What a difference four hours can make. I left my garden yesterday morning and the snowdrops were blooming everywhere. The early Crocus tomasinianus were starting to turn the Hosta bed into a sea of light purple and the large clusters of leaves from last autumn’s glorious Colchicum display were emerging, looking for the sun to regenerate their bulbs. The large Pussy Willow next door is in full bloom and many other green things are pushing through the ground. We are probably about three weeks early. Four hours up the road I met my grandsons for an afternoon of great warm spring skiing. Bare patches everywhere but still ridges of snow in the corners and in shaded back yards. I was able to make a great combination trip to speak to the West Carlton Garden Club and have a great visit with my family who live a few minutes from their meeting hall.

Down in the basement under the lights the Onions have all germinated and are demanding regular watering. All of the early vegetable seeds, such as Pak Choi, Lettuce, Rapini and Broccoli are soaking up the moisture and heat and will be poking their heads above the soil momentarily. As I write this, I have to resist the urge to head out into the garden and plant some Peas. It is 21̊C here today, way beyond the average temperature for mid March but we all know it can’t last. The Witch Hazel has been putting on a dazzling display with its curly reddish blooms for at least two weeks now. I have pictures from previous years of it doing the same thing while standing in at least 30cm of snow.

It’s time to find the Tuberous Begonias that I carefully stored away last fall and get them into some warm moist soil. They need a couple of months head start if they are going to be blooming sized plants when they head outside in mid May. They are quite shallow rooters so I will plant them all together in a shallow flat and then transplant them into individual pots after they have developed a reasonable amount of top growth. This saves space under the lights and makes it easier to deal with the odd one that decided not to join us this year. I give them a couple of hours of soaking in water before I plant them, just to plump them up a bit. The trailing, bright red, Begonia boliviensis Bonfire produced huge tubers last year and I’m wondering if I can just plant the new looking part on top or if I have to plant the whole thing. I’ll try a few each way and see what happens. I would need a deep 20 - 25cm pot for each tuber if I don’t reduce them in size. Hard to believe that they would need that much stored food and energy in order to start growing again this season.

The very warm weather has brought all of the fish up to the top of the ponds where they are actively swimming around and probably wondering where their next meal is coming from. I’m always fascinated at how they seem to grow bigger over a winter of dormancy. The unseasonably warm weather is not a complete blessing. The ponds are producing a huge amount of Algae as the water warms up early. This will necessitate a big clean out and that will be a messy and unpleasant task. At least the Algae makes great nutritious compost.

I have babbled on, in the last couple of “Dallying In The Dirt”, about the wonderful Orchid blooms that have arrived this year. The new Oncidium has been mentioned several times and as its earliest blooms are starting to fade I can happily report that, that did not happen until well after the last blooms had opened. It was in full glorious bloom for a couple of weeks and now I see new leaf growth pushing at the edges of the pot and I am figuring out how and where I am going to transplant it. One bigger pot or do I attempt to divide it into two smaller plants?

One of the samples that I have received this year is a weed preventer and mild fertilizer made from corn gluten. There are several of these on the market and they do have a reasonable effectiveness. In small print they indicate that they are germination inhibitors. What this means, is that they must be applied before any of the weed seeds have started to germinate and this is long before we actually see these weeds. In temperate parts of the world a good marker is the bright yellow blooms of Forsythia. If the corn gluten is not applied before these blooms fade then it is probably too late to have any effect. It will still act as a fertilizer but not as a weed control.

Time to answer a few questions. If you have a gardening question just ‘reply’ to this newsletter and send me your query. I try to answer most of the questions and the ones that I answer here are those that I think will have the widest interest. You can also find the latest garden updates on the front page of gardening-enjoyed.com .

Linda Asks? I’m in a new house this year and the garden has several Rose bushes. I have always managed to kill these at my old home. What should I be doing to try and keep these alive?

Ken Answers! Don’t hurry. Wait until you see new growth developing from some of the lower buds and then prune them down so that each cane has 3 - 4 developing buds. It’s best to prune just above a bud that is facing outwards from the bush so that it will grow in that direction and make a wider bush as it matures. If the base of the Rose has been hilled up with soil, then gently remove it, because that’s where you might find the new growth developing.

Susan Asks? Last year you mentioned you were test growing "water saver" grass seed, how did that work for you?
Wheat grass - seeing this used on craft websites for quick flower centerpieces, is this what farmers plant?? where can I buy seeds?

Ken Answers! The rhizomatus tall fescue grass that I tried last year was not a great success. I put it in the grass pathways between my perennial beds and it did not do well. Those areas get a lot of foot traffic and that grass did not seem to adapt well to that condition. I have seen it used on sod farms and it appears to work well under those ideal conditions. Wheat grass used in flower arrangements is just wheat. I have seen a couple of varieties packaged in some of the larger seed catalogues and sold to home gardeners but in most places the question is how many bushels to the acre do you plan to sow? Johnny’s lists 5 lbs for $9.

111 Trent St. W.
Whitby ON