When the Rim Country enjoys a few unusually warm days following a stretch of cold weather, more than a few people start scouting out the nurseries and garden departments.
Practice patience. Put all that gardening energy into planning and preparation. The wait won't be long -- Plant Fair in Star Valley received more than 1,000 Jackson & Perkins roses this week and is expecting a long list of other goodies any day now. Home Depot and Wal-Mart garden centers have bare-root roses, fruit trees, shrubs and more. ACE Hardware & Nursery is remodeling its garden area, but will have plant stock in by the end of March, according to a spokesperson at the store.
Last year -- at about this same time -- Glen McCombs was interviewed by the Roundup about gardening. McCombs has owned and operated Plant Fair Nursery for more than 20 years with his wife, Linda. We wanted expert advice on what to do now and in the coming weeks for good gardening in the Rim Country.
Before planting anything, McCombs said you might want to consider soil testing for pH level. He said he recommends the level be around 6.5 for most flowers and vegetables. He also recommends mulching all flowers and vegetables, but only using manure on vegetables. "They need a little heat to help them along," McCombs said.
"It's really too cold still," he said. "Except for cold season vegetables such as peas, carrots and beets."
He said these can be planted now and in March and with the peas there is an added benefit -- the root systems fix the soil with nitrogen. "It's free fertilizer," McCombs said.
Flowers, such as pansies and violas, can be planted in pots though. Planting roses now is fine too, he said.
The roses at Plant Fair are in biodegradable pots that can be put right into the ground.
"Just dig a hole about one-and-a-half times the size of the pot," he said. Drop in the pot; cover it over, water it in and you're done. Water once a week or when the soil feels dry.
"With too much watering, you can rot the plant," McCombs said. He said a general rule of thumb for watering -- if you have a gallon-size plant (it came in a gallon pot), it will need a gallon of water.
Bare root trees can also be planted now, he said.
He added, if you can dig two to six inches into the ground, you can plant bulbs for summer blooms -- gladiolas, dahlias, lilies, lily of the valley, all of which are available now.
While planting options are somewhat limited for now, it is a great time to get out in the yard and start cleaning things up and planning.
To help in the planning process Plant Fair has a wonderful collection of free handouts. Among the titles:
- When to Plant Your Vegetables, which includes what the pH and soil temperatures should be;
- How to Plant Potatoes & Onion Sets;
- Butterflies in the Garden (what plants attract them);
- Water-Wise Plant List; Composting Systems at a Glance;
- Easy-to-Grow Landscape Plants;
- How to Work With Clay Soil;
- 3 Easy Ways to Force Bulbs;
- Plantable Pot Roses; and
- "Alfalfa Tea," a document with directions on how the make and use it prepared by Rim Country rose expert Gary Karlowski
A number of long-time gardeners in the Rim Country -- with roots going back more than five decades -- rely on The Old Farmer's Almanac for timing their gardening tasks.
Pat Cline, who was born and raised in the Rim Country, told a story about a couple of neighbors who planted their potatoes next to each other, with only a fence and a few feet separating them. One neighbor followed the guidelines in the "Almanac" and when seeing the other's planting their potatoes told them, "You shouldn't be planting those potatoes now. You'll have a nice, leafy plant, but no potatoes." The prediction was correct; the one following the Almanac had a great crop of potatoes, while the other had nice potato bushes, but no crop.
The Old Farmer's Almanac can be found at numerous stores in the area and is also available online.
Building a garden bed
Carol Clapp, who sometimes contributes columns on gardening to the Roundup, offered the following a couple of years ago on preparation:
This is a great time of year to make plans for the coming year. Consider building a raised bed or two for your gardening.
Raised beds permit people in wheelchairs to continue to enjoy gardening. Raised beds also help prevent rabbits from reaching your produce.
There multiple products to use for constructing a raised bed. Today you have the following choices of timbers or beams:
- Recycled automobile plastics can be purchased as 8-foot lengths in either 4-inches-by-4-inches, or 8-inches-by-8-inches.
- Plastics out of automobiles mixed with sawdust. Some of these may be classified as fire-resistant due to the high density of the material.
- Pressure-treated wood, which comes in several grades. If this is to be in contact with the ground, then it must be completely impregnated with copper compound by a vacuum pressure method so the copper gets right into the middle of the wood.
- Pressure-treated wood impregnated with sodium silicate is cheaper than the copper compound described above, and leaves the wood a natural color, not green. All the pressure-treated woods are more durable than non-pressure-treated timber. Arsenic used to be the material of choice for pressure treating timber, but that is not commonly used today.
Now you have your timber/beams. They can be laid down in the shape of the raised bed you have planned. Depending upon size, you may have to cut them down in length. Use a regular saw for timber beams, but a carbide-tipped blade for the beams containing metal. Cutting beams is hard on the blades, so make sure you have a spare blade or two. Remember to stagger the corners, so the beam-ends are not all lined up.
Filling the raised bed
Once construction is complete, you will need to fill the structure. Depending upon the finished height, you may be able to put some rocks or cans in the bottom of the bed as you may not need it entirely filled with potting mix or garden soil. Use the dirt in your yard plus any amendments advised for your soil type, bearing in mind the requirements for the plants you propose to grow in it.
House herbs help urge to get growing
Herbs can be part of your garden planning too, in fact, you can satisfy some of the urge to get your hands dirty by starting a few favorites inside.
If you have a spot on a shelf or windowsill inside, one that gets some sun, you can start growing herbs now.
Roundup reporter Carol La Valley wrote an article on herb growing a couple of years ago that had the following advice:
"This is about the time to start seeds (or small plants) indoors if you are planning a ground or container garden," said Ann Prow, a Rim Country gardener.
"By the time plants are mature enough and it stops snowing, they are ready to go outside.
"I always plant a few herbs. I like basil, curly parsley and chives, although I may plant some other things because they are pretty (and fragrant) like dill." (Dill grows up to three feet tall and has an umbrella of white flowers at the top.)
Cilantro and basil are the two most popular herbs Plant Fair sells, according to employee Kathy Shaw.
"Anybody can grow herbs," Shaw said. "They are easy to grow, fun and make a good family project."
Indoors, new herb plants will need plenty of light and water once or more a week.
Shaw recommends flowerpots in the windowsill for now. Mint, sage and parsley should be planted in their own containers because they spread and outgrow other herbs.
When the weather warms, herbs may be transplanted to clay or plastic pots deep enough for at least a foot of potting soil.
Container gardening is more water-wise than ground gardening, but need extra care in summer, so the soil does not dry out.
It is hard to be patient when you want to be out there planting, but planning and preparation are fun, too.