Garden Life: Plant sales in full bloom locally in spring

By Robb Rosser, Columbian Gardening columnist

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photoRobb Rosser

May certainly seems like the busiest time of year in the garden. All of a sudden, the once-dormant lawn needs regular mowing. Letting it go another week is no longer an option. Weeds that were nonexistent two weeks ago are now ready to set seed. The rhododendron began to bloom a couple of weeks ago. Within the next couple of weeks, we need to remove its sticky, spent flower heads. At this time of year, one garden chore leads to another.

The earliest spring bulbs will soon come to the end of their seasonal show. Wait for their foliage to fade before you cut them back. We've had a couple of weeks of strong sunny days, so foliage may look spent earlier than usual. The key for cutting back at the right time is to let the leaves stay intact for at least six weeks after bulbs finish flowering. This allows the plant to store nutrients for next year's flower show. Let this job be a reminder to plant out summer blooming bulbs, corms and tubers.

Anemone, gloxinia, canna and calla lilies can be planted directly out in the garden or in large pots. In May, once we get past Mother's Day, it's safe to bring tender dahlias and begonias out of storage if you packed them away for winter. Gladiolas are also ready to go out in the garden. People who love glads can't get enough of them.

They come in a wide range of colors, from creamy pale-green to hot-flash red. They add an elegant dimension to flower arrangements.

I know that this might sound like one more form of plant addiction, but when I'm swamped with things to do, I find solace in shopping for new plants. If you are like me, once you're out working in the garden, you see all the gaps and holes that need to be filled while the season is young. We should have our plant lists started by this time, and the reminder to plant summer-blooming bulbs will spur us on to pick up those last items we haven't already collected.

There are innumerable plant sale events at this time of year. One of my favorites is the popular Mother's Day Weekend Plant Sale offered by the Master Gardener Foundation. The Master Gardener Foundation of Clark County is a local nonprofit founded in 1984 to help fund the Washington State University Clark County Master Gardener program. This year, they have grown thousands of plants from seed in preparation for the coming weekend.

The group also removes unwanted bushes and other larger plants from the properties of local residents as part of the plant sale.

"We're kind of like the Salvation Army of the plant world," jokes board of directors member Nancy Funk.

Among the many offerings this year are hanging flower baskets, ornamental trees and shrubs, edible plants, flowers, herbs and houseplants.

The foundation's plant sale brings in around $35,000 to help fund its educational and outreach programs. One example of such a program is Second Step Housing, a local nonprofit that helps women find affordable housing.

"We provide them with material for landscaping, plus vegetables and fruits," says Funk. "It helps them take ownership of their property."

The all-volunteer foundation also holds educational meetings on the first Tuesday of every month. Topics vary widely, from invasive bugs to how to best cultivate hardy fuchsias.

"We try to have a variety so that it appeals to a lot of people," says volunteer Karen Palmer.

If you need to add a few more plants to your collection or you just need inspiration to get you into the spring planting mode, join the gardening community at the Heritage Farm, 1919 N.E. 78th St. in Vancouver. The sale runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 11 and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 12. For more information, call the Master Gardener Foundation of Clark County at 360-397-6060, ext. 5706.

Back in the garden, fertilize spent bulbs as the flowers fade and begin to deadhead early-blooming perennials. Pinch back fall-flowering plants such as chrysanthemums, garden phlox and asters to encourage more compact and bushier plants with more flowers. It's a good thing that there are more hours of sunlight with each passing day or we'd never have time to get to all of our spring chores. In May, a gardener's work is never done, which is fine by me. All the more reason to buy a few more plants and get back out in the garden.

Robb Rosser is a WSU-certified master gardener. Reach him at Write2Robb@aol.com.