Planting Hope

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Up and Down

Not to overstate the obvious, but the winter weather is unpredictable. Well below 30 for several nights, then warming to 70, rain followed by another cold front and we’re back in our coats again. I’m watching the weather now to plant the last tulips and it looks like this weekend will be just right. It’s a tradition to plant pansies above tulips, and yes, you can get them in this month. Visit the garden center this week and you’ll see racks of winter hardy annual flowers. Might be pansies or viola, but don’t overlook larkspur, foxglove and the classic bachelor button, cornflower. (Wonder why we can grow 2 different flowers called ‘bachelor buttons’ – cornflower in winter, gomphrena in summer? Are there that many unmarried men in these parts?)

Be confident, and put in a few flowers everyday the weather suits you. These plants are tougher than you think! The poetic love-in-a-mist, columbine and viola tricolor will burn up in late spring – if you want their flowers, don’t miss this chance to plant them. By the end of the month, you can plant sweet peas, set out primrose and primula and one of my all time favorites, Iceland poppies. Their very name tells you they’re not likely to survive a southern summer, but the delicate flowers are stunning through March.

The Third Way

You’ll find 2 choices on most seed packets – sow seed directly outside or start them indoors 6-8 weeks before transplanting. Right now we have a timely window of opportunity to start seeds indoors for early spring annual flowers like foxglove, bachelor button and sweet William. If you plant these now in peat pots, you can set them out as soon as a month from now. Fill the pots, water them once and plant the seeds, then set the tray of pots on top of a seed starting mat to provide bottom heat and speed sprouting. Water trays from the bottom whenever possible, or very, very gently from the top. Once they have 2 sets of true leaves, move the trays outside to a sheltered spot so they can harden off a bit before transplant. Ideally, temperatures will be above freezing most of the time, but if you move them out gradually and get them in the ground while the weather’s fair, they’ll take whatever comes. By taking advantage of this window, you’ll have even more flowers in March.

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