2013-04-04 / Columns

Garden Thyme

By Beth Binkowski bethsgardenthyme@yahoo.com

In 1899, Henry van Dyke wrote, “The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another.” He got that right. On March 14, our first robin of the year was singing his little heart out in lovely 60° weather. Fast forward to March 20, the first day of spring, we awoke to not so lovely below zero temperatures. It appeared that spring had disappeared, and now it has reappeared. Stay tuned.

The exciting buzz in the gardening world lately (at least for tomato lovers) is grafting. Growers have used grafting for centuries for roses, fruit trees and other woody plants, but it has only recently become popular in the U.S. for growing tomatoes and other vegetables.

Grafting is the practice of taking the top of one plant (scion) and attaching it to the root system of a different plant (rootstock). Grafting tomatoes gives you the best of both worlds: the best qualities of the scion (color, flavor, texture of your favorite tomato) with improved disease-resistance and production from superior rootstock.

Grafted tomatoes are more vigorous, disease resistant, more cold tolerant and productive (proven to produce 50 percent or more fruit). They produced tomatoes earlier and later in the season and they don’t fade as quickly in drought.

The bad news for grafted tomatoes—price. One seed catalog listed a single plant for $7.95 (plus shipping), but they were sold out. Over a million grafted tomato plants were distributed to nurseries and mail-order companies this spring. They’re selling like hotcakes.

Fascinating You Tube videos show how to graft at home. It looks pretty tricky to me, and one of the first steps is to decapitate the root. It was like watching a horror movie! I don’t think I have it in me to decapitate a beautiful tomato plant. Maybe I’ll splurge on one from a nursery.

Another hot item over the past few years is the Knock Out rose. They are easy to grow, tough, disease resistant and bloom from spring through fall. I have a Double Knock Out red rose that has performed so well over the past two years that I’ll be getting another one this spring (or maybe two). Not all Knock Out roses are hardy to Zone 4, so keep that in mind if ordering from seed catalogs.

The Dakota Garden Expo will start Friday afternoon, April 12, at the Bismarck Civic Center and continue all day April 13. There will be over 50 vendors selling plants, bulbs, tools, garden ornaments, etc. It’s always fun to mingle with other enthusiastic gardeners (over 950 last year) and the free seminars cover a wide range of gardening topics.

Now is the time to cut back and compost ornamental grasses and other perennials left standing over winter. Early spring is the best time to divide flowering perennials including daylilies, hosta, monarda and many others. Clumps that are 4-5 years old may be dying in the center or have fewer, smaller flowers. Use a spading fork to lift the whole clump and a knife or sharp spade to cut the healthy outer parts into four or five divisions—each containing some good roots and several shoots that will grow quickly when replanted.

Cool season vegetables such as leaf lettuce, spinach, radishes and onions may be planted outdoors as soon as the soil is dry enough to work. Snapdragons, bachelor buttons and sweet pea seeds can be planted outside in April as well.

I finally heard a meadowlark, and my poor robin came out of hiding. I’ve noticed the first hint of yellow on the drab olive green coats of molting goldfinches. A sure sign of spring. Soon we can begin gardening in earnest.

I read that the best way to garden is to put on a widebrimmed straw hat and some old clothes and with a hoe in one hand and a cold drink in the other, tell somebody else where to dig.

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