Of Wonders and Weeds
By PAULENE POPARAD
March is for ..... sure signs of spring.
Good things do come to those who wait. Just ask Elizabeth Smart’s family. In
the garden, we’ve survived one of the coldest overall winters in some time,
but even though the calendar says spring is here, don’t be fooled into
pushing the garden envelope.
Porter County Extension educator Eric Biddinger, whose expertise is in
agriculture and natural resources, said disaster can be looming. If the more
tender buds begin breaking, then the temperatures plummet to below 30
degrees, frost damage could occur, especially to fruiting crops.
Amen. The late hard freeze last spring damaged many of my hostas, which
looked and performed poorly the whole season. Coupled with the drought, some
even died above ground, including a mature ‘Great Expectations.’ I’ll be
anxious to see if any return from the roots.
Eric said to be especially mindful now of roses covered with styrofoam
cones, which can roast the roses if the spring sun is intense.
Once rose buds begin to break, he advises, take off the cones even if a
later frost is likely to occur. The plants can always be covered quickly
with a sheet or mounded mulch if a freeze is predicted. Roses covered with
mulch through the winter don’t need to be uncovered as soon, said Eric,
because unlike the styrofoam, the mulch will remain cool.
It’s definitely too early to work wet soil, said Eric. Doing so will only
compact it causing more problems than it’s worth. A good guide is working
the soil when it crumbles after being squeezed into a ball.
Eric recommended three things that can be done now: pruning fruit trees
before bud break; fertilizing indoor house plants, which are responding to
warmer temps and more daylight; and making a summer to-do list. The latter
can be done by carrying a notepad and pen in the yard and being observant as
we give the lawn a good raking. “If you don’t write it down, you won’t
Eric and I share a fascination with fuchsia. “They amaze me,” he said. “I’ve
seen one as dead as a doornail and it came back.”
The ‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt’ bronze bush fuchsia (hardy in Zone 10) I potted
up in the fall and brought indoors after it appeared to be dead is now fully
leafed out and has been blooming for several weeks near a sunny south
window. But my best success story apparently will be keeping a huge hanging
fuchsia from last year alive and thriving in the unheated but insulated
front porch, where the winter temps hover around 42 degrees but have dipped
The four plants in one basket now measure 48 inches across! In “Crockett’s
Flower Garden,” the late James Underwood Crockett said he kept the same
fuchsia plants for several years by dividing and wintering them indoors, and
taking fall cuttings to propagate new ones.
Not all my garden stories are successes. Experts recommend we do things a
certain way for a reason. A perfect example is storing dahlia tubers in
shredded dry peat moss or some other form of mulch.
I usually store them in the unheated porch in crushed leaves in a cardboard
box, one year even in newspaper run through a shredder. But this past fall I
got distracted and left the dahlias in a closed paper bag. In January I
opened it and it was a white, powdery moldy mess. That gave me an
opportunity to order new tubers from Swan Island Dahlias, a fine source, but
you can be sure I won’t screw up storing them this year.
I’ve joined the American Hosta Society. The $25 annual dues are a bargain
when you consider their fine member magazine, “The Hosta Journal,” now is
published three times a year. The articles are very informative, quite
thought provoking, and at times amusing. You’ll get to see color hosta
pictures of the newest of the new and the best of the rest, in addition to
lists of sources.
I joined the AHS at the Northern Illinois Hosta Society’s winter scientific
meeting in January. Especially entertaining and informative was Ran Lydel,
who 15 years ago started hybridizing hostas to improve their flowers. “We
don’t know what can happen. We’re not going to produce blooms that look like
orchids. We’re limited by genetics,” he told us.
Lydel said red-purple flowers are near, and true pink and blue color ranges
are probably possible. He also breeds for scale, scape (stalk) color,
branching, reblooming, bloom time, flower pattern, bloom density and
post-blooming pod color. But nobody wants to see lovely flowers on an ugly
hosta so that must be a factor, too.
Lydel mentioned the following hosta for flower impact: ‘Searing Flame,’
‘Lake Superior,’ ‘Steady On,’ ‘Don Stevens,’ ‘Eagles Nest,’ ‘Blackberry
Tart,’ ‘Breathless,’ and ‘Kermit.’ “A big ‘Blue Angel’ is a knockout,” he
Well-known hybridizer Mary Chastain of Tennessee, who’s responsible for
numerous Lakeside hosta introductions, suggested hybridizing based on one’s
individual personality, goals and environment. She keeps only about 30 of
2,000 seedling crosses for further trials. “What’s perfect to me isn’t
perfect to you.” Chastain said she’s been working 17 years to get a blue
hosta with ruffled white edge.
For Chastain, hybridizing is both an art and a roll of the dice. “Nothing in
this thing is 100 percent of the time. The only thing to expect is the
She and I share one thing in common. Said Chastain, “The Egyptians could
have made bricks out of my clay without even baking it.”