Occasionally in late spring, I like to wander through the garden with the intention of seeing all that is right with my world. Spring is a season of great rewards. The round, plump peony buds blossom into flowers larger than my open hand. The dogwood blooms as if by magic from bare branches. Birdsong adds a melodious dimension to the garden, like the musical score to a springtime garden party. How happy I am today, to think back on the part I have played in all of this.
Of course, it's really just the nature of things to grow and flower, blossom and bloom. Still, it was my idea to plant the geranium 'Johnson's Blue' and the golden 'Stella D'Oro' daylily next to each other in the perennial border. The combination is enchanting. Hummingbirds find sustenance in the garden, but feeders hanging near my garden room windows bring them close enough to watch their flight and feeding in detail. I think George Gershwin summed it all up when he coined the phrase "'S wonderful, 'S marvelous."
Now that Mother's Day has passed, it's safe to plant annuals directly in the garden. After a week of beautiful weather, I have seen gardening friends come out of hibernation and begin to spend more time out in the garden, as well as at local nurseries. By mid-May, frosts and freezes are unlikely to return and destroy any tender planting. Bedding plants put out in the garden in late spring surpass those sown a month earlier, especially if the weather has been fluctuating between warm and cold.
By now, the soil has had a chance to warm up. Most shrubs and perennials have filled out enough for you to see any gaps that need to be planted in garden beds and borders. To minimize transplanting shock, protect plants from extreme heat and strong sunlight, plant on an overcast day or in the evening. Although we are not thrilled with misty, gray weather after we have had a taste of sunny, warm spring days, it could be the best thing to happen to newly planted seedlings.
This is also the perfect time to add annuals or perennials to a bulb bed. The stems of the bulbs are still showing above ground, so you can clearly see where it is safe to plant without damaging the bulbs. Use plants that leaf out early, especially plants with foliage tall enough to cover the spent bulbs. Daylilies are ideal for full sun. Their strap-like leaves come up in early spring and have enough substance to hide the bulb's foliage while still allowing them to take in nutrients. Use hosta or epimedium in shady beds.
The window of opportunity on garden chores varies with the season and the job itself. Clearly, some chores get in your face and require your immediate attention. Ripening fruit needs to be picked or it will rot on the vine. Weeds need to be pulled before they flower and set seed for the next generation. Clean Douglas fir needles and other debris from house gutters. On the other hand, if you wait too long to deadhead your daisies after blooming, the worst thing that can happen is that your plants will re-seed throughout the garden. I can live with that problem.
Keeping track of bulbs
The best way to keep track of the bulbs in your garden is to take a photo of the entire garden bed when bulbs are in full bloom. Make sure to date the picture. Some gardeners prefer a drawing of the garden bed on a sheet of graph paper. You can mark the general area where groups of bulbs are planted or you can be as detailed as you like to be, listing varietal names, color and measured height. Refer to this picture or drawing when your bulbs have died back, especially if you are adding new perennials to the flower border this summer.
Leave spring bulb foliage intact for best flower production next year. With this in mind, you will have better luck finding an ideal planting location for them. Plant bulbs where you won't mind leaving the foliage undisturbed for a good six weeks. Daffodils should be in an area of lawn that can go without mowing until very late spring. I like to plant bulbs between other perennials. Try placing tall-growing bulbs behind a low bank of border shrubs. Low-growing bulbs do well in front of plants with early season foliage such as daylilies. A formal garden tradition is to plant bulbs behind a low evergreen hedge.
Robb Rosser is a WSU-certified master gardener. Reach him at Write2Robb@aol.com.