Even though most of the trees are still bare and must of us awoke to snow on the ground this weekend, spring has arrived and with it are some of the most beautiful blooms of the year.
Spring Flowering Bulbs
The crocuses have all but faded, but the daffodils continue to bloom, brightening up the drab landscape with their cheery yellows and oranges. They have recently been joined by the hyacinths. With their overpowering fragrance, these flowers add to springs color palette with their cool colors of pink and purple.
You may have noticed some small purple flowers known as grape hyacinths. Not a true hyacinth, the inflorescence of this flower is a cone of small purple flowers that almost looks like a miniature clump of grapes.
If you want to bring some spring cheer inside (highly recommended), it is best to give daffodils their own vase as their stems secrete a substance that is harmful to other flowers.
One of the great joys of spring is the appearance of spring ephemerals. These native plants grow in wooded areas and only have a short time to flower before the trees above them leaf out and block their sunlight. When you are walking through wooded areas in the spring, make sure you watch your feet or might step on the delicate flowers of the bloodroot or the hepatica.
Other Spring Blooms
From the showy flowers of the andromeda bush to the subtle flowers of the lungwort, the more time you spend out side the more flowers you’ll notice.
Many spring flowering plants are considered weeds. You may think that dandelion in your lawn is unsightly, but the bees beg to differ. Dandelions are an important source of pollen and nectar for bees in the early spring as are other spring flowering ‘weeds’ like purple deadnettle and henbit.
What about Fungus?
Now fungi aren’t plants, so they don’t have flowers, but they can add color to the landscape. In the spring cedar-apple rust galls that overwintered on juniper become more noticeable as they produce gelatinous tendrils that release spores into the air. Some of these spores will find their way to apple trees where they can cause problems by infecting the leaves and the fruit of the tree.
Thanks to all of the Master Gardener Volunteers who provided their thoughts and photos for this post!
Date and Time: Wednesday, April 8, 2020, 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Cost: $0-$30 / person self-determined sliding scale, pay what you can afford
You’ve learned how to make your vegetable garden bountiful…now make it beautiful too! Join Master Gardener, Teresa Craighead, as she covers: flowers for in and around the vegetable garden, things to consider when introducing vegetables into ornamental gardens, vegetables with ornamental qualities, potager gardens, elements of garden design, planting patterns that please the eye, structures and accessories. This class is designed for vegetable gardeners, ornamental gardeners and anyone who is striving to create a summer veggie patch that both pleases the palate and delights the eye by blending with an ornamental landscape.
If you happen to have a garden or have decided that this is the year to start one there are lots of things to keep you busy at this time of year!
Hopefully you waited until spring to clean up your garden to allow beneficial insects and other arthropods such as bees and butterflies to overwinter. Now that spring has sprung you should leave debris as long as you can to give these creatures a chance to emerge from their winter hiding places. You should start carefully removing debris from around blossoming plants. If you must cut back hollow stems, bundle them so any pollinators overwintering inside have a chance to emerge. As you are cleaning up be on the look out for praying mantis egg cases know as ootheca. This is one time when you should leave things till tomorrow!
Mulching is another spring time activity. There are many different types of organic mulch that will not only suppress weeds, but also add organic material to the soil as they break down. You don’t have to mulch everything, in fact many ground nesting bees such as bumble bees need a bit of bare earth to make their nests. And if you are mulching your trees make sure to keep the mulch at least 3 inches away from the base of the tree so that it is not touching the bark.
There are lots of places online where you can purchase seeds. If you still have seeds left over from last year and don’t know if they are still good, don’t throw them out, try this simple home germination test.
sterile potting mix
It is important to use sterile potting mix to avoid disease issues like damping off. Do not reuse potting mix and do not use garden compost.
You don’t need to buy a fancy container to start seeds. Just make sure the container has been sterilized and has drainage holes.
You want to keep the soil moist, but be careful not to over water or you may have a problem with damping off.
Some seeds need light to germinate, but all seeds need light after they germinate. Once your seeds sprout a light source will help prevent them from becoming leggy. You can purchase grow lights or just use a soft white fluorescent bulb. Here are directions on how to build a Low-Cost Grow-Light Frame.
Most seeds will germinate between the temperatures of 55°F and 75°F, but the optimal temperature for each type of seed varies. You can create a mini-green house to trap heat and moisture. You can also buy heating mats to warm the soil. Click here to see Soil Temperature Conditions for Vegetable Seed Germination.
Out in the Garden
Gardening is an activity for the whole family! Children love helping plant seeds! Right now you can be direct seeding cool season crops in your garden such as beets, carrots, lettuce, peas, radishes, spinach, and turnips. If you want to have a continual harvest, consider succession planting or seeding several smaller plantings of the same crop at timed intervals, rather than all at once.
While most people are busy seeding, some perennial plants are already coming up or even ready to harvest! Chives are a great example of a perennial that allows you add something fresh and green to your meals in the early spring. If you planted chives in your garden last year, they are probably already making their way to your table. This perennial of the onion family begins growing in early March and is able to be snipped with scissors and eaten soon after and throughout the growing season right up until the fall frost.
Another perennial making an appearance is rhubarb! Rhubarb is a great addition to any vegetable garden and as it is deer resistant and highly attractive it can also be used as part of your edible landscape. Although the leaves of rhubarb are considered poisonous, the stems of this spring crop that can be used to make the classic strawberry rhubarb pie as well as many other delicious snacks.
And as always, if you are having any issues in your garden, need help identifying the cause of a problem or figuring out a management strategy give us a call. Our Garden Helpline phones are staffed April – November, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, from 9:30 am – 12:30 pm. But you can always leave us a message or send us an e-mail.
Signs of spring abound! Bird songs fill the air. Buds on the trees are starting to unfurl. New shoots are breaking through the soil. And flowers are beginning to bloom!
Here are some of the flowers to look out for as you venture outside for a breath of fresh air.
When most people think of maple trees, flowers aren’t the first thing that comes to mind. Red maples are native to the eastern United States and happen to be one of the first trees to flower in the spring. Their bright pink to red flowers result in the production of thousands of winged fruits called samaras, colloquially referred to as helicopters. After ripening on the trees for several weeks they will fill the air and litter the ground.
Although many people equate the yellow blossoms of the forsythia with the beginning of spring, the forsythia is not native to New York; it actually native to eastern Asia. This fast growing shrub is a favorite among homeowners, because it is tolerant to deer, resistant to Japanese beetles, and rarely has disease problems. If you are looking for a native alternative to forsythia, try spicebush (Lindera benzoin). This medium sized multi-stemmed shrub has fragrant yellow-green flowers in early spring and supports 12 species of butterflies and provides berries for the birds.
One of the many joys of spring is the emergence of all the spring flowering bulbs. Some of them are already blooming: snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils (my favorite flower!). Despite its sometime unsightly appearance, make sure you leave the foliage alone until it turns yellow and dies back. This allows the leaves of the plant to produce food through photosynthesis. This food is stored in the bulb and will be used to produce even more beautiful flowers next spring!
Hellebores are also flowering! This evergreen herbaceous perennial is native to Turkey, but does well here in Orange County. It grows well in full or partial shade and has beautiful white to pink to purple flowers that bloom in late winter into early spring. Hellebores are rarely damaged by deer and as they are evergreen, after their flowers fade, they make an attractive ground cover
As you are out enjoying the sunshine, what other signs of spring do see or hear or smell?
Thanks to all of the Master Gardener Volunteers who provided their thoughts and photos for this post!
This article profiles an urban lot that was transformed into an oasis for body, mind and soul as well as for wildlife. This lot belongs to a local Master Gardener and illustrates how much privacy, beauty and biodiversity can be created with thoughtful design and considered plant choices. We’ll review the design principles employed in this yard and then take a look at the ecological needs fulfilled through the design and its implementation.
First and foremost, this design provides privacy and the sense that the space is an outdoor room. The lot is 50′ wide and faces southeast. The edges of the property are bordered by deciduous and evergreen trees. The tall Norway Spruce provides a strong anchor for the southern border and creates a shade garden for almost half of the yard, while the mature deciduous trees provide both frame and boundary for the property. Given that this garden is in shade much of the time, plant textures are emphasized in throughout the space. Since the plants are in groups instead of individual plants, the various textures become harmonious and interesting rather than chaotic to the eye. The repetition of plants by massing gives the design a simplicity that helps quiet the mind and gives one an opportunity to linger in areas and simply enjoy the beauty of a plant’s texture and color.
The central planter provides the main focal point of the yard and is the only place where we find a traditional lawn. The repetition of red in the plants helps to unify the yard and gives the focal point additional structure. The use of evergreen boxwoods around the base of the container ensures that the focal point will be held even in winter when the planter is moved indoors and allowed to go dormant.
The lawn around the focal point draws the eye to the back of the circle where a stone path peeks between the low shrubs and groundcovers. The curving shape of the path gives the landscape a sense of movement and entices one into the farther spaces. The copper birdbath provides another focal point that draws the viewer’s eye and invites the viewer to another part of the garden that is more private. The red pole, which supports an unseen, yet occupied birdhouse, gives us a hint that there is more to that part of the garden than we can see and provides a touch of mystery.
The yard evokes a feeling of balance with the shrubs softening the borders of the property and the understory trees filling the gaps between the shrub layer and the canopy of the deciduous trees. The varying heights of the plants provide visual interest and contribute to the feeling of privacy that is created in such a small space. The repetition of color throughout the garden contributes to the sense of balance, with the yellow-greens contrasting with the darker greens, yet not competing with them.
Seasonal interest was also a major consideration in the design of this space. There is year-round interest provided by many elements of the garden. The plants were chosen not only for their texture, but for their bloom times and flower colors as well. There is a continuous supply of flowers in the garden throughout the spring and summer and into fall. The changing color of the leaves of the trees and shrubs during the autumn supplies the visual interest that flowers provided the rest of the season. In the winter, the evergreens take center stage, furnishing a stark contrast to the more delicate structures of the deciduous plants.
Overall this garden creation has a feeling of unity, where all of the parts work together to create a coherent whole. The massing provides a rhythm that is relaxing and the multiple textures provide interest within that rhythm. The reiteration of certain colors also unifies the space by visually connecting different areas of the property.
Looking at the yard from an ecological point of view, the property provides all the layers of a forest garden: tall tree layer, low tree layer, shrub layer, herbaceous layer, ground cover layer and, of course, the root layer. The tall tree layer consists of both deciduous and evergreen trees. These trees provide food in the form of seeds and shelter within their branches to birds and squirrels. The leaves of the deciduous trees also supply an important habitat for insects, including butterflies and moths, providing spaces to lay eggs and food for growing larvae.
Since the garden was designed to be in continuous bloom for more than half the year, it can be considered an insectary. There are various flower shapes throughout the garden, providing food for many different types of insects. Some insects prefer umbelliferous flowers, while others prefer flowers with central florets like asters. The diversity of flower shapes and bloom times helps ensure that beneficial insects will have a continuous food supply and will help keep invasive and/or problem insects at manageable populations.
As we have spent much of this issue discussing soil and the soil food web, we need to look at our garden through that lens. In addition to providing mulch and habitat for overwintering insects, fallen leaves contribute to the soil structure and organic matter content in the soil. These photos were taken in spring and we can see how full and lush the vegetation is early in the season. This verdure is due not only to the care of the gardener, but more so to the health of the soil where these plants are growing. The soil food web is very dynamic in an environment like this and the result is the beauty that we see in these photos. May you be inspired to use these design principles and nourish your ecosystem to build a beautiful garden of your own.