See Sunset’s top tool picks As you gear up for spring, having great tools can help get garden jobs done faster and more easily. To see some of our favorites, go to freshdirt.sunset.com and, under “Categories,” click on “Tools of the Trade.”
Refresh containers Toss out tired plants and dried flowers and fill porch pots with spring bloomers. For two months of color, plant English primroses, forget-me-nots, Johnny-jump-ups, pansies, ranunculus, roses, snapdragons, stock, or sweet William, and add trailing foliage with English ivy or vinca. Stick a decorative spike or stake in the container, and every night prop a frost blanket on it to cover the plants, making sure the blanket doesn’t contact foliage and transfer cold temps. Add a couple of old blankets during severe freezes, and uncover whenever daytime temperatures are above freezing.
Sow seeds In the ground, plant seeds of beets, carrots, endive, kohlrabi, mesclun mix, parsnips, peas, radishes, spinach, and turnips. Keep the seedbed evenly moist and, as soon as the seeds germinate, mulch with 2 inches of hay or straw, adding more mulch as the seedlings grow taller. For added protection from frost, cover beds with floating row covers, removing covers from peas when flowers appear, so bees can pollinate them. These vegetables also do well in large pots or coldframes.
Try new perennials Be the first on your block to grow new easy-care perennials that are especially well adapted to cold winters and hot, dry summers. The following are all great choices available from Santa Fe’s High Country Gardens (800/925-9387): Azure-flowered ‘Blue Lips’ penstemon blooms in late spring and has attractive evergreen foliage. At 5 to 6 feet tall, Helianthus maximiliana ‘Dakota Sunshine’ looks just like the original Maximilian sunflower, though this yellow flower blooms in mid-August instead of late September. Sangamon River prairie phlox becomes a constellation of pink stars in midsummer, and lavender-pink Verbena ‘Annie’ blooms all summer long.
Tend your plot
Care for bulbs To encourage bulbs to come back next year, water and fertilize them while they are in leaf and in flower. Pull off foliage only after it turns brown. Bulbs that perished over the winter (and so didn’t bloom this spring) may not have been cold-hardy, or they may have rotted in wet soil, died of drought in overly dry winter soil, or been eaten by rodents. Those that developed unusually short stems and small flowers were probably affected by spring heat waves.
Cut back ornamental grasses When spring bulbs start blooming, it’s time to cut grass clumps back to within a few inches of the ground. To simplify the process, wrap a bungee cord around the clump and cut just below the cord with a sharp handsaw.
Transplant shrubs Move shrubs before new growth begins in spring to reduce the risk of transplant shock. Dig up as much of the rootball as you can and replant as soon as possible. After planting, cover rootball with several inches of mulch and keep soil evenly moist until new growth appears.
Next: Plant romantic blossoms