Tag Archives: spring

Spring Is Near: Is It Wise to Buy the Plants at the Garden Centers?

Pansy

Pansy

I was at a local Virginia garden center this weekend and saw four plants that are popular to buy now in the early spring. They had such small tags, you would not know the full scoop if you had bought them.

Pansies: They are beautiful and out of these four plants, pansies would have the most colorful impact now. They come in a range of colors and can be used in hanging baskets, containers, and in the ground. But, they prefer cool weather and will not last through our hot and humid summers. By the beginning of summer, you will pull them out if the deer and rabbits do not get to them first. These are annuals meaning they only survive for one growing season. In our area, they really are only useful in the spring when they bloom. They do not make good cut flowers.

 

Alyssum

Alyssum

Alyssum: Usually one only finds white flowered alyssum which is not my favorite color in the garden. They are not cut flowers but their form lends themselves to hanging baskets, containers, and in the ground, along the walkway. Alyssum likes cool weather but will do well in the summer. Their tiny flowers attract the pollinators including bees and beneficial insects but not deer. These annuals will die with frost in the fall but you will have gotten your money’s worth.

 

 

Dianthus

Dianthus

Dianthus: Related to carnations, this type of dianthus likes full sun and can be drought tolerant once established. The flowers are small, but could be cut for a small vase. The plant adds color, usually the flowers are pink to red, but the plant lies low to the ground. Its form does not lend itself for hanging baskets; they are best used on terraces, rock gardens, garden beds. The plant might come back the next year but they do not have a long life and are treated as annuals here.

 

Snapdragons

Snapdragons

Snapdragons: The flowers are beautiful, come in a range of colors, and can be cut for vases. They bloom in the cool spring months, the plant simply grows and persists during the summer, and they may bloom again in the cool autumn. Mine have come back the following year but not years after that.  Usually they are grown in the ground,  or containers, not hanging baskets. Snapdragons are deer resistant.

Pak Choi Blooming Signals End to Spring

pak choi flowersWell I guess spring is over; the pak choi is blooming (or bolting as we gardeners say). I barely got to eat any, we have had so much rain here in Virginia.  I grow pak choi every spring. It is easy to start by direct sowing seed early in March but it bolts so quickly that harvesting in April and May must be a priority.  The stems and leaves taste good raw in salads or cooked, such as stir-fry. The flowers are a pretty yellow with four petals. Pak choi is a member of the cabbage or “Cruciferae” family, which is Latin for cross-bearing so all flowers in the family have the cross-shaped four petals and most are yellow colored. This one, Brassica rapa, is similar to bok choi, a type of Chinese cabbage, but smaller and milder to me.

Gardening is a lot like a play. There are several acts, each with its own set of actors entering the stage to give their performance and exiting to allow others the limelight. I am busy now helping other characters get ready for their scene that I let pak choi flower (eating now would be too bitter). In a month, during Act II, I will pull them out, save the seed, and replace with a mid-summer night’s dream.pak choi

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day: Deutzia ‘Chardonnay Pearls’

Deutzia Chardonnay PearlsToday is Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day  where garden bloggers across the country post photos of blossoms on the 15th of the month. Although it is snowing today in Virginia, I am happy that spring is around the corner and “snow” in another form will appear soon in my garden. For many years now I have enjoyed Deutzia ‘Chardonnay Pearls’, a small, deciduous shrub that leafs out in March and covers itself with tiny, pearl-like buds in April. From April through May, the buds open to white, bell-shaped flowers, complementing the light green leaves. When my Deutzia ‘Chardonnay Pearls’ is in full bloom it looks like a snow-capped hill. Like snow, the flowers gently fall to the ground as they past their prime, melting and disappearing within the soil.

In the summer, the small shrub provides light green color in an otherwise dark corner of the garden. Some people say the leaves are lemon-lime colored; some say chartreuse, but mine are light green (I have another true chartreuse shrub near it so I can see the difference). The species has leaves of a darker green and grows taller, about 5 feet. Although the flowers are delicate, all deutzia shrubs are well-known for being pest, disease, and deer resistant.Deutzia Chardonnay Pearls 2 Proven Winners sent me my plant 9 years ago when it was a baby, only a few inches high. Since then it has matured into a 3-foot shrub and I do not expect it to grow any more. Mine is on the east side of the house where it receives morning sun and afternoon shade.  Although that particular garden bed has well-drained soil, high in organic matter, the plant can tolerate a wide range of soils. Hardy to zone 5, Deutzia ‘Chardonnay Pearls’ thrives despite snowy winters and dry summers.

You Can Grow That! Sugar Snap Peas

plump sugar snap peas

plump sugar snap peas

March is the time to grow peas here in Northern Virginia. In our family we prefer the sugar snap peas where you eat pea and pod together but shelling peas and snow peas are also started during March’s cool weather. Last year we grew Amish Snap from Seed Savers Exchange which was excellent; this year we will try Renee’s Garden’s Sugar Snap Peas just to compare. We have already tied the nylon netting to the banister that leads to the front door and, in the back, to the deck railing, wherever I could ensure that the peas would receive full sun. Pea plants are light in weight and their small tendrils need to wrap around thin nylon or string. In the beginning, you may have to “train” them to wrap around the nylon or unwrap them if they find a nearby plant but eventually they learn to wrap up and create a pretty green screen. St. Patrick’s Day is my cue to soak the seeds in water overnight, insert in cone shaped coffee filters (could have used paper towels too), and place in zipped plastic bags. I left them on a shelf, I did not put them under grow lights. Within two days, the seeds germinated and after a few days, when it was necessary for the shoots to receive sunlight, I planted them outside about 4 inches apart. Planting them when they have germinated as opposed to planting seeds makes them able to withstand the cold soil temperatures. Last year, in April and May, we picked them almost every day when the peas had expanded enough to make the pods plump – hence – snap when you bit them or bent them. They were so sweet, we ate them raw as the vegetable portion of dinner. Peas are easy to grow, nutritious and delicious, and are a great kid gardening project.

You Can Grow That is a collaborative effort by gardeners around the world to encourage others to grow something. Usually articles on posted on the fourth of the month. Visit http://www.youcangrowthat.com/blogs/ to read more posts.Youcangrowthat

Master Plan for 2015 Gardening Season

cilantro seedlings, last spring

cilantro seedlings, last spring

During this past three-day weekend, when I experienced my first “squall” and several inches of snow, I was able to make a dent in my master plan for the 2015 gardening season. We live in a typical Northern Virginia suburban area; we have been in this 50-year old house for 12 years. In the beginning I grew a lot of ornamentals and herbs. Recently, I have been growing more edibles and as the kids grow up and out of the backyard, I am able to carve out more lawn to create new beds for my veggies. This results in a patchwork of small beds and containers, not the traditional long rows of vegetables found in a farm. Thus, my garden plan is complex because I am fitting edibles into a small, but established garden.

The master plan is more like a road map, it gets me started in the spring to where I want to go this year. As the summer heats up, I tend to make detours, slight modifications: buy a plant here, move a plant there. By autumn, I feel like I have traveled an exciting and rewarding journey — I learned a lot, I grew and harvested a lot –and now it is time to create road map II for  the fall/winter seasons.

So in February I create a list, in alphabetical order, of the seeds I have and then I put the seed packets in paper bags, each labeled with a letter of the alphabet. Then I create a chart of when to start the seeds, whether indoors under lights or outdoors, depending on if they are cool or warm season and how long it takes from seed to fruit. I list where I would eventually grow the plants outdoors depending on sunlight, soil moisture, insects/pests/disease, etc. I also allow for succession planting. For example, I want to sow lettuce, spinach, and scallions several times because as we eat them, I want more to be growing. Also, in one area I want to grow peppers when it is warm after the initial sowing of lettuce has bolted.seeds

Right now March looks like this: sowing seeds of eggplant, bulbing fennel, leaf fennel, lovage, and sweet peppers under lights in mid-March. I don’t much care for cole crops (broccoli, cabbage, Brussell sprouts) so I don’t grow those.  I will start snap peas indoors, not under light, but soaking in water overnight, then placing in plastic bags to initiate germination so can be planted outside in cold soil. At the end of March, I will sow seeds of spinach, radish, pak choi, kale, lettuce, and scallions outdoors directly in soil or in containers.

April gets busier: I will sow seeds of cilantro, dill, parsley, alyssum, nigella, and chives outside as our average last frost date is mid-April. I will sow more seeds of kale, lettuce, scallions, and spinach in order to have a continuous harvest.  Indoors, under lights, I will start the warm season tomatoes, melon, and cucumbers. Instead of seed, I will buy plants that do not over winter here like lemon verbena, lemon grass, and pineapple sage.

May of course is the beginning of warm weather and anything goes. It will be warm enough to plant seeds of basil, lemon basil, beans, Swiss chard, marigolds, yellow summer squash, zucchini, and trombetta squash directly outdoors. I will continue to sow the seeds of cool season greens such as kale, lettuce, spinach, scallions again until it gets too hot in July.

This does not mean that these are the only plants or the only edibles in the garden. I already have other plants such as parsley, alpine strawberries, raspberry, blackberry, thyme, rosemary, oregano, goji berry, shallots, lemon balm, hardneck garlic, and mint.

By May I will have started to deviate off course a bit as I will have attended a few plant sales, visited a few nurseries, and traded with my gardening friends. My plans will have altered with new additions but the journey has begun!