Charlie’s Late January Newsletter
Even though we’re in the deep of winter, I always start noticing a difference this year of year. In our Northern garden, the days are noticeably longer and the sun stronger. It may be months before spring comes, but the weather is changing.
One of the first harbingers of spring in many perennial gardens are the Lenten rose or Hellebore. Sometimes called the Christmas rose, this early bloomer often flowers in the snow. I talk about growing some great varieties here.
It’s certainly too early to plant vegetable outdoors in all but the warmest locations or under covers, but it is time to make plans for planting. One vegetable I’ve been growing from seed successfully for years is onions. Sure it’s easier to buy sets in spring or just buy onions from the local farmer’s market, but I like the variety of onion seed available and they’re easy to grow. I talk about planning your onion patch here.
I mentioned my New Webinar coming up in February in my last issue. Pollinator Gardens are a popular subject and even if you aren’t going to plant a whole garden devoted to pollinators, there are little things you can do to attract and help pollinators in your existing gardens. I talk about this Grow A Pollinator Garden webinar and pollinators in this newsletter.
Finally, in the tropical corner, my attention turns to a favorite; bougainvillea. Bougainvillea is a common, shrubby plant in frost free areas. Growing bougainvllea is a great way to get color into your garden. There are so many varieties and ways to grow it. I talk about growing bougainvillea here.
Some of may know one of my many jobs is curating edible gardening videos for GoodGardeningVideos.org. This organization was started by Garden Rant author Susan Harris. She was frustrated by the lack of good quality gardening videos and information on Youtube. So, she started curating gardening videos, selecting the best for sound and visual quality and accurate information. The result is her award winning website. I’ve been working with her for a few years now, focusing on edible gardening videos.
Check out the latest information on her GoodGardeningvideos.org website. Search for topics you’re curious about or just browse the site. You may find some interesting topics and plants you never thought about planting.
Until next time I’ll be seeing you… in the garden.
Where to Find Charlie: (podcasts, TV and in-person)
Lenten rose or hellebore is a surprising plant. Come early spring I always have to remember to check them, sometimes under the snow, for flowers. These hardy, evergreen perennials survive our zone 5 winter fine and sometimes will bloom so early in the season I have to brush off the snow to enjoy them. That’s okay, because they keep blooming for months providing a welcome dose of spring.
Newer varieties of Lenten rose have upward facing flowers which make seeing them easier. ‘Wedding Party Mix’ features double flowered blossoms in a range of colors such as pink, black, yellow, purple, and white. ‘Ballerina Ruffles’ features bright pink colored, double flowers that brighten up a late winter garden and can bloom for months. ‘Lenten Rose Double Queen’ is heat tolerant, grows well in part shade and pairs well with daffodils and other spring blooming bulbs.
Lenten rose plants are great solutions for shady areas. They thrive in part shade, and even deeper shade in warmer climates. As a low growing ground cover, they can be paired with a variety of different spring flowering bulbs, taller perennials or shrubs. Mix and match colorful Lenten rose varieties with daffodils, scilla, tulips, snow drops and grape hyacinth bulbs. Try growing them with spring blooming perennials such as forget-me-nots, bleeding hearts and candy tuft. We have some growing under witch hazel shrubs for a nice color contrast.
Plant Lenten rose on well-drained fertile soil. They are evergreen in all but the harshest climates. I’ve noticed that even in winter’s where the foliage dies back, it survives to recover in spring and even blooms. After the spring flower show, hellebores have beautiful dark green foliage that makes a nice under story around small trees and shrubs. They contrast well with our hydrangeas planted in the same area.
Go here for more on growing Lenten Roses or Hellebores.
By late January, we Northern gardeners start getting a little stir crazy with the snow and cold. We’re looking for projects. One chore this time of year for me is to set up the indoor seed starting operation. It may be early to start most seeds indoors in our Vermont climate, but there is one that gets a head start pretty soon. Onions have become a favorite vegetable for me started from seed. It may be easier to purchase sets or seedlings in spring, but I like the variety of onions I can grow by sowing my own seed indoors.
I like to grow storage onions such as ‘Cortland’ and ‘Red Wing’. ‘Cipollini’ onions is a great Italian heirloom good for roasting and grilling. Torpedo shaped varieties, such as ‘Red Long of Florence’, add extra interest to a dinner plate. For sweetness, nothing beats a good ‘Walla Walla’ onion.
I mention onions now because if started from seed, you’ll need to grow them a good 2 months indoors before transplanting into the garden. They can withstand a frost, so you can be planting 2 to 3 weeks before your last frost date. So, in some areas, now is the time to start seed for spring.
Onions are easy to grow from seed. I plant 6 or so seeds in a 2-inch diameter pot and keep them well watered under grow lights. As they grow, I’ll periodically snip off the tops as they get leggy. This helps build up the root system. That’s really all there is to it.
Come spring, plant individual seedlings 6 inches apart in rows on raised beds. Onions need well drained, rich soil and don’t compete well with weeds. Once growing you can mulch with untreated grass clippings or straw between the plants. This also helps keep the soil evenly moist. I’ve noticed during wet summers, our onions can grow large!
Harvest once the tops start naturally flopping over. Storage onions can last 3 to 4 months in a basement in temperatures in the 40Fs.
Learn more about growing onions here.
With the interest in pollinator gardens growing, I thought this is a good time to talk about planning, planting and growing a pollinator garden in my upcoming webinar. We’ve all read and heard the news about the plight of native bees, butterflies, insects, bats and birds. Many of these are important pollinators of food and flowering plants.
While the problem is worldwide and seems daunting, even a little bit can help these important creatures. Growing a pollinator garden or integrating pollinator garden plants into your existing garden is a good first step. In this webinar, I’ll talk about the best pollinator plants to grow and also talk, in general, about types of plants to avoid. But it doesn’t stop there. Pollinators need more than plants. I’ll discuss the water, shelter, nesting and habitat needs of these creatures. Maybe the best thing you can do in your yard is to provide these features for local pollinators?
The Grow a Pollinator Garden Webinar is February 28th from 7 to 8:30pm Eastern time. Sign up early for a discount. As always, you don’t have to be present to get the webinar. I record all my webinars and if you sign up, a few days later you’ll get a link to a Youtube video of the webinar. The advantage of being present is after the 1-hour long presentation, I open it up for 30 minutes of questions and answers.
To get a taste of what I’ll be talking about, check out my Pollinator Gardening Video here.
There is no tropical shrub that I know that compares with the color of a bougainvillea. If you live in a frost free area or have visited one, you know bougainvillea. This vine-like shrub can grow 30 feet tall and wide in a wild form, but newer varieties are more tame, staying in the 4 to 6 feet tall and wide shape.
The calling card are the papery colored bracts around the flowers. They bloom on and off all year in bright colors such as yellow, orange, red, fuchsia, white and purple. Because of their viney growth, they can be pruned and trained, with support, to climb up an arch, arbor, trellis or wall.
Plant bougainvillea in full sun somewhere where it can grow unrestricted. It doesn’t require rich soil or abundant water. Prune in winter to stimulate new growth. Bougainvillea flowers on that new growth each year. Feel free to prune back bougainvillea severely as it’s a rampant grower.
Look for dwarf varieties to plant in small spaces or containers. Northern gardeners can try to grow this tropical beauty as a summer container plant, but it may be difficult to overwinter indoors unless you have a warm room with supplemental lights.
Learn more about growing bougainvillea here