The third week of February and it is time to start planting — but not everything can go into the ground. It still is too cold and early to set out annuals, plant most new perennials or to seed a new lawn, but you do have the green light to start sprouting pea seedlings indoors and to add bare root roses, fruit trees and shrubs to the landscape.
As spring fever heats up, there are some plants to seek out now at the nursery or garden center.
Bare-root strawberries: Both June-bearing and the newer ever-bearing strawberry plants are sold bare root or without soil in early spring and these sad-looking, often leafless plants adapt quickly and transplant easily in Western Washington so don’t worry about their lack of leaves. There is an important strawberry planting tip to remember. Set the new plants into the ground so that the crown or joint where the roots meet the top growth is slightly above ground level. Strawberry plants will rot if planted too deep.
Bare-root roses: Early spring is when it makes the most sense to add to your rose collection as rose plants still will be dormant and easy to transport and plant without soil around the roots. This is called “bare root” at the nursery and it often means the rose will be less expensive than the same plant later after it is potted. I can promise you a rose garden with less work and more blooms if you chose the landscape roses or shrubby rose varieties that have been bred to resist disease and bloom over a long time with little need for pruning. Look for names like flower carpet, home run and knock out.
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Hellebores: This perennial for winter bloom is one of the most contented for our cool, damp climate and will even bloom in the shade while naturally resisting slugs, deer and drought because of its thick, shiny foliage. If the leaves from last summer are hanging on your hellebore clip them off now so you can more easily admire the early flowers from the center of the plant. Check local nurseries early and often for beautiful new varieties including the upright-facing blooms of Jacob hellebore; varieties with silver leaves; and those with yellow, dark purple or even apricot blooms.
Hellebores also have been called the Lenten rose because they bloom in early spring during the months before Easter. You can add hellebores to the garden anytime the ground is not frozen — or use the potted plants you find at the nursery to dress up your front porch or patio pots.
Spring-blooming bulbs: Mini daffodils, hyacinths, cyclamen and even tulips are available already sprouting and ready to pop into your beds or containers for instant spring color. If these bulbs are sold in plastic pots you can just leave them in those containers and bury it pot and all into the soil or cover the rim of the pot with moss or soil. Then when the flowers have faded it will be easy to remove the plants, pot and all and replace with summer annual color.
My favorite for February color are the dwarf daffodils with their long bloom time and ability to return year after year. The secret is to uproot the bulbs when they are done flowering and pull them apart before quickly replanting the daffodils, fading foliage and all back into the moist ground. Grow daffodils in a spot where they can remain dry during the summer such as under deciduous trees and shrubs.
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. For gardening questions, write to her at P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, WA 98022. Send a self-addressed stamped envelope for a personal reply. She also can be reached at her website,binettigarden.com