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Spring planting arrives

Sherry Mays

Spring is back. At least for a little while, and area gardening specialists are offering advice to residents eager to color their lives with beautiful gardens, lawns and shrubbery.

“There are so many things that people can do now,” said Eric Larusson, co-owner of the Villager Nursery. “Now’s the time to begin.”

Larusson said residents, including himself, are getting anxious for color now that the snows are melting. He said building planters and flower beds, and planting flowers in pots are some options to take while waiting for the ground to thaw.

“This is the perfect time to ‘hardscape,'” he said. “Working with design now will save time later when planting is a priority.”

Hardscaping refers to design and construction of raised planting beds. Construction materials range from rock to railroad ties. Larusson said building rock walls is satisfying work.

“It still feels good to be outside,” he said. “Get out and shovel the snow from the lawn. Get the green started.”

Resident Sal Bulkley, who earned a master gardener title through the University of Nevada, Reno, agreed with Larusson and said pruning winter damage helps.

“Whatever is brown can be trimmed,” she said. “Clip, don’t pull.”

Bulkley said trimming is better than pulling because when soil is moist there is a chance a bulb might be torn from the ground. Weeds, on the other hand, can be pulled, but she said knowing what’s a weed and what’s a flower might be difficult if this is an already existing garden.

Soil is the next step. Larusson said professionals preach the “dirt first” theory. He said without good soil, nothing will grow.

“Things will grow at first,” he said. “But it won’t be long before the soil is useless and nothing blooms.”

Experimenting with composted materials and fertilizers can take time, but it is worth the wait for successful gardens.

“We are located at the top of the Sierra,” Larusson said. “Thanks to granite, wind and low humidity our soils aren’t great like in the foothills, where our soils are collected through time. We need to create our own topsoils.”

Composting can make all the difference in a garden, according to Larusson. He said raking pine needles, pine cones and other “green” materials into a pile and covering it with manure and food scraps is the first steps to creating great topsoil.

The compost must be aerated to help produce rich materials, so Larusson suggests turning over the compost heap often.

If space and time constraints do not allow for composting, Larusson said buying quality “mature manure” is the next best thing.

“Your own compost is the best,” he said. “It’s difficult to find quality manufactured compost.”

He said manure can be salty and will sometimes cause the opposite effect desired.

“If you have to use steer manure don’t use it all the time,” he said.

Topsoil is also important and local purveyors of soil are the best.

“Make sure the soil is well-draining,” he said. “Most of our soil is, but some residents might find their soil more like clay. Clay-type soils need drainage.”

Using a layer of sand or small rocks can do the trick.

Preparing lawns is similar. Giving lawns a dose of aeration, either through raking or pulling soil plugs, then top dressing it with compost or manure is the best plan.

“I’ve talked with the residents with the best lawns in town,” Larusson said. “They all agree aerating and top dressing each year gives them the best results. A light layer of compost or manure every spring is all it takes.”

For true color, nothing beats flowers, and areas of sun and shade will determine what can be planted in these areas.

“Sometimes it is a good idea to wait a year before planting bulbs or designing gardens,” he said. “Take photos of areas that melt first, receive all-day sunshine, or never get sun. There will be special needs for certain plants.”

He said shady areas are the easiest to plan. Using planter boxes for annual species of flowers are the best.

“Annuals offer quick color that lasts all summer,” he said. “They are like ‘go for it and party till you die’ flowers. They keep blooming all summer.”

Planters offer a chance for flowers to be brought in when frost threatens. Perennial flowers, known also as “bulbs,” can be planted in boxes, as well as in the ground.

Larusson’s favorite perennials include:

— Sweet woodruff – a ground-covering flower that blooms with small white flowers.

— Crocus – small tulip-like flowers in a variety of colors.

— Violets – with glossy, heart-shaped leaves.

— Showy bleeding heart.

— Meadow rue – grow above 4- feet tall with lacy blooms.

— Monkshood – although poisonous, are beautiful for late blooms.

For sunny areas, Larusson suggests crocus, iris, creeping phlox, candy tuft, violas, pansies and primrose.

“I want to change the name of ‘pansies’ to ‘toughies,'” he said. “Pansies can withstand some of the worst frosts.”

Bulkley said johnnie-jump-ups are good for quick color. She said wildflowers also work in sunny areas. Planting wildflower seed is best in the fall, but can be done in the spring.

In the spring, Bulkley suggests planting wildflowers in the following manner:

— Scratch the soil to loosen.

— Scatter the seeds.

— Apply a thin layer of top soil.

— Keep the soil moist by watering often.

“Wildflowers are a nice investment with time,” she said. “I’ve had the best success with ‘Eric’s Wildflower Mix’ available at the Villager.”

In addition to planting beds and planters, herb pots and geraniums can also add an early bit of color to landscapes. Larusson said these pots can easily be brought in when late spring temperatures drop.

Bulkley said if residents are getting anxious to do yard work, there will be an opportunity to help clean up the gardens at the Truckee Library.

From 1 to 3 p.m. on April 28, gardeners will be working around the library and will be available for question answering.

“It will be some fun, informal work,” she said.

Sierra Sun E-mail: sun@tahoe.com

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