Watch Those Weeds, They Could Be Flowers

GOOD GARDENING

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Warm days and sunny skies rekindle the urge to put spade or trowel to earth and plant something.

Pansies are beginning to show up in the nurseries, along with stocks and primroses, and they can withstand nighttime temperatures that dip below freezing.

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Mikki King is a dedicated natural gardener, who prefers to pull or hoe weeds rather than use herbicides to spray them.

Although not long lived, these little shots of color can be planted among the sprouts of spring flowering bulbs and around evergreens to lift our winter-worn spirits.

Bulbs and fruit trees are already in bloom. But Mother Nature can be fickle, and there is a good chance that one more hard freeze could impact blooming fruit trees before the weather settles, and most fruit will be lost. Records show that the average date of last frost in the Rim country is May 15.

The very wet winter this year may have helped to recharge the groundwater supply, and certainly will help to protect native trees from insect infestation.

Weeds are another large problem facing gardeners. Look around: new plants are springing up and, in some places, grasses are nearly a foot high. Weed control offers many choices, depending on the philosophical approach of the individual.

Organic or natural gardeners will shovel, hoe and "weed--whack" to cut down weeds before they are able to set seed. Those who are curious about native plants may want to allow the weed to flower before eradicating it.

One gardener's weed may be another gardener's wildflower.

Wildflower seed depends on certain conditions to germinate and bloom. A very wet winter and sunny spring may bring forth varieties not seen in this area for a while.

Currently, drifts of filaree, or Erodium Cicutarium, the tiny purple flower ground cover, are beginning to carpet roadsides and meadow areas. Noted by local historian Marguerite Nobel in her book of the same name, filaree is actually a member of the geranium family.

It is also called "heron-bill" as its seed pod can grow up to about 2 inches long and resemble a heron's bill. Filaree is lush in a wet year, and is grazed heavily by deer, elk and cattle, but turns brown when the weather gets too warm.

Other flowers beginning to appear this month are members of the mustard family: the most noticeable being brassica, about 3 feet tall with yellow four-petal flowers; and a white one called spectacle pod.

A low-growing wildflower, stemless daisy, or Townsendia Exscapa, can easily escape the blades of a lawn mower -- they only grow about 2 inches high. The daisy-like flowers with yellow centers can be 2 inches wide, and several appear in a cluster nestled in a rosette of dark green, hairy leaves.

A favorite high-country flower which can be very prolific is a member of the lily family, Dichelostemma Puchellum. Commonly known as Blue Dicks, the flower is a small nodding blue lily. When the leaves appear, they look like a coarse grass or onion plant, and suddenly the blue flowers burst into bloom, lasting for weeks.

The basal rosettes of evening primrose, fern-like multi-stemmed plants of Mexican poppy, and ground-hugging verbena are just a few of the plants that could be lost or damaged by weeding indiscriminately before the flowers appear.

Consult a comprehensive plant guide such as "Plants of Arizona" by Anne Orth Epple for detailed information about wild plant varieties and habitats.

Gardeners who prefer the chemical approach to weed control might try a product available in nurseries called "Weed-Free-Zone."

The product is produced by Fertilome, which claims it is effective during cool weather. Other popular weed sprays such as "Round-up" need warmer temperatures to do their dirty work. Caution is the keyword when using any type of garden chemical. Read package directions carefully, choose a windless day, wear protective clothing, and make sure the herbicide is not used on or near susceptible garden plants.

Whichever approach is used, the important thing is to keep on top of weed control now, to prevent weeds from getting too tall, drying out and becoming a fire hazard when the weather gets hot and dry.

Other garden chores for March include:

Plant cool season vegetables. Dig in several inches of fully composted manure if it wasn't done in the fall, and sow seeds of beets, carrots, endive, kohlrabi, lettuce, onions, shallots, parsnips, peas, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard and turnips. This is the last month for sowing wildflower seed. Scratch the surface, sprinkle seed, cover with sand or mulch, and if no rain or snow is forecast, water well.

Transplant seedlings of garden annuals such as larkspur, poppies, bachelors buttons, etc. that have popped up in places other than where desired. Choose healthy plants, about 3 inches tall, dig-up with a trowel full of soil, and replant immediately. Water thoroughly and when soil dries out until plants are re-established.

Work over the compost pile, keep moist and turn regularly to speed the decomposition process.

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