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COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER: Thrilling plants follow a chilling season

The first week of February means it is time to get planting.

But after the chilling season come the thrilling plants. Spring is even more thrilling if you add early bloomers to your landscape that slowly announce the change of seasons.

Every garden is full of May flowers, but a garden that blooms in February will warm the hearts of an entire neighborhood.

The planting plan or landscape recipe below does not have to be followed exactly, but it does bring gardens gasps of delight when you plant an entire corner of the yard using this plan. You can also use this February formula for the back of a long border or alongside a long driveway.

Don’t be surprised if some of these early-blooming thrillers wait until March to flower when the weather is especially cold. That’s just Mother Nature’s reminder that she is in charge and you can’t precisely predict any flowering schedule.

The February Formula: A planting recipe you can use now and enjoy early springs forever after.

One flowering plum tree: Blireiana plum tree is one of the earliest to flower with soft, pink blooms and no messy fruit. In summer this small tree has dark purple foliage. A nice contrast to all our green.

Two forsythias: These bright yellow shrubs can be staggered just behind and on either side of the Blireiana plum tree. Let them grow wild and tall through the years or prune back right after they bloom. You can cut bare branches right after Christmas and force them indoors for January blooms.

Three double-flowering quince: Place one just in front of each forsythia and another in front of the plum tree. The quince will begin to bloom just as the forsythia fades. In a smaller space use just one forsythia and one quince. You can even choose to place them closer together and they’ll eventually touch in a blooming embrace. Prune after blooming to keep them more compact.

Three PJM rhododendrons: This is the wind-, cold- and winter-resistant rhodie that blooms super early with small lavender-purple blooms. The PJM rhododendron has a deep mahogany or chocolate-colored leaf during cold weather. Place these evergreen rhododendrons in a grouping the shape of a triangle just in front of the quince or surrounding the plum.

Five to seven winter-blooming heather: Position the low-growing heather in front of the PJM rhodies but on the sunny side so the evergreens do not cast shade on these sun-loving plants. Hardy, winter-blooming heathers flower in shades of white, pink and rose so mix and match. Don’t plant heather too deep and don’t smother heather with a mulch.

Once you’ve mixed together the above plants you can season them with a mix of winter bulbs to taste. Crocus, snowdrops and dwarf daffodils are dependable February bloomers that spread in my garden but hardy cyclamen and the super early hellebores are two other plants that spice up the winter display.

You can find all these plants at local nurseries this week (and also be showing them at the Enumclaw Chocolate and Wine Festival Saturday). It is safe to add these early-bloomers to your landscape any time the ground is not frozen.

Now you’ll enjoy the thrills after the winter chills and warm to the idea that spring is on the way.

• • •

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site, www.binettigarden.com.

Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.

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