Upper South

February, 2007
Regional Report

Gather Pussy Willows

This is the time of year when garden writers advise people to force branches of spring-flowering trees and shrubs into bloom. A good idea, but I find it a bit tricky, plus the flowers really don't last very long. My preference leans much more toward bringing in some branches of pussy willow with the soft, furry catkins that bring out the child in all of us. Simply cut off some branches and put them into a vase of warm water indoors. Besides the regular pussy willow, there is a weeping form, varieties with extra-large catkins, and one with black catkins and stems. If you don't have pussy willow in your yard, consider planting one this spring.

Give Organic Flower Bouquets

Thinking about cut flowers for Valentine's Day? Seventy percent of cut flowers are grown in Central and South America under conditions harmful to both people and the environment, including the use of over a hundred highly toxic chemicals. Organically grown bouquets are available online, or why not purchase a flowering plant that will bring pleasure for a much longer time.

Start Keeping Garden Records

Keeping records is rather like exercising: either you already do it or you're never going to. However, it's worth making an effort. Any records are better than none! Garden records can be kept on a computer, in a 3-way binder, or both. Microsoft Works has five different worksheets for garden records in the word processing section, plus other software is available or you can design your own. The type of records you keep is up to you, but a good start is simply to have information about what you plant each year. Digital cameras make it easy to keep photo records. A journal that records weather, plus planting, harvest, and bloom times is also helpful.

Prepare for Bluebirds

Bluebirds are gardeners' favorites not only for their beauty but also for their bug-eating capabilities. Bluebirds will move into houses with oval holes that measure 2-1/4 inches tall and 1-3/8 inches wide, or round holes that measure 1-1/2 inches in diameter. This size hole will keep starlings out, but not house sparrows. To thwart the latter, use a house that has an open roof covered with hardware cloth. Also, avoid using a house with a perch in the front.

Experiment with Vegetable Varieties

Think of what you might be missing if you grow the same vegetable varieties every year. Maybe there's an heirloom or new hybrid variety that is better than your current favorite. As you finish up your seed ordering, think about what might be fun for an experiment this year. For example, gardeners near me all seem to like Romano beans, but I'm curious as to which ones produce, taste, and can or freeze best, so that's my experiment for this year. You don't need to make extensive plantings of each. Depending on the vegetable, one or two plants or several feet of row will be enough. This summer, then, invite friends over for a taste-testing.

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