Carolyn Singer: Delights and distractions of spring | TheUnion.com

Carolyn Singer: Delights and distractions of spring

Carolyn Singer
Columnist

Heavy rains, snow and hail all took their toll on the early Narcissus these past weeks. Only the dwarf cultivars were unaffected by the late winter storms, their three to five-inch stems strong and sturdy, their cheerful flowers heartwarming from my living room windows, and along the path to my porch.

All it took was a bit of welcome sunshine for the taller Narcissus to straighten up. Blossoms that were lying on the ground for days are now upright and following the spring sunlight. The succession of the dwarf varieties is continual, beginning with 'Little Beauty' in February and ending with 'Baby Boomer' in May. Over the years I have ordered dwarf and species Narcissus from Brent & Becky's Bulbs because few are available in retail nurseries.

While I was writing this article, a call came in from a woman in Oakhurst. We chatted about gardens (of course) and she told me a story from her childhood. Her grandmother gave her daffodil bulbs to plant and her mother gave her a small garden space. Thus began her love of gardening, a passion that is no less at age eighty.

Helleborus orientalis (Lenten rose) is adding its intriguing flower form and color to the emerging spring show. Violets have been in bloom throughout all the wintry weather and show no sign of slowing. Between the stepping stones Galanthus (snowdrops) has been a strong touch of glistening white, eye-catching even from a distance.

In the magnificent restored gardens at Empire Mine State Historic Park, the early-blooming Spiraea will soon open their flowers. Older branches laden with thousands of tiny white blossoms make the ornamental shrubs appear as though covered with snow. If you are just beginning to create a foothill landscape, a walk through the park is educational and inspiring.

While the weeks of early spring may still bring winter weather, including hard frosts, to most regions of the foothills, the signs of growth are strong. Bulbs, perennials, and ornamentals remind us that a complex and varied garden provides food for bees and inspiration for the visitor long before winter ends.

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It won't be that long before soils dry out enough to dig. Gardeners will again think about irrigation for the dry season ahead. Which plants need water and which do not? How should the gardener group plants with similar requirements (hydrozoning)? Which system works best? How much and how often?

Local Master Gardeners are tackling the complex subject with an upcoming workshop, "Functional Irrigation" on March 23, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Grass Valley Elks Lodge. Presenters will share step-by-step information, and products will be on display.

Also coming up soon in this early start to spring events offering educational opportunities for gardeners is a major northern California event that has previously been in the Bay Area: the San Francisco Garden & Landscape Show March 21-24. The show will be held at CalExpo in Sacramento. Show hours will be: Thursday, March 21, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m; Friday and Saturday, March 22 and 23, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday, March 24, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. 

However, don't let these educational opportunities, and the early spring beauty of the garden, distract you. Sometimes pests such as aphids, especially in enclosed environments, can quickly do damage to tender spring growth. With the lingering winter weather, predators may not yet be present. Check with a local supplier of ladybird beetles (also known as ladybugs) for a natural solution.

One local vendor of this beneficial predator offers ladybugs in varying quantities (pint, quart, or even a gallon). If aphids are prevalent in your greenhouse, the space and the level of infestation may necessitate a large quantity. Call Keith Robertson at The Alternative Building Center, 530-913-3575 or 530-273-7875.

As you walk through your garden, also check for exposed roots and renew mulches as needed. Heavy rains can move or compact a considerable amount of soil and compost. Besides, you don't want to miss any of the excitement of early spring, from buds swelling to birds singing about the changes ahead with the vernal equinox.

Carolyn has gardened organically in Nevada County since 1977. She is the author of the award-winning "The Seasoned Gardener, five 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 carolynfsinger@gmail.com. Check out her website at carolynsingergardens.com.

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