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"Spring is fast approaching – time to get some dirt under those fingernails," by the Whistling Gardener

Let’s face it, compared to other regions of our country, we have it pretty darn good when it comes to winter. Occasional snow rarely sticks around for more than a week or two, nighttime lows are usually above freezing and the day temps can even get up into the 50’s. Life is good if you are a gardener in the northwest.
Bulbs popping up in the Whistling Gardener’s backyard. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

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

Let’s face it, compared to other regions of our country, we have it pretty darn good when it comes to winter. Occasional snow rarely sticks around for more than a week or two, nighttime lows are usually above freezing and the day temps can even get up into the 50’s. Nothing stays dormant for very long; in fact, we can have quite of variety of plants that actually bloom in our mild maritime winters.

Life is good if you are a gardener in the Northwest.

Now that the “arctic blast” is behind us, it’s time to get back into the swing of things. I was shocked the other day to see that my assorted clumps of daffodils are already six to eight inches tall and I still haven’t removed last year’s leaf litter from around them. Normally I can put this chore off until early February, but not this year.

Hopefully, by the time you read this I will have cleaned out all of my flower beds (being careful not to damage those emerging bulbs) and moved all the debris to the compost pile. A subsequent light dusting of lime, a bit of organic fertilizer, and a fresh one-inch layer of compost should put everything in a good mood to start growing. I know it will put me in a good mood, just to feel like I am ahead of the game.

It’s easy to forget that most of us have had the last two and a half months off from gardening chores. Once the leaves were raked and the lawn mowed for the final time, there wasn’t much to do other than making sure the bird feeders were filled, there was fresh water in the bird baths, and any containers or beds under the eaves were well hydrated.

Now however, vacation is over and there is an ever-expanding list of chores that I need to attend to, starting with removing all of last year’s foliage from my hellebores.

Hellebores in general are easy perennials to grow, but they will definitely benefit from cutting off the old leaves and leaving just the emerging flower stalks. This action helps showcase the flowers and minimize any foliar diseases that can be transmitted from the old growth.

Another shade perennial, Epimedium, also benefits from literally being mowed to the ground now before its flowers emerge in mid-February. Late this month and all through February are critical months for doing all sorts of pruning and if you need advice, don’t hesitate to consult with a Certified Professional Horticulturist. Most garden centers will have several on staff.

The more diverse your garden is, the more likely that you are going to attract a wider range of birds and other creatures. If some of that diversity includes winter blooming shrubs and perennials, chances are you will be graced with hummingbirds looking for nectar and pollen. Adding more traditional feeders will also help draw in all kinds of birds. Whether birds, bats, bees, butterflies, or bugs (the good ones of course) are your thing, this is a good time to shop for feeders and houses that will encourage all of these creatures to hang out in your garden. It’s part of the full meal deal that we call gardening.

Despite the fact that we will still have some frosty nights, winter is over as far as I am concerned. My garden is waking up and calling me to get involved with cleaning, pruning and even planting. It’s time to get those hands dirty again, so don’t let the garden train pull out of the station without you on it.

Sunnyside Nursery will be hosting a free class, “Fresh Backyard Berries,” on Saturday, January 25, 2019, at 10:00 am; and again at 2:00 pm. For more information, visit www.sunnysidenursery.net.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and you can send your gardening questions to him at info@sunnysidenursery.net.

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