Chesterton Tribune

February a time for endings and beginnings

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Of wonders and weeds


February is for .... finishing what we’ve started, in more ways than one.

Recently my husband, gently, of course, pointed out that I don’t finish one garden project before I move on to another. He’s right.

I’ve mentally been making big plans for this gardening season, and most of them are for new areas or extending old ones rather than filling in the blank spaces in the current borders or addressing the overgrown parts that need thinning. I figure I’ll get around to those in my own good time. But when you get right down to it, “long story short” as Court TV anchor Nancy Grace is so fond of saying, I’m procrastinating.

Who, me?

If you’ll note, this column is appearing the last week of February. I could blame it on the fact that I started writing it days ago and the draft got lost in my computer (which it somehow did), but if I can put something off until another day, I will. Why do you think I have a job that deals in deadlines?

It’s not as exciting to move an overgrown dwarf Korean lilac or a juniper as it is to buy a tree or special conifer that will anchor an entirely new bed. But getting some long put-off chores finally done this spring will be rewarding and give us a sense of real accomplishment.

And it will get your family off your back.

Checking my garden journal I find most horticultural happenings in the yard are woefully behind past years at this time. In mid- and late February of past years my notes showed a lot of 50 and 60-degree days, even a 70 and thunderstorms. But there were also 7-inch snowfalls and a blizzard in early March so I guess the Boy Scout motto “Be Prepared” would serve us well.

Now is an excellent time, no matter what temperature, to prune summer-flowering shrubs and many trees. Be alert for old, darker wood in shrubs like spirea that can be taken out at the ground to trigger new healthy shoots; winter-damaged wood should be cleanly trimmed, and many shrubs can be given a haircut to improve their shape and promote flowering.

Also check young trees and large shrubs for crossing branches and odd angles that create weak trunks; it’s much easier to trim a small branch now with clippers than to wrestle a big branch with a saw. Most believe tree cuts heal better without any tree-wound paint on them and it’s no longer considered necessary.

Garden clean-up is essential this time of year. But it’s not good to walk on muddy, soft earth (or emerging shoots for that matter) so tread carefully and use a plank or small piece of plywood to distribute your weight. Once you’ve cut down all last year’s ratty top growth on plants, be sure to clean away leaves around and under the plants. Old daylily and iris leaves can be tugged away, taking care not to disturb the plant itself.

If any perennials have heaved out of the ground, set them back in the soil but don’t crush the crown. It’s best to leave the mulch around them for some weeks yet, but any plant like roses that might have a tendency toward fungal diseases should get their mulch removed and replaced with new material in the early spring.

There’s a lot coming up in March for local gardeners.

Pre-order deadline is March 17 for the 7th annual Native Plant Sale sponsored by the Friends of Indiana Dunes. This is an outstanding opportunity to obtain really unusual plant material at reasonable prices. Pre-orders can be picked up on the sale day April 5, where the general public may purchase from open stock including, new this year, large shrubs and trees. For more information, contact Chuck at 926-2790 or Lu at 762-7748.

Speaking of native plants, earlier this month I heard Mel Zaloudek of Berwyn, Ill. speak about woodland spring wildflowers. He recommended instead of bird watching, this spring we take time for “flower watching.” His photography was magnificent and his knowledge of even the Midwest’s tiniest spring treasures impressive.

Despite all the negative buzz about the fast-spreading garlic mustard in recent years, I never saw it until Mel shared a picture. “It’s choking out most of our flowers,” said Mel. “This whole talk in five years will be spring flora of the Midwest: garlic mustard. One slide.” Next time I see they’re having a garlic mustard pull in the state or national park, I just may volunteer.

One of Mel’s favorite spring wildflowers --- available from the Friends plant sale --- is American celandine poppy or stylophorum diphyllum. Chelidonium, the European variety, is not recommended by Mel. He made a good point that spring wildflowers can be planted in the blank spaces where large-leaved plants like hostas and ligularias later will spread.

Speaking of hostas, the website was having a first-look auction of new varieties. The most expensive the last time I looked was ‘Red Dragon’ which had 15 bids, the highest $350. That pales in comparison to the nursery-propagated $600 hardy lady slipper (cypripedium) ‘Hilda’ new to the White Flower Farm spring catalog. The dappled and veined pink pouch-like flower is lovely, and it’s fragrant.

The LaPorte Master Gardeners are hosting a March 29 spring symposium from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the community building at the LaPorte County Fairgrounds on Indiana 2. Tickets are $20 and include a box lunch. The closest ticket outlet is Bank One at Thornapple Way and U.S. 30 in Valparaiso. Orders are accepted online at (although I could not call this website up) or through Lucille at 219-362-2041.

Speakers for the event are Scott Kunst, owner of Old House Gardens, a mail order source for heirloom bulbs, who will talk about antique gardens; and Chuck Gleaves, director of Kingwood Center in Mansfield, OH, who will address getting the most out of our perennial gardens. Horticulturalist Kris Medic will talk about The New American Backyard: Saving time, money and the environment.

Mark your calendar for the Chicago Flower and Garden Show March 8-16 at Navy Pier. I printed out the list of seminars each day (at to decide which day I want to attend. There are so many good seminars, I may need to visit two days if I want to see the exhibit gardens and booths, too.

Nationally known scheduled speakers include Michael Weishan, host of The Victory Garden; Jim Wilson, a former TVG co-host; garden designer P. Allen Smith of The Weather Channel; and Steve Thomas of This Old House.

Speaking of P. Allen Smith, I scanned his new $29.95 book “P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home” recently and it looks interesting. The concept is creating outdoor rooms in our home garden using 12 principles of garden design such as mystery, whimsy, and time; Smith shows us how he did this at his own home in gorgeous photos.

The Indiana Flower and Patio Show also takes place March 8-16 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. I’ve never attended, but show organizer Todd Jameson promises to present, “For the first time ever a 5,000 square-foot feature garden that’s absolutely going to blow people away.”

With perhaps a nod to all those stupid television reality shows so popular now, four landscape designers will compete side-by-side creating small garden areas using a budget of $5,000; they will emphasize using recycled found objects for garden art. Live plants also will be for sale at the Indianapolis show.

Congratulations to Porter County’s Taltree Arboretum, which was named the Indiana Urban Forest Council’s 2002 civic organization of the year for Taltree’s efforts to preserve, restore and conserve significant examples of Indiana’s urban forest while educating the public on the importance of such efforts.

In next month’s column I’ll share with you some things I learned at the Midwest Regional Hosta Society’s winter scientific meeting in January, but I want to leave you with this tip from Ran Lydel, one of the speakers.

He showed a slide of a hosta plant and a familiar container next to it. Said Ran, “If a plant is not doing well for me, I put a can of Round-up next to it for a few days and you know, before long, the plant perks right up.”

If it were only that easy.


Posted 2/28/2003