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Spring Has Sprung

Spring Has Sprung

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The March 21 official date has passed and spring is in the air!! Actually, this year (2006) it was on March 20. That marks the vernal equinox - a fancy way to say the spring (vernal) day when both night and day are of exactly equal length. The long nights of winter become the short nights of summer and the short winter days yield to the longer summer days. The sun is midway from its winter low to ride higher in the sky every day until summer.

This has a dramatic effect on our gardening. The famous spring flush of growth is indeed amazing. A friend once said that you can do almost anything to a plant in spring and it will grow. Indeed, growth is rampant

Do not ignore the "last frost date" for your area. Check with your local extension agent to find out about your area.

The higher angle of the sun, combined with the fact that many shade trees have not yet leafed out, means that some of your "shady" windows may be getting fairly bright sun at times of the day that will be shaded later or were shielded from the low angle of the winter sun.

This is great for starting seedlings for later planting out. The stronger sun will keep them compact and strong and well adapted for sunny spots in the garden. Be on the alert - the sun combined with the warmth and dryness of your home means frequent checking to see if watering is needed.

On the other hand, the added intensity is terrible for sun-sensitive houseplants. Move them out of the direct line of the sun's rays, but keep them in good light. Remember, the basic criteria for houseplant lighting is would you be able to read a newspaper there without turning on the lights.

Never set your houseplants in the sun, even for a brief time. They are unaccustomed to such intense light and can be severely damaged by sunburn.

One of the worst things you can do for your houseplants is to "give them some sun." This is like taking someone who has been in a cave all winter and staking them out on the beach for a day. Severe sunburn can result. Sunburn may look like a vague brownish / reddish area on the leaf surface exposed or it may result in whitened dead areas on the leaf. The dead area may take a while to show up, even after the plant has been moved back inside.

Sunburn is a big danger of moving a large plant outside, in the shade, to hose down and give a thorough watering, All too often, the plant is left for a few hours and the sun changes position and...sunburn.

There is another aspect of this time of spring changes. In an amazing choreography, the warming ground springs to life while the canopy of trees remains bare. Under those later leafing shade trees the sunlight still streams, a precious treasure to be fully used by the understory. Bulbs rush to bloom. Perennials quickly flower. And then suddenly, the trees are leafy once again and the shady floor settles in for the summer.

A couple of great choices for planting under trees are Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) and Siberian Squills (Scilla siberica) They both bloom very early in spring and may bloom together or else the snowdrops will be followed by the squills.

Snowdrops - Galanthus nivalis USDA Zone 4

Snowdrops are extremely early bloomers, often poking their nodding white flowers through the snow. They are small, about 6 inches (15 cm) high, but if massed in drifts they give a very nice effect. Although usually sold in the fall with other spring flowering bulbs, snowdrops are best transplanted when growing or just after blooming. Just lift a clump, roots and all, and pop it into the new spot.

Bluebells, Siberian Squills - Scilla siberica USDA Zone 4

There are many species of bluebells, and most will do very well under trees that have not yet leafed out. The 6 inches (15 cm) high Siberian Bluebell has a striking, brilliant blue that combines so well with snowdrops that it makes for a very early spring showstopper.

Both Siberian bluebell and snowdrops really need cold weather to be at their best. Small numbers of these plants tend to get lost. To be effective, they need to be planted en mass. But don't despair thinking you must spend a fortune on huge quantities of bulbs. When they are happy, they will spread naturally and become a main feature of your early spring garden.

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