GARDENING BY RONELLA: It’ll warm soon, but stay prepared for cold
by Ronella Stagner, Columnist
Feb 19, 2014 | 61 61 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The cold weather of February will soon give way to early warm days that make us think that spring is finally here. Then we get a big surprise one morning when the temperature drops below freezing and we have snow again. That’s when I get calls from friends and readers asking about the damage to their roses, which had leafed out and the perennials, which were up and beginning to show leaves. Never fear, folks. The black leaves on your roses will fall off and new leaves will come out to take their place; perennials may lose leaves and look forlorn but they too will recover. The only damage to amount to much will be the flowers and buds on jonquils and other spring bulbs. A sudden freeze or frost won’t kill them but the flower will be distorted and ugly and that will be the bloom for this year. Next year they will be just fine. A peony, which is in bloom or in bud, will not bloom for another year but it won’t die. So the answer to your worries about sudden frosts and freezes is to just sit back and let nature take its course.

What important thing can I do in late winter or early spring? The best thing for a flower garden is to sprinkle compost all over it and, using a fork such as my potato fork, make holes all over the flowerbed. That should be done before even thinking about putting down mulch. Mulching should be done after all prep work has been done and all planting is finished. That is usually sometime in May.

If you have iris beds or even a few here and there, be sure to rake up all the dead iris leaves. The only enemy of iris is the iris borer, which lives in the dead leaves and will contaminate all the other iris plants. In fact, don’t put those dead leaves on your compost because they will survive composting.

On the subject of compost, if you don’t have a compost heap, now is an excellent time to start. You can find all directions for making compost in many places but it is just so simple that you can start one easily. Pick a place that is out of sight, such as behind a garden shed, clean off all grass and put down a layer of dead leaves left over from fall and go from there. Someone has said that a compost heap or pile is like lasagna, a layer of green, a layer of brown and a layer of leaves or old straw. Kitchen garbage can make up the largest part of compost as long as it doesn’t have meat or citrus fruit. It is such a wonderful way to get rid of melon rinds, cabbage leaves, potato peelings, etc. Coffee grounds works wonders. You will need to use some dirt now and then. It doesn’t have to be fancy but it is best to have boards made into a three-sided box or just start on bare ground.

So many times I followed Ma around the big yard in late winter or early spring while she checked to see what was coming up. I always wondered how she knew a precious flower from a weed. I can just see her now with her old straw hat to prevent sunburn. Her skin was so fair and so delicate that she burned easily. She would have a little rake to get the last of the leaves around her flowers. She constantly pulled up a weed here and there.

That was when she had time to go to the little cemetery in back of the house. It was probably a city block to the little cemetery. There weren’t many graves but each one was special to her. She raked any leaves, and there would be lots of leaves, and twigs and sticks to get the graves ready for summer. She placed flowers on those graves several times a year so there were jars on most of the graves. Memorial Day, or as she called it, Decoration Day, was the big day for flowers and it happened at a time when so many flowers were in bloom. It seems strange that those trips to the little Lewis cemetery are

clearer in my mind today than something that happened last year. Remember, grandparents, you are making memories that will last your grandchild a lifetime.

I often think of my grandmother and how happy she would be when spring came. It isn’t any wonder considering the hard work she had done for her entire married life on that farm. She had to trudge down to the stable lot to milk twice each day, in the mud and mire of the lot, and then go back up the hill carrying a large bucket of milk. Then caring for her chickens in the cold was another hard job. Even boiling white clothes in the big iron kettle was hard in winter. I never remember hearing her complain and I guess it was the way she and all her neighbors lived so it was just something that had to be done. But she just seemed to blossom when spring came. In spring she loved her baby chickens, her spring-cleaning, inside and out, and most of all, the planting of her flowers and vegetables. As Ma would say, “If winter comes, can spring be far behind.”

Please feel free to call me at 270-522-3632. I appreciate your calls commenting on the columns about Ma and Pa, which I love to write. However, this is a gardening column so we try to mix a little of both and hope you enjoy one or the other or both.
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