Wishes for Spring Granted Early

by Dr. Cheryl Boyer

Despite my ardent protestations, many plants are breaking dormancy early. Really early. They refuse to listen to my warnings. In fact, when I first sat down to write this article, I was concerned, but not overly so since mostly daffodils were poking their heads up out of the ground. However just a few days later, nay even the next day, buds were swelling on the woody ornamentals and I moved my forecast from slightly hazardous to downright gloomy. Here’s the thing, chances are strong that we’ll have another freeze. So how much damage will it do? Hopefully not much, but likely leaf tips will be burned and early blooming plants like saucer magnolia will lose this year’s flowers. Most unfortunately, if we have a late freeze while fruit plants are blooming…boom, there goes the crop (peaches, especially).

Okay, so that’s the pessimist in me. I’m generally an optimist, so let’s keep going.

I’ve been processing my thoughts as a horticulturist and I’ve just decided to go with it (what else can you do?). I’m going to enjoy this beautiful weather. Bulbs popping color. Buds breaking on the trees and shrubs. Gentle breezes. It’s a perfect time to get outside, take a walk, play with the kids and get my garden all cleaned up and ready for spring. Normally, I would wait until forsythia starts blooming to prune my shrub roses back to 18 inches tall (I use a short, pre-measured stick and compare it to all the branches I need to trim while I’m working), but I think I might just go ahead and get started on that. Strike that…forsythia is now in full bloom along with absolutely everything else (it makes no sense!) so now I really need to get busy! The dried seed heads of my sedum made great winter interest, but I can already see the new leaves swelling at the base of each plant so I need to clean out the seed heads, leaves, and various other debris so this year’s growth can get some sunlight and get that photosynthesis factory in high gear.

What other spring gardening tasks are on my mind? I like to freshen up the pine bark mini-nugget mulch in my beds every year. And I need to replace a couple of plants that either died or I changed my mind about. So…I get to shop! What will I choose and where will I find it? Let the hunt begin.

I’ve also been daydreaming about the annuals I will choose for my beds and containers. I like to mass plant one cultivar in my flower beds. This gives them tremendous impact from the road. One big swath of color. Fortunately, we have an annual flower trial program for testing new cultivars before they hit the market. Last year we evaluated around 500 cultivars suited to the Great Plains region and only 36 made it to our Prairie Star Flowers list (PrairieStarFlowers.com). Plants approved by our program will help your garden be more successful which makes time spent in the yard that much more enjoyable so please check out our resources.

In the meantime, I bought some gorgeous lemon yellow pansies and brightly colored ornamental kale for early spring containers. Pansies and ornamental kale are plants that can totally handle a frost and THAT is my early spring wish, granted.