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Home & Garden: Time to get back outside as spring returns

A neighbor’s Hyacinths in bloom on the south side of his house. Photo by Mary Jane Breitling

Spring is my favorite season and this year I can enjoy it twice.

In March, we were at my son’s home in the Santa Cruz Mountains in California. Officially, it was still winter and yet all the signs of spring were there. It seemed like the leaves on deciduous trees opened before my eyes and each day more tiny blue Forget-me-nots bloomed on the hillside. It was wonderful until the rains came, but they were so welcome to drought-struck California.

Now that I am home, spring is coming, but at a much slower pace and with occasional setbacks. All the better to take in its wonders. Each day I tour my gardens to see what is coming up. I especially watch for the tulips to poke their noses out and try to find them before the rabbits munch on them. They have beaten me to a few! As soon as I see any sign of a tulip I sprinkle it with bloodmeal to deter the bunnies.

Early in spring it is so tempting to clean all the debris and mulch down to bare ground. Try to resist this urge until temperatures hover consistently near freezing. Save a little mulch to put back on in case of a severe drop in temperature. Bleeding Heart is an early riser that is quite sensitive to frost.

I like to force daffodils or purchase forced bulbs at the garden centers to fill some of my containers for early spring bloom. By now, the Christmas greens in them are beginning to turn yellow. Pansies, Dusty Miller and snapdragons are hardy enough to go in containers and even in the ground by mid-April. The ground is too cold for other flowers.

This is the time to pot up tender bulbs such as canna, dahlias, tuberous begonia and caladium for planting outside later. Plant Lily bulbs as soon as the ground can be worked outside. Lily bulbs are never really dormant, so store bulbs in peat moss in a cool dark place such as a refrigerator until they can be planted outside. Maintain your Easter lily after the flowers fade. Remove the spent flowers and fertilize at half strength. Prepare a spot in full sun in a protected area and plant it out in early June with the bulb six inches deep. Next summer, you should be rewarded with beautiful blooms.

Every spring we wait to see which perennials survived the winter and those that did not. You may wish to replace the dead ones or try something new. Finish the cleanup as sanitation is the best defense against pests. Check which plants need to be divided as evidenced by floppy growth or open centers. Divide when new growth is less than three to four inches tall. Only do summer and fall bloomers in spring and wait until late summer or fall for spring bloomers, such as iris. Division may be done at any time if you are willing to lose the bloom, but cut back tall plants to lessen the stress of division.

Dormant roses should be planted after severe weather, but before their growth begins. Pot them up if they start to sprout before they can be planted in the ground. Begin to remove winter mulch from roses as soon as the temperatures are constantly near or above freezing. Remove it gradually. Vent rose cones on sunny days.

Spring is such a busy time, but it is great to spend time outside again after a long winter.