Satisfy your early spring fever

It happens to me every year at this time. We get a few days of sunshine after weeks of cold, rainy weather, and I go poking around my yard to see how well things survived those frigid days of December and January.

I look at the roses, the daylilies, the forsythia. Are the strawberries okay? How about the iris? Why do I torture myself like this? My intellect tells me that walking on the wet soil will compact it, causing unnecessary stress to the plants.

I also know that it's too early to prune things. If I snip away at the roses or vines, I will stimulate new growth. Then, when (notice that I said "when," not "if") we get another round of freezing temperatures, that new growth is sure to be damaged.

So, I satisfy my early spring-fever urges by making mental notes about my yard. Are the daffodils showing their green shoots, are the peonies poking their pink noses above ground? I make myself observe only and keep my hands off my plants for now. Topping it off with a leisurely walk around the neighborhood to see whether anyone has crocuses blooming gratifies me.

It's getting chilly again, so back inside I go, to read my new book about peonies, and to peruse my latest seed catalogs. What new things shall I try this year? At least one new thing is my rule of thumb. How about raising purple potatoes? Or popcorn? There's a mini-cucumber I want to try, and maybe some yellow raspberries. I wonder if they taste the same as the red ones? I, like most gardeners, am curious about such things.

As I review my growing list of seeds to purchase, I remind myself that it's also too early to plant most seeds indoors.

I could soon start seeds for broccoli, cabbage and other members of the Brassicaceae family, as well as lettuce and spinach, with a plan for setting these cool-weather lovers outdoors quite early. But warm-weather veggies like tomatoes and peppers should not be started until March. They need about eight weeks to grow before they are set out in the garden in mid-May. Start them too early, and the result will be leggy, weak plants.

Looking at my seed catalogs, as well as the Internet, I am reminded of the value of buying seeds and plants that have been raised close to home. They will do better in my garden because they are more used to this climate. Long ago, I learned not to believe grandiose claims for plants from a source I've never heard of before; mostly, they are a big disappointment.

Another thing to do at this time of year is register for the following workshops sponsored by the Jackson County Master Gardeners, all held on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon, and all held at the Oregon State University Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road in Central Point. Workshops are $10 each.

Come dressed for the weather and bring your clippers, as each involves outdoor, hands-on experience. Call 541-776-7371 to register, or for further information.

Feb. 12: Chris Hubert of Quail Run Vineyard will teach about growing grapes in the home garden, including pruning them at this time of year.

Feb. 19: Fruit-tree pruning will be taught by Terry Helfrich, a professional orchardist. This class is geared toward growing fruit trees in your back yard.

March 5: Len Tiernan, master gardener, will teach about rose culture and care, including proper pruning.

Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. E-mail her at

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