Got forsythia? This bright yellow shrub goes unnoticed all year, but by the third week of February, winter begins to fade once the bright bloom of this sunshine-colored shrub opens up.
If your forsythia is not yet flowering, you can force a few branches into bloom by cutting them from the plant and displaying the bare branches indoors in a vase of warm water. In a few days, those cut limbs will be fooled into blooming. Sometimes it really is nice to fool Mother Nature.
Mid-February is when some gardeners can start pea seeds and other cool season veggies indoors. But this spring you need to be more patient. It is not the temperature of the soil, but the moisture level in the soil that will slow down spring planting. A wet winter means the soil still is saturated with water so don’t dig in until the soil dries out.
Here’s a way to test the texture and planting ability of your soil: Grab a handful of garden soil and squeeze. Now open your hand. If the muddy mess in your hand is shaped into a solid mass, then you have clay in your soil and it is too wet to work. If the soil in your palm falls through your fingers (this will not happen in spring in our climate), then you have sandy soil. But if the clump in your hand falls apart, then sits on your hand – well then your soil has dried enough for planting.
QI want to add roses to my garden, but not sure when I can plant them. Should I wait until summer and buy roses in pots in full bloom, or buy the bare root roses I see for sale now?
– T.H., Tacoma
AI can promise you a rose garden no matter which way you decide to go. I prefer buying bare root roses because they are less expensive and easy to transport home since you buy the plants without any soil or pot around the roots. Another advantage of bare root roses is that they can be planted now and into the month of March. This gives them time to establish a new root system and bloom this summer.
The advantage of buying a potted rose later in the year is that you can see, smell and touch the actual flowers before you commit to placing them in your garden. Either way, be sure you dig a large hole, at least three feet wide and two feet deep and loosen the soil.
QWhich Japanese maples do you recommend for my small front yard? I lost a rather ugly tree in the wind storm and want to plant a good-size Japanese maple to take its place.
– S.S., Enumclaw
AThe Bloodgood Japanese maples is a Northwest classic with burgundy-red leaves and a slender, open growth habit. The small leaves turn brilliant red in the fall. Then there is the lower-growing Crimson Queen Japanese maple perfect for small spaces as it only grows to about 10 feet tall. But don’t overlook the exciting growth form of the Waterfall Japanese maple – with cascading green leaves that turn bright gold each autumn, or the more cold and frost tolerant Emperor Japanese maple. I also love coral bark maples and the pastel pink on the variegated leaves of butterfly maples. The truth is all Japanese maples do well here and a visit to your local nursery will allow you to choose the best shape and size for your landscape.
QI have a smoke tree that was badly damaged by wind this winter. The branches are gone on one side and half gone on the other side. Is this tree worth saving?
– P.L., Maple Valley
AYou are in luck because where there are smoke trees there is a surefire way to start over again. The smoke tree or Cotinus coggygria is one of the few trees that can be pollarded or cut right to ground level. Just leave a stump six inches tall. Do this extreme makeover with a sharp pruning saw in March and don’t worry. You’ll be rewarded with a flush of fresh new growth in a few months and you may become hooked on pollarding your smoke tree every year.
Marianne Binetti is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and eight other gardening books. She has a degree in horticulture from WSU and will answer questions from her website at binettigarden.com.