A GROWING CONCERN: Don’t be impatient with certain flowers

ALTHOUGH WE HAVE been hearing about record rains in April these last three weeks, I have been busy working in client’s gardens hearing complaints about the weather.

Ha.

Having grown up in Green Bay, Wisc., I am the last person to complain about the weather. I mean, have you not heard that my hometown has 39 inches of snow right now?

Then there’s the slogan “April showers bring May flowers.” This is beautiful weather and I have taken full advantage of this wet spring, driving around the Peninsula this past week and seeing numerous plant outlets.

From this I now know it is time to decide what condition your plant is in.

It’s Day 2 of mid early spring. This time of year is critical for your plant’s general survivability and ultimate quality.

The reasons for this vary somewhat but are based mostly on two factors, the urge by Harry and Harriet Homeowner to set plants outside after a long winter, and the urge of plant outlets to maximize profits, beat competition and drive the market.

Just because it is spring with some warm days (finally), it is no reason at all to plant certain items outdoors. Just because you see marigolds at several retailers is no reason to believe a new, frost-resistant strain has hit the market.

You want to plant, and vendors are taking advantage of that. This is not a bad thing — we have talked about how this is prime time for roses, bare root trees, perennials, grass seed, berries, bushes, shrubs, dividing and transplanting.

This is not, however, the time to plant geraniums, over-wintered plants, indoor seedlings or plants which are cool tolerant, after having been forced to market in very warm greenhouses.

Get to know on a personal level a plant vendor or two. Develop a relationship built on trust and information exchange.

This will aid you greatly in increasing your knowledge.

Certain outlets, especially national franchises, do not have local people ordering the products. Other vendors are not in the plant business as their major revenue source, but are taking advice — or getting none — from plant growers who want to sell product.

This means that right now the public can buy salvia, marigold, geraniums and even tomatoes at several different places.

It would be crazy to buy these items and plant them outside now! We’re still experiencing frost some mornings (think Thursday).

In the case of, say geraniums and marigolds, even if frost doesn’t kill them, temperatures below the mid 40s change the entire tissue structure of the plant. They turn purple or bronze and severely harden. Flower production will reduced for the entire year.

What good is it to buy a plant early if it produces far fewer flowers than a plant bought after Mother’s Day?

If you buy these plants, you have to slowly acclimate them. Here is where we include all those houseplants, seedlings and over-wintered plants from your home.

These plants are not only unaccustomed to cold, but to direct sunlight as well. This means that on days above 45 degrees one must slowly put plants outdoors in filtered sun (early morning or late afternoon sun is OK, too) for short periods of time.

First do it for just an hour or less, then as the days pass, slowly increase to several hours and more direct sunlight.

In the case of store-bought marigolds, keep them indoors overnight and away from temperatures below 45 degrees. And keep them in a very sunny window. This is an extremely old and time-honored trick.

So if you haven’t built or erected a greenhouse to store these “early selling” annuals, the marigolds and tomatoes that you are anxious to purchase, leave them at the store and keep your eye on the perennial section.

Or, better yet, shop one of your local nursery stores and get the hands-on experience of the garden-ready plants for our beautiful Olympic Peninsula, buying those plants tolerant to our still frosty mornings. Hang on for a few more weeks, and the annuals will be coming out healthy and acclimatized and ready to perform show-stopping color for your yard and containers.

I for one, am also ready for my favorite month ahead: May.

________

Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] dailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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