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Monday, April 25, 2011

Sure signs of Spring

Spring is in full swing!

Our bullfrog made it through the winter!

Fiddlehead ferns!
Time to stretch!

Baby robins, so vulnerable, its amazing how fast they'll grow!

People tend to be so anxious to get their hands back in the dirt that it is very easy to rush too soon to the nursery or to plant that envisioned garden.
According to the Farmer's Almanac the last possible frost dates in our area (zone 6) aren't until the end of April. Just because we are starting to have beautiful warm days doesn't mean it is safe to plant everything at once. The soil needs time to dry out and warm up before planting many of our annuals and tender vegetables. Seeds may just rot if the soil is too wet or cool. Young plants from the nursery usually have the protection of their greenhouse to survive the night time temperatures. Heat thriving plants like tomatoes and peppers may survive a cold snap but won't ever really thrive if they get stunted.

The Farmer's Almanac has a neat reference table using folk wisdom:

Plant corn when the oak leaves are the size of a mouse's ear, when apple blossoms begin to fall, or when the dogwoods are in full bloom.

Plant lettuce, spinach and peas when the lilacs show their first leaves or when the daffodils begin to bloom.

Plant beets and carrots when the dandelions are blooming.

Plant cucumbers and squashes when the lilac flowers fade.

Plant perennials when the maple leaves begin to unfurl.

Plant hardy annuals like pansies after the aspen and chokecherry trees leaf out.

People often use May 15th as a guideline to be safe to start filling those flower pots and planting garden beds with nursery started flats. Garden seedlings which were started indoors can be moved into the garden but only after being gradually exposed to the outdoors and full sun. A few hours at a time each day for about a week will " harden them off".

If you don't want to be bothered with planting flower seeds and then waiting and hoping they will germinate, flowers that self-seed and volunteer themselves are for you.
These types of flowers are for those of you who like the cottage garden or wild garden look. I have spent enough time trying to control what goes where and now just appreciate what thrives at certain spots. Three no fail annual flowers that are easy to grow, and are drought tolerant are calendula, cosmos and cleome (spider flower). I still gather their seeds in the fall and sprinkle them at certain spots in the spring but these types are great for self-sowing. They do like full sun and if you do plant them remember the rule about seed size. Only plant three times the size of the seed deep. So these seeds barely get covered with soil. They need some light to germinate.

All three of these types will offer continuous blooms right up until frost.

Calendula is also known as pot marigold and is one of my medicinal plants used for making healing salves for skin conditions and wound care. All season long this plant flowers and matures into easy to gather seeds, all while forming new flowers. You can already start gathering seeds by August.

Cosmos is one of those plants that can take a beating and keep on going. Branches broken by the weather will still survive unless broken off completely. It is wild and carefree, and tends to look a bit messy by seasons end. Plant where tidiness isn't an issue. In the fall, the flowers dry and form easy to gather seeds.

Cleome is a beautiful plant but just be aware that should you brush up against it or work around the mature plants they tend to be a 'pricky'. Not thorns just the defense of the plant itself. Also, should you stick your nose right into this plant to smell it you probably won't smell anything but when you just walk by its general vicinity you'll smell a vague skunk- like scent. Not enough to turn you off to planting this beauty but it is interesting. In the fall the flowers form 2 - 3 inch pods that dry and split open to reveal pepper-like seeds. Gather these if desired.