March is almost here, and the media is a buzz with spring enthusiasm. People in other states are already enjoying the scents of blooming flowers while we brace ourselves for what could be the biggest blizzard of the year. The weekend was a lovely one. My husband and I took a walk across Silver Lake on Saturday afternoon, and played bocce ball on the lake with our neighbor in the evening. The ice is still really solid here. Last week’s thin coating of snow has made it much easier to stay upright on it too. Saturday’s sunshine was powerful enough, that it forced us to remove our hats and scarves while we were out playing. All conditions were perfect for enjoying the day on the lake. In the winter, we feel like we have one, 472-acre backyard. Our neighborhood gang has plans to play ice croquet and bean bag before the season is through. However, Mother Nature’s mood is ready to swing again and she feels like hanging with Old Man Winter. Whether you love him or hate him, Old Man Winter is a loyal companion to Mother Nature and he is going to stick by her side for as long as he can. That is why Minnesotans are always so glad when spring arrives. When we see our first Robins or tulips of the season, our hearts are elevated. Even though we know spring will always return, we experience extensive relief when we know for sure that winter is finally over. For this reason, spring-blooming plants are a must for Minnesota gardens.
One of the easiest ways to create an impressive, spring display is with fall-planted bulbs. Tulips, daffodils and hyacinths should all be planted right before the ground freezes in late autumn. This year, you probably could have planted them in December. Watering after planting is critical, so make sure you have the means to do so. Many people put their hoses away well before bulb-planting season arrives. Beds should be mulched after the soil hardens with evergreen branches, shredded leaves or clean straw. Most bulbs require a well-drained soil. Peat moss and compost can be used to amend heavier substrates. Daffodils and grape hyacinths have pretty commendable shade tolerance. Tulips prefer full sun. Many areas that are shady in the summer receive a good amount of sun before the trees leaf out. Early blooming tulips and daffodils, as well as a nice variety of minor bulbs, bloom well before the foliage of surrounding plants unfurls. This creates full-sun opportunities that aren’t there later in the season. More light always means more options. Bulbs work well planted amongst groundcovers and hostas. The longer you keep the foliage of ephemeral bulbs thriving in the spring, the more food they produce for the next season. For this reason, it is best to plant them in locations where their gradually senescing foliage won’t bother you. Shallow-rooted annuals can be planted right on top of deeply planted bulbs. This is another great way to camouflage withering leaves.
Lilacs and peonies are two, controversial spring beauties. Many people shy away from lilacs because they attract bees. This is not hard for me to identify with, as I used to me terrified of bees. As a kid, I was stung on several occasions. Interestingly enough, I haven’t been bitten by one bee since I started working with plants ten years ago. Another common complaint about lilacs regards one of their strongest assets. When it comes to fragrance, it seems that people either love or hate their powerful perfume. Mom and Dad have a big old lilac hedge on the farm. Fond memories of vases flowing with fragrant flowers fill my head. In my mind, both lilacs and peonies trigger nothing but positive thoughts. Lots of folks have a beef with peonies though. From the ants that associate with them to their floppy postures, it seems that peonies have fallen out of popularity over the years. Intersectional hybrids are going to change everyone’s minds. New crosses between herbaceous peonies and tree peonies offer completely new color options and much sturdier branching habits. Getting back to the lilacs, lolly-pop forms and dwarf varieties are gaining landscape favor. They fit nicely into small yards and they don’t sucker. Smaller size means smaller smells, fewer bees and a less overwhelming, over-all effect. Crabapples are controversial plants too. Visions of sidewalks, oozing with applesauce, come to mind right away. However, breeding has improved these plants as well. New crabapples retain their fruit well into the winter, when hungry birds gobble them up. Don’t give up on some of these great plants from our past. They generate powerful spring interest. More importantly, they are easy to grow. Rhododendrons and azaleas need the right site to do well. Forsythias often won’t flower above the snow line. This year, we probably can’t expect much from them. There are benefits to the tried and true few that used to grace many a Minnesota farmstead. Their soft colors and mesmerizing fragrances are indicative of a fresh start. By spring, that’s what we’re all yearning for.
Well, my hubby has the day off, and he is patiently waiting for me to wrap this up. We might just have to go for another lake walk. The weather is pretty darn nice again today. Tomorrow could require shovels and four-wheel drive. Minnesota is what it is. Make the most of it, and use plants to enhance your enjoyment of every season. Keep your eyes peeled for the first flowers of spring. I’ve seen sneak peeks on Facebook of crocuses that are blooming right here, right now.