Saturday, April 28, 2012

When To Plant Flowers in Michigan?

Happy Mother's Day!  Here in southeast Michigan, the safe bet is to wait until the middle of May to plant warm weather annuals like petunias, impatiens and geraniums.  Otherwise a sudden cold snap can seriously harm these tender plants, especially in the early stages of growth.  A family tradition is to donate a few hours towards planting annuals each Mother's Day.  It began with youthful scrawled coupons in various crayola colors. They were always redeemed.  It's a gift that continues to give throughout the growing season.

Sitting in "The Big House" in Ann Arbor along with forty thousand other  family members, and eleven thousand of the brightest and best tender seedlings, the freezing cold had no impact.  The warmth of emotion and communal pride in our young upstarts warded off the icy wind.  The saplings are ready to transplant.  The freezing rain held off until we hustled back to the parking lot. Timing is everything, in life, as in the garden.

Cold hardy annuals like pansies and violas can be planted safely in early to mid April depending on the weather.  This warm winter, many survived and are thriving. 

For timing, consider the area of your property where you wish to plant.  Sunnier areas can accept annuals earlier than cooler shaded spots.  Look at the perennials in your garden.  Some hosta still look like asparagus poking out of the ground, while in otherspots they are in full circular bloom.  Plant in the latter, sooner.

Don't be seduced  by the early appearance of flats of sunny impatiens at big box stores. It's tempting, but those colorful darlings spent their infancy in a warm greenhouse.  Remember that annuals are just tropicals in the wrong neighborhood. Popping them into the cold ground can cause a significant shock.  More dangerous are the heavy rains we often experience here in Zones 6a to b throughout April and May.  Those tiny upstarts can't swim yet, so sitting in a pool of accumulated precipitation just isn't condusive to good growth.

Besides, those early flats are typically overpriced.  The best deals begin when the Michigan grown flats appear in May at Eastern Market (go after 2:00 pm for the best deals) or some of the local grower's greenhouse.  Locally grown plants have a greater likelihood of thriving.  Newer non-native favorites like Angelonia and Cleome should wait untilmid June. 

Block's Marketstand and Greenhouse is a personal favorite, but each gardener has their own. Block's opens when the plants are good and ready, and not a moment before.  A call to the greenhouse in mid April results in a recording informing the caller that "We will open around the end of April."  It's worth the wait.  The flowers are healthy, the selection endless, and the prices low.

alternative to impatiensEven if the plants are local, it's still best to "harden" them off.  This takes only  a couple days, and involves no more than setting them out during the daylight hours, and bringing them in at dusk. They can sit in the garage at night. 

No need to tuck them in.

Happy planting!


Related Articles:

Impatiens Disease -- Trouble in the Landscape

Container Gardens -- Pots on the Spot!

Why Do the Red Maple Leaves Look Brown? Frost Damage to Spring Plants

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Hey! Look what survived the winter in my garden!

There's the cutest pot of johnny jump ups outside the shed. In the morning sun they turn their bright shining faces outward--joyful harbingers of spring!   But don't let their adorable looks fool you.  Those perky little violas are tougher than steel nails.  Where brawnier annuals shriveled after the first or second frost, these tiny plants hung on tight through our mildly chilly winter, making a rare but strong comeback in March.

Reblooming in pots is even more impressive as the soil temperature is lower and freeze and thaw more prominent.  This 'twas the winter of little snow and mininal arctic blasts.  When this happens, plants that are marginally hardy, those which might survive as perennials a few hundred miles south, come back with a vengeance--at least until chilly winter returns.

Leaving the herb pot out all winter paid off.  Oregano, parsley and chives have all rebloomed.  Sweet tender basil was the only casualty. 

A full ring of dusty miller encircles a tree.  A border of Sweet William blooms profusely.  There's even a lumpy cactus that has survived two winters in a south facing windowbox.  It's not too attractive and the tiny needles often penetrate garden gloves, but the bragging rights outweigh the discomfort.  Cactus overwintering in Michigan?
Some marginal survivors become leggy like the pansies along the driveway. Clipping stringy extensions back to the fullest point produced bright yellow blooms in only a few days.

Garlic Mustard
What else survived with a vengeance this temperate winter?  The hardiest of the hardy--weeds!  weeds! weeds!  Without encouragement, the invasive garlic mustard of last fall is phat and happy.  Dandelions are  sprouting early  yellow flowers.  This will be a bumper crop of trouble  unless early action is taken. Garlic mustard pulls out fairly easily. Dandelions are tap rooted and must be dug out with a sharp pointed spade. Other green methods like boiling water may work but are kinda dangerous.

Primrose Lane
 Early intervention reduces the need for unhealthy chemical use later.

Weed killers cause toxic phosphate runoff into lakes and streams.  Much of our area is watershed, thus the individual homeowner's impact on the enviroment is exponentially higher than communities on drier flatter ground. 

Michigan is never the same place twice, so enjoy the minor aberations of nature, and start pullin' those weeds!

Peeking Pansies

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Layered Planting -- Should I cut back faded bulb leaves?

In the spring, garden chores arrive with the force of an inbound communter train--the list so full, it's hard to know where to begin.  One chore that gets "overlooked" is tidying up after faded bulbs.  Susan, who sets us all a fine example, braids the blooms and foliage then lays them on their sides until nature takes over.  Her proper English mother would expect no less. 

Recent opinion is that foliage may be cut back without damaging the bulbs.  Old schoolers would hold out for letting them die back naturally.   Often deer and bunnies do the work.

For an easy approach, plant daffodil bulbs between hosta plants.  Paperwhite or miniature daffodils (also known as narcissus minimus) work best as they bloom earlier, and the foliage is more diminutive. The bulbs emerge and provide color to the hungry eye.  As they die back, the tiny shoots of the hosta begin to unfurl and poke through the soil.  Once growth begins, it's only a short time before the hosta emerges in its circular glory, the gently drooping leaves covering the remaining spent daffodils.  Out of sight, then off the chore list!

Nature provides the answer.  No snipping or bending required.

More Articles of Interest:
Planting Bulbs -- Pay it Forward

Eat This Not That -- Toxic Plants and Bulbs for Humans and Animals

Will This Early Warm Weather Harm My Plants?