Four ways to celebrate spring in the winter

The beginning of February starts the gardening season – once you see daffodils pushing up from the ground you know you have survived another winter so it is time to celebrate spring and begin the garden cut back, clean up and pare down.

Four ways to celebrate spring now:

1. Cut some forsythia branches and place them in a vase of water indoors. The warmth of the house will force the bright yellow blooms to emerge weeks before they open out of doors. You may also be able to force early blooms from cherry and plum trees – but no branches are as easy to force as forsythia.

2. Snip off hellebore blooms and float them in a bowl of water. What you have no hellebore plants? You may have missed the memo that was issued to all homeowners in the state of Washington: Hellebore plants are now mandatory if you live in Western Washington. They love rainy climate, they are drought resistant in summer and they bloom in January, February, March and beyond. They are also deer and slug resistant and need only partial shade and some organic matter in the soil to thrive. Hellebore blossoms will improve the quality of life for every citizen that must endure the many gray days we have here in Western Washington. Do not argue with the law (and do not Google the law as I did make it up – but really there should be a law.)

3. Buy a pair of new garden gloves, sharpen your pruners and conquer your cabin fever with a pruning session. You can cut back your roses now or wait until March but don’t wait to cut back any ornamental grasses or old hellebore leaves. While you’re out there cutting back, raking up and stomping on slugs you’ll be getting exercise, breathing fresh air and noticing more signs of spring. Winter doldrums banished.

4. Go online and buy your tickets to the NWFG show. You get a discount before Feb 7, so go to www.gardenshow.com and order spring now.

How to cut back hellebore foliage:

The one nice thing you should do for your hellebores is to snip off the green leaves when the plants start to bloom. This is quite easy as the pointy evergreen leaves are attached to long thick stems that emerge near the base of the hellebore plant. Just kneel down (an old tarp works as a great kneeling pad) and aim your hand pruners or scissors right where the stems emerge from the ground. You can remove mutable leaf stems with just one cut. Warning: The new flowering shoots are also emerging from the center of the plant. Cut only the leaf stems, not the flower stems. (If you slip up and accidentally cut off a stem that holds up a flower cluster, bring the cut stem indoors for a bud vase.) I have a lot of hellebores so I toss the cut leaves onto a tarp as I cut so it will be easy to drag them off to the compost pile. Removing the leaves in early spring not only allows a better view of the beautiful blooms but helps to prevent the black mold that grows on old leaves. Don’t’ worry, new leaves will emerge on your hellebore plants soon – and they will be less likely to catch a leaf blight.

How to cut back ornamental grasses:

You can use a sickle, chain saw or saws-all if you don’t have a hedge trimmer but don’t wait. Early spring is the best time to cut back the dead brown foliage of miscanthus, switch grass (Panicum virgatum) and other clumping grasses that turn brown in winter. The reason to cut back now is to avoid cutting into the new green growth that will be emerging next month. No need to prune grasses that do not go dormant such as black mondo grass and blue fescue. No need to use any tools on Japanese Forest grass – just wait until mid spring when the foliage is so rotted that you can grab the brown blades and with a slight tug they all come off to reveal the fresh new blades of grass from below.

• • •

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, www.binettigarden.com.

Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.

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