Everyday Gardeners

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A Touch of Spring

Hellebores (Helleborus) are one of the first perennials to bloom every spring. They’re beloved by gardeners because they’re easy-growing plants that thrive in shade and deer and rabbits don’t eat them. Plus they make a gorgeous spring display! HelleboreWe thought this combo of chartreuse varieties is a perfect way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day!

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spring unleashed

Spring unleashes the inner puppy in gardeners. With boundless joy, we can’t wait to get down on all fours and dig in the dirt as soon as the ground thaws. Thanks to a new German Shepherd pup in my house, our first signs of Spring this year were muddy paw prints on the living room carpet.

Apollo is all ears when I tell him Spring has arrived.

Apollo is all ears when I tell him Spring has arrived.

With house-training little Apollo as my main motivator, I spent a lot of time outdoors this past month examining every square foot of our property, several times each day. Nose to the ground, Apollo follows scent trails of rabbits and deer while I inspect the tree and shrub damage those hungry critters have caused.

Yesterday, I discovered a pair of cheerful yellow winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) blooming in my woodland garden. Nearby, a clump of jonquil (Narcissus hybrids) sprouts were muscling their way through the leaf litter. Fortunately, the rabbits and deer find these tender morsels distasteful.

Before too long, I’ll be digging in the garden. I hope Apollo doesn’t get any ideas.

Winter aconite is one of the earliest flowers to bloom in spring.

Winter aconite is one of Spring's earliest blooms.

Fingerlike narcissus sprouts punch through a fallen oak leaf.

Finger-like narcissus sprouts break through a fallen oak leaf.

It’s Orchid Time

PhalaenopsisIn his last post, my boss Doug Jimerson mentioned how he saw pussy willows as a sign of spring coming. Outside my home landscape is still pretty bleak and cold (the wind chill was -21F when I went to work this morning), but inside I’m happy to also be seeing signs of spring.

I became hooked on orchids a couple of years ago, and now a table in my back porch houses a collection of about 30 or so different varieties of easy-to-grow moth orchids (Phalaenopsis). For me, most of these beauties bloom once a year and that’s in early spring. The plants are just starting to send up spikes now, so I know the spring season really must be right around the corner.

When my moth orchids begin showing off their lovely blooms, it’s a cue that I can start fertilizing my other houseplants again after their winter rest. I always start out slow, giving them about 1/4 the recommended dose for a month or so.

If you’re a cold-climate gardener like me, are you seeing signs of spring? If you’re a warm-climate gardener, what’s blooming in your yard now? Share by commenting below!

Winter Wakes Up Slowly

Pussy Willow catkins

Pussy Willow catkins

In late winter, I’m like an expectant father, pacing around my gardens looking for any signs of spring. Usually, by now, I’d be seeing some early bulb foliage poking through the soil or some green leaves unfurling in the perennial border. But this year it’s different. Deep snow still blankets the landscape. Winter has been relentless with snowstorms every few days adding new layers of fresh snow on top of drifts that are already chest high. All my garden beds are deeply buried, so unless the weather warms up quickly, we probably won’t be seeing our early bloomers such as hellebore, crocus or snowdrops until April or May. But, this weekend, I finally found some hope. In the back of the border, buried in 4 feet of snow, is a very large pussy willow shrub I planted several years ago. And, on the very top branches, the pussy willow catkins are beginning to peek out. It’s not much, but after one of the bleakest winters on record, it improved my spirits tremendously.

Surprisingly, you don’t read much about pussy willows anymore and the plants themselves can be difficult to find either via mail order or at the nursery. Certainly it doesn’t have large or fragrant flowers or interesting foliage, but in the early spring it earns its place in any landscape. It’s a blue collar shrub that works hard, has few pests, and requires only an annual pruning to keep it in bounds (un-pruned this shrub can grow 15 to 20 feet tall). Plus, you can cut the pussy willow branches and use them in fresh or dried arrangements. Pussy willows are also available in weeping forms or with pink or black catkins.

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