Take a Good Soil Sample
Having your soil tested is a key part in a healthy garden. To take a good sample, first remove surface debris, such as plant residues, mulch, and turf thatch. Using a soil probe, spade, or trowel, dig to the proper depth: 6 to 8 inches for vegetables, shrub, and flower beds; 3 inches for lawn; and 8 to 12 inches for trees. Take several samples and combine, breaking up clumps and removing any debris, then dry at room temperature. When dry, mix well and place in a clean plastic, airtight, labeled container. Mail or take to soil-testing laboratory.
Try the Best Campanulas This Year
Among perennials, campanulas, commonly known as bellflowers, are old-fashioned favorites with bell-, star-, tubular-, or bowl-shaped flowers in shades of blue, lavender, purple, or white. The Chicago Botanic Garden recently completed its nine-year evaluation of campanula species and cultivars. Just one cultivar received an excellent overall rating: 'Sarastro'. Otherwise, Campanula glomerata, C. poscharskyana, C. punctata, C. rotundifolia, and C. takesimana species and cultivars thrived the best.
Start Cool-Weather Vegetables
Start seeds indoors of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and other cool-weather vegetables that are usually transplanted into the garden. Provide bottom heat to encourage germination, then grow with cool temperatures. These crops need at least six weeks to become sturdy transplants. Two new varieties to look for are 'Beaumont' hybrid broccoli, which is more heat tolerant than many varieties and 'Red Express' cabbage, an early-maturing, open-pollinated variety that produces small, dense heads with great flavor.
Give Hellebores a Hand
Hellebores have become one of the most popular perennials in recent years, especially the new hybrids of the Lenten rose with their variously colored and marked flowers. Beginning to poke their heads up, regardless of cold temperatures and snow, check them to make sure they are not being smothered by mulch. Also, cut off tattered growth to make way for new stems and leaves as well as those wonderful flowers. If you aren't growing these yet, try some this year, planting them in light shade and near the house where they'll be easily appreciated.
Try a Different Orchid
Phaelanopsis, or moth, orchids abound at retail outlets, but another easy-to-grow orchid is becoming popular, too. The candlestick orchid, Stenoglottis longifolia, is a terrestrial orchid from South Africa. It blooms for about three months in the fall with 12- to 30-inch spikes with dozens of small, bright pink flowers. The foliage forms a rosette of wavy-edged leaves. These die after flowering, but new growth quickly appears. Provide regular watering from spring to autumn, then reduce watering to once every two weeks in fall and winter.