Spring brings list of chores for Northwest gardeners

The Compleat

Home Gardner

Marianne Binetti will be making the following appearances:

• 1 to 3 p.m., Sunday, Puyallup Spring Fair. “Get Growing” for beginning gardeners and “Cool New Plants” for everyone. Free, on the garden stage.

• 7 to 8:30 p.m., Tuesday, “Landscape Design for Dummies,” a step-by-step approach to designing a beautiful landscape. Register by phoning 253-288-3400.

April showers batter some flowers so don’t be afraid to cut and bring indoors your blooming tulips, daffodils and hyacinths this week or to share branches of fragrant magnolia, lilacs and viburnum. To extend the vase life of flowering shrubs cut the branches in the morning just above a joint or node when the flowers are in loose buds, just ready to open. Pound the woody stem or split it with your pruning shears so it will absorb water in the vase, then use lukewarm water and place the cut branches in a cool, dark room overnight so they can soak up the water. This is called conditioning the flowering branches so they’ll hold their blooms longer.

Daffodils and tulips can be cut as tight buds and placed in cold water to keep them from opening too quickly. These spring-blooming bulbs need cool temperatures to keep them fresh so store a vase of cut bulbs outdoors at night to extend their vase life.

Here are some more ways to celebrate spring in the Northwest and get your garden ready for summer:

1. Dig and divide perennials that bloom in the summer. Daylilies, phlox, hosta and Shasta daisies are waking up and can be broken apart with an ax or sharp shovel now. Share your perennial divisions with the neighbors and you’ll be spreading the joy of gardening.

2. Sharpen that mower and make a clean cut. Raising the height of your lawn mower to 3 inches and removing only the top one-third of the grass blades not only makes for healthier grass roots but helps shade the ground to keep out heat-loving lawn weeds. Aerating and adding dolomite lime to your lawn now will help discourage moss by improving the drainage.

3. Plant summer-blooming bulbs now. Dahlias, glads, begonias, lilies and Eucomis are just some of the tender bulbs that can go into the ground or containers this week. Get the kids involved because planting bulbs is easier for small hands than handling seeds and the results are more likely to be spectacular.

4. Clean off the lawn furniture, freshen up the patio. Mix a mild bleach solution (one part bleach to five parts water) and spray down plastic chairs and tables as part of your spring cleaning. Add fresh cushions and power wash the patio for a spring tonic that will encourage more outdoor barbeques.

5. Buy the best bedding plants now. It may be too early to set out tender marigolds, petunias and geraniums but get them from the nursery this week before the best varieties are sold out. Then let the plants harden off or get used to the cold nights by spending time on a covered porch or patio for a week.

Plants that should not go outdoors yet are the heat-lovers like coleus, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers. Cool-season crops such as lettuce, kale, broccoli and cabbage can go right into the garden this week.

6. Fill your pots with a topping of fresh potting soil. You can reuse last year’s potting soil but be sure to add at least a few inches of fresh soil and mix it in well with the old soil from last year. Mix some slow-release plant food into the soil at the same time so the nutrients will be down deep waiting for the plant’s roots. You can gamble and pot up some bedding plants now but only if your containers are well protected and close to the house.

Cold-tolerant bloomers that can fill your pots now include pansies, primroses, alyssum, lobelia and Schizanthus or poor-man’s orchid.

• • •

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,

Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.

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