spruce up the garden by cutting down last year’s growth. However, I do not completely take this debris out of the garden. Many pollinators and other insects spend the winter in stubble, so I stack it in an out-of-the-way spot to allow the beneficial insects to emerge when temperatures warm.

In a few weeks, I will run the mower over this debris to chop it up for composting.

I did manage to get the old leaves cut back from the many clumps of hellebores at Sandhill Gardens. The foliage had become tattered over the winter and removing it allows the emerging flowers to be seen more easily.

This may be the best year ever for the hellebores in my gardens. I have added several cultivars with upright flowers, and they certainly make a statement at this time of the year.

With colors ranging from white to nearly black, with shades of red and pink in between, there is a rainbow of blooms. I even have hellebores with green flowers. Some of the hellebores will continue to flower until summer, so the show is not ephemeral.

There are several ephemerals that complement the hellebore show. Crocuses in various colors and winter aconite were the first on the scene.

The vernal witch hazel and early daffodils have now come onto the scene. With more than 40 varieties of daffodils planted at Sandhill Gardens, I will have daffodils for a couple of months. I have been asked which is my favorite and my answer is always “the one that is in bloom today.”

Other bulbous plants, including tulips, hyacinths, muscari and fritilarias, will be coming into bloom soon. Several shrubs will also become landscape stars in coming weeks. It is an exciting time of the year.

I am happy to report that the lettuce planted on Valentine’s Day is thriving in the cold frame. Tiny cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower plants are also up and growing. Some mustard and kale that overwintered will supply some salads this week. Add some wild greens, such as chickweed and dandelion, and one can have a tasty and healthy dinner.

It is also time to begin seeding many crops in the greenhouse. Most of the seed packets have a recommended number of days to transplant stage. Plant warm-season crops, including tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, to transplant after May 10, which is our safe-from-frost date. Many ornamental plants also fall into this planting time.

I generally do not start too many flowers from seed, but there are some that nurseries do not carry, so I have to grow them to ensure I will have them for the garden this summer.

St. Patrick’s Day is the traditional day to plant peas. I hope you remembered to prepare a bed for peas last fall so all you have to do is poke the seeds into the ground.

Spring is definitely a lot of work, but the results are worth the effort.