Carolyn Singer: Narcissus finale
As I watch the snow falling outside, I realize that the show of many Narcissus outside the windows may be over. Usually it is quite colorful from February well into late March with the extensive varieties and species I have added over the years.
However, snow and hard freezes this year damaged the stem tissues in the larger daffodils and they are now lying on the ground.
Hundreds of Narcissus bloomed the first March I spent on Sonntag Hill. Within a few years, I visited a site in Chicago Park where the same species had naturalized, thanks to Grandma Sonntag’s efforts to take the prized bulbs from her home on Sonntag Hill to one of her children’s nearby land.
This heritage daffodil is a late bloomer, just now opening in my garden. Flowers are fragrant and slightly smaller than the prized “King Alfred” so many gardeners plant. Based on past years, I feel certain the snow will not affect their March beauty.
Even when the later blooming heirloom Narcissus and miniatures are bent to the ground for a few days while the snow melts, both the buds and the open flowers will straighten in the sun. Solar power.
In bloom in the weeks ahead will be two late-blooming miniature Narcissus, “Hawera” and “Baby Boomer.” Miniatures are the first to open in early February with “Little Gem” and “Little Beauty,” both under six inches in height. Mid to late season miniatures are taller, up to a foot. All are spectacular in bloom, and strong naturalizers.
Undemanding, all species of Narcissus need only natural phosphorus below the bulbs when you plant in fall, and little or no summer water. Years of winter drought have not diminished the spring show. Deer have never eaten foliage or flowers of any of the Narcissus in my garden.
Sun to very light shade is the best exposure for these fall-planted bulbs. Bulbs that have ceased blooming if shaded by trees or shrubs may be moved. I usually do this as soon as foliage shows above ground in winter. The previous spring I marked the non-blooming clumps with a short length of bamboo to remind me of my intent.
Planning for spring
March is a month of spring beauty and some challenges. Soils have dried out considerably, although the moisture we are receiving this week will certainly help.
Recently planted trees and shrubs are vulnerable in spring. Dry soil adjacent to the planting hole will wick moisture delivered by you or your irrigation system. Mulches on the soil surface and attention to watering practices are critical.
As plants bud and leaf and small roots develop in this month of spring, a plant’s need for moisture increases. This is true of new plantings of natives and non-natives.
An area of the garden that was in shade or reduced sunlight during the winter may now be exposed to the warming spring sun. While this is just what we want for growth, water needs are affected.
When March winds arrive without rain or snow, new leaves may dehydrate. The risk increases when soil does not contain optimal moisture. The drying effect of spring winds increases water needs.
The clay soil so prevalent in the Sierra foothills is slow to warm in the spring. This past week, the return of winter storms and colder temperatures has extended the window for bare root planting and dormant pruning. In my own garden I am taking advantage of this bit of winter, and continuing to move some perennials to a bed renewed with compost.
March is also that tantalizing month when those of us with edible gardens begin to plant seeds. Early greens are among the most tempting to sow now. If your elevation or microclimate reminds you that winter cold has not yet faded, use a row cover to warm the soil before you plant the seed directly into the garden. Sow the seed, then cover the seedbed with the row cover. This keeps those hungry birds from eating the young greens too.
Carolyn Singer has gardened organically in Nevada County since 1977. She is the author of the award-winning “The Seasoned Gardener, 5 decades of sustainable and practical garden wisdom,” and two volumes of “Deer in My Garden” (deer-resistant plants), available locally. Send your gardening questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out her website at carolynsingergardens.com.
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