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February brings time to plant

The second week of February is finally time for planting. When you see the yellow forsythia shrubs blooming in your neighborhood this means it might be time to plant pea seeds and add bare root roses, strawberries and raspberries to the garden.

It all depends on your soil. If you garden in a low spot or an area with clay soil and poor drainage, don’t even think of adding plants this early in the spring. But if your soil drains freely and you have raised beds it could be time to swaddle your peas and get them sprouting indoors this week for setting out later.

Swaddling peas is a term I just made up. It describes the method of “pre-sprouting” when you lay a damp dish cloth on the counter, sprinkle it with pea seeds and then wrap or swaddle the seeds with the damp cloth. Now leave the dishcloth indoors for a few days and check by unwrapping the damp swaddling cloth until you see that the seeds have started to sprout. Now you can plant the pre-sprouted seedlings into the cold, damp soil and they are far less likely to rot. Pre-sprouting peas is the way to go if you garden in rainy climates like ours. This works for sweet peas as well.

When and how do I add roses to my front yard? I see rose plants for sale but they are not in bloom and some are packaged in plastic bags while some are in cardboard boxes – I even read the planting instructions on one of the boxed rose plants and it said to plant the box and all! I am only a beginning gardener but even I know that can’t be right. – L.P. Kent

I will speak for rose plants everywhere and tell you not to plant the cardboard box when you add a new rose plant to your garden – even if the instructions tell you to do so. The most important part of growing roses is digging a large hole in the right location. Lots of sun and good air circulation makes roses happy and buying rose plants now while the price is low and the plants are still dormant will make you happy.

Buying rose plants early in the spring means you are purchasing them bare root. This means they are sold dormant with their roots kept moist by plastic bags or cardboard boxes. Bare root roses are easier to transport and plant and because they are still under the anesthetic of winter dormancy they don’t stress out as much over the transplant operation.

Later in the spring these same rose plants will be potted up into soil and allowed to bloom. You can wait and buy rose plants in full bloom later in the summer but you’ll pay more and they’ll pout longer after the move.

I bought a hellebore plant at a garden show and it is in beautiful bloom in a pot. When can I plant it outside. What type of care does it need? – T.G., Olympia

Hellebores are also called The Lenten Rose because they flower during the pre-Easter season of Lent. Hellebores have a boorishly, hellish name but are truly heaven-sent perennials for Western Washington gardeners. The foliage is evergreen, the flowers appear in winter, they are resistant to slugs, deer, voles and drought and they love our rainy climate and acid soil.

The only care they need after planting is to cut back any faded or dry brown leaves from last year’s growth to better see the delicate blooms. I usually do this in early spring when the hellebore are blooming so I have a chance to get up close and personal with the nodding, cup-shaped blossoms. Then, I like to snip off a handful of individual florets and bring them indoors to float in a small bowl.

Hellebores do not need winter protection or extra fertilizer and do well in partial sun or shade. I’ve had some seed themselves under my large rhododendrons where they bloom happily each year in deep shade. You didn’t mention what type or color of hellebore you purchased but collecting all the different hellebore varieties can become an addicting hobby.

Marianne Binetti is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and eight other gardening books. She has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and will answer questions from her Web site at www.binettigarden.com.