Spring has sprung! Celebrate its arrival: dance around a crocus! And ignore the quizzical looks of your neighbors; they're just envious of your fancy footwork.
Except for a brief stretch of sub-zero temperatures in February, it seems that spring arrived three months ago and winter never happened. Given the endless cold of the previous winter, I am not complaining.
"Will the warmer than normal weather persist?" "Will we get any more snow?" "Can I begin planting outdoors?" Those are questions I've been asked a lot lately. Since I am not a groundhog, nor do I live in Punxsutawney, I can't answer the first two questions. However, as far as outdoor planting is concerned, I do have some opinions:
• Plant dormant nursery stock, that is, trees and shrubs, as soon as soil is workable. By workable, I mean once soil that has dried enough to work without clumping into mud balls.
• Sow seeds of lettuce, spinach, arugula, mache, carrots and radishes; again, once soil is workable. Even if soil should freeze after sowing these seeds, they will not be harmed. Likewise, the seedlings will withstand some frosty temperatures. Raised beds would be ideal for these early sowings.
To promote faster germination, cover the seeded area with a row cover. Row covers will also speed growth of the seedlings and protect them from extreme cold.
Of course, you never want to sow all your seeds at one time. Make successive sowings through spring about every two weeks.
• Seeds of cold hardy annuals may also be sown outdoors in flower beds now. The same rules as for early sowing of vegetables apply to annuals. Some of the hardiest annuals are: Pot marigold (Calendula), spider flower (Cleome), annual pinks (Dianthus), larkspur, Shirley poppies, love-in-a-mist (Nigella), pincushion flower (Scabiosa), snapdragons, lavatera, annual baby's-breath, heliotrope, stocks and sweet peas.
Since annuals are not typically planted in rows, a cloche placed over sown seeds may work better than using row covers. A plastic gallon-size milk jug with the bottom cut out and the cap removed makes a cheap cloche.
Some other tasks
Here are a few other tasks to celebrate the arrival of spring:
• Get a small, clear spray bottle, marked with ounce measurements. Mix one ounce of household bleach and nine ounces of water in the bottle. Disinfect propagation mats, seedling flats and surfaces where you'll be starting seeds indoors by spraying with the bleach solution. This is essential to prevent damping-off disease, the bane of vegetable and flower seedlings.
• Start seeds of cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli indoors. Unless you're planning to host a major cabbage festival this summer, don't start too many seeds at once. Stagger sowings at two- or three-week intervals through spring to have a continuous harvest through summer and fall. I like to start about six seedlings at each sowing.
• Start seeds of onions, leeks, peppers, eggplant, summer savory, parsley, marjoram and basil indoors.
• Start these annuals indoors now: ageratum, alyssum, China aster, cosmos, annual dahlia, nasturtium, nicotiana, petunia, annual phlox, snapdragon and statice.
• Apply repellents and take other precautions, including daily body checks, to protect you from being a host to deer ticks. Adult deer ticks have been active much of this winter on days when temperatures are above freezing. Recently, several friends have reported finding deer ticks on themselves or on their pets after working outdoors.
• Cut a few shoots from witch-hazels, now in bloom, and bring them indoors for a colorful and fragrant bouquet. Be careful not to destroy the natural shape of the plants when cutting shoots.
• Stay off lawns until soils have dried. Tramping about on soggy lawns leads to soil compaction,