Valentine’s Day: A sure sign of spring afoot

By Roger Erpelding
Contributing Writer 

Valentine’s Day is here, and this gardener is mighty pleased to see its arrival. It is flowers, hearts and candy time; in my gardening world, it is also a watershed day.

On February 12, the sun rose at 7:14 a.m. and set at 5:44 p.m. in Des Moines. That means 10.5 hours of daylight, compared to just a little more than nine hours during the Winter Solstice. A sure sign of spring, and a time to change course in the sun room. The tropical plants in this room have been in “survival mode” since last autumn. Time to wake up and transform them.

I am generally an organic gardener more often than not, but I’m far from a purist. For example, I use small houseplant fertilizer spikes on many of the potted plants. I have checked my supply, and it is time for the first feeding. Subsequent feedings will occur around April 1, May 15, July 1 and August 15.

I will also use a systemic approach to my large citrus trees in an effort to thwart aphids and other insects that love enclosed sun room spaces. I have memorized the instructions on the spikes and systemic, and will go accordingly.

As a blind person, I handle a lot of garden tasks by hand only, so organic is the way to go whenever possible. If needed, I will also mix my own soap spray to deal with pests, but so far the citrus trees look good. You can tell by touch if there is a problem. The leaves will become sticky and misshapen. Check them often to minimize damage.

While searching the garage cabinet for fertilizer, I also sorted out metal and wooden marker stakes that I had purchased last year. I have plenty of both. The metal spikes have two flat sides, and are about six inches in length. I purchased them at a gardening seminar in Indianola a couple of years ago. I will make them with perennial plants that will be more permanent. Soon the Braille labels will be affixed to the proper marker, so when the plants arrive all will be ready in this regard. 

The wooden markers, which are about the same size as the metal ones, are available locally. Good thing too, as they are far from permanent and are lucky to last through a single season. The sugar diamond dahlias and white odorata begonias will get the temporary wooden markers, as it is likely they will be a one year event in my garden.

The crocus, daffodils and hyacinths, which I discussed in my last entry continue to flourish. It won’t be long until their bloom will be finished, and I will replace them with other forced bulbs in the sun room that are ready for prime time.

So how do I know which bulbs are which? When they first begin to sprout, about the first of the year or so in most cases, I can tell my touch what is going on. The hyacinths send up a round sprout. As it grows, it becomes somewhat oblong, but the top is still rounded. The tulips send up more of a spike. This spike will lengthen as the plant grows, but the tip will remain pointed. The crocus sprouts are very thin and pointed, almost like a needle. The paperwhites and daffodils are also pointed. However, almost immediately, they develop two flat sides, as their leaves are thin and strap like. The paperwhites develop much faster than the daffodils. The amaryllis have two growing separate features–leaves and buds. The buds are on the outside, are thick and leathery, and are pointed on the tip. As the bud develops, a stem will emerge; it is round and smooth. The leaves are strappy like the daffodils, but are wider. In these matters of identification, experience will be your best teacher. And don’t forget those Braille labels.

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