For winter garden display, no other shrub is as spectacular as our native winterberry, Ilex verticillata, with its berries in brilliant shade of red, orange, or yellow. Although found naturally growing in damp, acidic soil, it is a very adaptable plant and is a great addition to the landscape. Over the years, a number of cultivars have been developed. Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA, recently completed an extensive evaluation of these. The best ones were 'Sparkleberry', 'Scarlett O'Hara', 'Maryland Beauty', 'Red Sprite', 'Harvest Red', and 'Sunset'. When growing winterberries, be sure to include a male variety in the yard for pollination.
Warm Your Garden Soil
The temperature of the soil, as well as the air, determines how well seeds and transplants grow in the spring garden. If you're anxious to plant now, one way to make sure your soil is warm enough is by covering the soil with black or clear plastic. Weed the area first and remove any crop debris, then rake the area smooth. Lay the plastic over the bed, stretching it tightly, then secure the edges by burying them. After two weeks, the soil should be ready.
Start Cannas Indoors
In parts of our region, cannas can be left in the ground over winter, but if you dig up and save special varieties or buy new rhizomes, pot them up now to get a jump-start on their growth and flowering this summer. If necessary, divide rhizomes into pieces that each have two to three growing points, or eyes. Plant them in pots filled with soilless potting mix. Keep evenly watered and transplant to the garden when all danger of frost is past.
Dye Easter Eggs Naturally
This Easter why not color your eggs using nature's very own dyes? It's easy to use natural ingredients that can be found in almost any kitchen or grocery. For pale red, try beets, cranberries, or raspberries. For yellow, yellow onion skins, ground turmeric, or carrot tops. For pale green or green-gold, spinach leaves or 'Yellow Delicious' apple peels. For blue, blueberries or red cabbage leaves. To color, place eggs in a single layer in a pan. Cover eggs with water. Add a teaspoon of vinegar. Add the natural dye materials. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the eggs and let them dry. For a darker shade, let the eggs stand in the dye water overnight in the refrigerator.
Consider Raised Beds
With the increasing popularity of vegetable gardens, this is a good year to consider building raised beds. Not only pretty to look at but also practical, raised beds provide excellent drainage, tend to warm up earlier in the spring, and remain productive later in the fall, particularly with the easy addition of row covers. You can make your own beds or buy kits made from red or white cedar or recycled plastic. Just don't use treated wood, as it may leach toxins. Before building, till up your soil and incorporate additional purchased top soil.