Enjoy the flowers — and then get to work

On GardeningFebruary 19, 2014 

Early spring means dwarf daffodils, crocus, hellebores, forsythia and even some flowering plum trees are edging onto the stage as the big show of petal-performers unfolds.

Take a moment to take in this budding introduction, then get to work on early spring garden chores.

Cut back ornamental grasses that have browned and dried over the winter.

If you chop these dormant grasses to the ground now before they sprout, you won’t have to worry about disturbing the fresh new growth later on.

While you are out there cleaning up, be sure to rake away any faded hosta foliage before the slug eggs hatch. Start raking the debris and loose grass from your lawn and get your mowing machine tuned up and sharpened — soon you’ll be ready to mow.

A few reader questions:

Question: I love to eat fresh asparagus. How easy is this vegetable to grow here? I have done well with other vegetables in my raised bed garden beds. — M., Olympia

Answer: Be patient and you’ll be harvesting your own asparagus in two or three years.

Asparagus is a perennial, which means it will return year after year unlike most vegetables that are annuals and need replanting each spring.

February is the time to buy asparagus roots from a garden center or nursery. This crop prefers full sun but will adapt to part sun as long as you make sure the soil is fertile and well drained.

Your raised beds will be ideal. First layer the top of your soil with at least six inches of compost and work this into the top 24 inches of soil.

Next, dig a ditch 18 inches deep and lay the brown roots called “asparagus crowns” into the bottom of this trench spacing them two feet apart. Cover the roots with four inches of soil and wait a month.

When you see green shoots emerging, add more soil and then continue adding soil as the shoots grow taller. Once the trench is filled, add a mulch and keep the asparagus bed weeded — asparagus is one plant that hates competition. You won’t be able to harvest the new shoots of asparagus this year but your second spring will provide the first of many future harvests. Asparagus is easy to grow when you keep the area weed free and well-mulched.

Q: I bought some primroses from the grocery store. Planted them into the ground and now they have almost disappeared. First the flowers went and now the leaves are disappearing. What is eating them? T.Y., Puyallup

A. My best guess is that those primrose thieves are slimy slugs. Look for traces of slime and scalloped bite marks on the leaves and any flower petals.

Primroses with bright colors and large blooms are the common polyantha varieties that slugs love. The more expensive English type primroses have smaller but more slug-resistant blooms and foliage. You find these hardier English primroses at nurseries rather than grocery stores.

A pet-safe slug bait such as “Worry Free” will protect not just primroses but any plant with tender spring growth. Baiting now will help control future generations of slugs in your garden. A practical way to enjoy the early-blooming and inexpensive primroses is to leave them in their plastic nursery pots and display them in porch or patio pots using moss or bark chips to hide the plastic containers. Then you can transplant these spring bloomers into the garden when the summer annuals become available in May.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.

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