Pacific Northwest

February, 2005
Regional Report

Favorite or New Plant

Winter Daphne
One of the best things about winter is the fragrance of daphne in flower. Winter daphne (Daphne odora) produces fragrant clusters of pink flowers at the ends of its branches. It doesn't take many daphne flowers to fill a room with a sweet, almost citrusy fragrance. But daphne can be tricky to grow. It's hardy in USDA Zones 7-9 but demands perfect drainage and a cool, sheltered location. It also can grow in part sun. If the right growing conditions are provided, it will develop into a shrub 3 to 4 feet tall and wide. Light pruning after flowering will prevent it from becoming woody.

Clever Gardening Technique

Taking Care of Bare-Root Plants
Late winter is the time of year when gardeners welcome the arrival of treasures from mail-order nurseries. Many perennials and shrubs arrive bare rooted, unlike anything you'll find at the local garden center: dormant, without soil or potting mix, their clean roots moistened by damp sphagnum moss or excelsior. You'll probably find that the perennials you receive look nothing like the pictures in the catalogs. They may have a husky root system, but no leaves yet. Some may even look like just a chunk of root. Don't send them back, thinking they're dead; they're not. The roots will soon sprout stems and leaves and grow into fine plants, with a little effort on your part.

The techniques for dealing with bare-root plants are similar for both woody plants and herbaceous perennials. First, open the box. I know that sounds obvious, but sometimes people just let the package sit around, unopened, for days. Meanwhile, the packaging dries out and the roots suffer or die. So, open the box right away.

The next step depends on how soon you can plant. If you can get your new acquisitions into the ground the same day, do so. If you can plant within a day or two, leave the plants in the moist packing medium and place the box in a cool place until planting time. Moisten the medium if the roots feel dry.

Bare-root trees and shrubs benefit from some extra care before planting. Soak the roots in a bucket of water for a few hours to help restore moisture. Be sure not to submerge the whole plant; soak just the roots, and only for a few hours.

If you know it's going to be more than three days before you can put your perennial or shrub in its final location in the garden, you should follow an old gardening practice and "heel" it in. Heeling-in provides a sheltered, temporary home for your plant until you can get it into the garden. Select a site with good light but out of direct sunshine. Some morning sun is fine but not afternoon sun, which can cause the plant to wilt. Dig a little trench, lay the roots out, and cover them with soil. Water the plant in, and don't let the soil dry out.

You may not see any obvious root growth or top growth on a heeled-in plant for weeks, but some roots may have grown, so handle the plant gently when you move it to its final destination. Don't worry if some of the soil clings to the roots when you unearth the plant.

When you set the plant in its permanent location, be careful not to plant too deeply. You'll see a soil line on woody plants, or a change of color, or a thickened area where the stem meets the roots. Use this mark as a guideline when setting a plant in the hole, making sure it rests at the same soil level as it was growing before.

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