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Hang in there baby, Spring is coming - from the Whistling Gardener

There are two main factors that drive plant growth, light and temperature. Ever since December 21st the days have been getting longer and the nights shorter. This will continue to happen until we get to the Summer Solstice in June when the cycle will reverse itself.
Even Steve Smith’s hardy bananas are depressed with the lousy weather. Photo credit: Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

I think we can all agree that February has been a stinker of a month this year. Cold, wet, windy and even some snow was about all we could manage this month. This is not the kind of weather that draws us out into our gardens. I for one have had zero motivation to get anything accomplished and while that lack of motivation has immobilized me, Mother Nature has hardly skipped a beat. Here is why.

There are two main factors that drive plant growth, light and temperature. Ever since December 21st the days have been getting longer and the nights shorter. This will continue to happen until we get to the Summer Solstice in June when the cycle will reverse itself.

The length of the day often determines when a plant goes into its blooming cycle. Some plants are what we call “short day” plants and they will bloom when there is less than 12 hours of light so they typically bloom either in the spring or the fall. Other plants are “long day” plants and they bloom in the summer when there is more than 12 hours of light. By manipulating the day length through the use of dark cloth, growers have learned how to make mums bloom any time of the year or poinsettias come into bloom just in time for Christmas or lilies just in time for Easter. It is a precise science and as long as there are no other limiting factors it is very predictable.

Temperature is the other major factor that controls plant growth although I am inclined to think that it plays second fiddle to day length. In our case temperature will usually only modify a plant’s growth habit by a week or so. I suppose in the Midwest and Northeast it might be longer as those weather patterns tend to be more extreme than ours here in the Northwest (thankfully). So while our February has been cold and dreary the days have continued to get longer and therefore our plants are mostly on schedule give or take a couple of weeks. Of course none of this information makes me feel any more enthused to go out into the garden and accomplish anything but go out we must.

We all know that the first day of spring is not that far off (less than a month) and there are tasks to be accomplished in a timely manner. Despite the inclement weather we need to grin a bear it and get with the program.

I still need to trim off the old foliage from my hellebores (that are in full bloom). I need to trim back the kiwi vine and the ornamental grape now so they won’t bleed like a stuffed pig later and believe it or not I still need to finish raking the leaves from last fall. There are weeds in the veggie garden that while still quite small will double their size in March if I don’t remove them soon. The roses and fruit trees need pruning back and the PG hydrangeas need dead heading. Basically I need to clean up the joint and once I get it done I will feel a whole lot better and the weather will not bother me nearly as much. Gardening can be very good therapy.

So consider this last column in February as your pep talk to rise above the weather and get back into the garden. There is lots happening there and you don’t want to miss out.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at info@sunnysidenursery.net.

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