Timing is everything with spring gardening in NH

Special to the Union Leader
May 06. 2013 6:24PM

There are some people who seem to sprinkle a few seeds on the ground and with a wave of their hands luscious fields of bright green grass and beautiful bursts of blooms unfold before them.

Then there are the rest of us hapless saps for whom unless it's plastic it's not surviving a fortnight in our gardens - and let's be honest, even if it's plastic it still may wilt by June 1.

But gardening is fun and everyone wants curb appeal, so luckily, there are some friendly green thumbs out there willing to share some wisdom for beginners.

First, unless it's a tree, shrub or certain perennials for goodness sakes don't plant it before Memorial Day. The last frost, usually coincides with the last full moon in May, said Ron Hill of Shady Hill Greenhouses and Nursery in Londonderry. Most seed packets and farmers use that as a guide for planting tender annuals and veggies, he said.

"You certainly can plant annuals now, but you're taking a big, big chance," said Hill. "But perennials, you can plant as soon as the ground is workable."

For those who insist on tempting fate and planting before the end of this month, the plants can be covered with a sheet to prevent damage from frost. Really fancy folks can buy row-cover fabric that will do the trick as well. And of course, people can just pull pots and flower boxes inside.

If there is a frost, said Melissa Emerson at Heath's Greenhouse and Nursery in Sugar Hill, getting outside first thing in the morning to water the plants is important. "That makes a big difference," she said. "Basically it cleans the frost off the plants before the sun comes out and bakes it."

Beyond timing, pick out hearty plants, the kind that will last into the summer. Pansies are tried and true for color, but they don't love hot weather. Keeping them in a partly shady spot will help with that as will "dead heading" them before they go to seed. Translation: pluck off the dead flowers.

However, if even that leaves too much to chance, some heartier annuals include violas-similar to a pansy, also known as Johnny Jump Ups- and snapdragons-a tall flowering plant, Emerson said. Calibrachoa, also known as Million Bells, is also another hearty alternative to pansies. These mini petunia lookalikes have flowers that bloom all the way down the stem.

Zinias and marigolds are also great for hearty color, Hill said, but he warns to steer clear of impatiens this year.

"There's a fungus called downy mildew and it's affecting the impatiens plant and only the impatient plant," he said.

Small flowering perennials like cat mint, liatris, lupin, chorale bells and sempervivum; larger perennials like peonies and bearded iris; and, climbing vines and hostas not only are tough-some can even withstand frost-they offer summer-long color, said Julie Barrett, with Barrett's Greenhouse and Nursery in Swanzey.

Once ready to plant, Barrett said a key to a good garden is good soil, so it's important to prepare the ground before the plants go in.

"Your soil is going to be key to your success in a lot of ways," she said. "If you're starting out and you've got grass, you want to cut it out."

Some herbicides will get rid of grass, but even if a gardener pulls or digs up the grass, some sprigs may still show up later. But Barrett said, putting down some mulch curbs much of that new growth. She recommends bark mulch or even pine needles.

Soil is rarely perfect and usually can tend toward the sandy-feels like it's got some grit in it, and water runs right through it- or clay-it's packs tight like a ball and water doesn't really go through it. For these instances, adding some topsoil and compost to the soil is a good idea - and a process to be repeated yearly, she said.


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