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Green Lake’s Streetwise Gardener: Almost spring

What do you think? Comments Off January 28, 2011 at 7:54PM

By Erica Browne Grivas

Now I know where the expression “to dampen one’s spirits” comes from.  If this current seemingly endless slog of sog has got you down, it may help to seek out signs of relief – the horticultural light at the end of the tunnel, as it were.

Finding the little signs of spring, like emerging lime suction-cups on euphorbias, or the clusters of rosettes huddling around last season’s sedum stems gives your mind something to do besides curse the clouds. On conifers look for newly formed cones, or growth on tips typically in a paler shade of the mature leaf color.  Try to identify deciduous trees by their bark, the way their branches grow, or the shapes of their buds.  Dogwoods buds look to me like up-stretched alien hands, but that’s just me.

Magnolia buds are like pussy willows on steroids, as fuzzy as a cat’s paw.

Fruits trees can be hard to distinguish this time of year; apples, apricots and plums all have gnarled twisted branches that get knobbier with age. They come by it honestly, since they all share genes of the rose family.  But if you see smooth bark with dark horizontal hatchmarks, like I-ching symbols (called “lenticels” by scientists), you’ve found a cherry tree.

Do you see flaky bark peeling off in strips? Likely a birch tree, if the bark is white, cream or peach-colored. If it’s darker red-orange in color, it’s probably a paperbark maple.

Sycamores, some eucalyptus, parrotia, and lacebark pine flash their flamboyantly spotted camouflage bark this time of year.

OK, bark isn’t everything. Finally, here are some flowers.

In the right site, heathers are some of the toughest, longest blooming plants around.  Some, like Erica carnea (“winter heather”), bloom especially in Green Lake’s darkest hours from November to March .

I haven’t seen any witch hazels (Hammemelis species) around the Green Lake neighborhood yet.  (Please send pics if you know of one!) Ranging from 8-12’ high and blooming January-March with often fragrant tassels warm colors, they make a great winter focal point for a corner of your front yard, or the view from your kitchen window.

Hellebores also take advantage of winter’s lower competition for resources. These on Linden Ave N gave me a great boost the other day.

In front of my house, this is either a confused standard-issue flowering cherry tree, or the autumn-flowering cherry, Prunus s. autumnalis, which blooms – not as profusely, but twice a year in spring and in the off-season.

Last but not least, the one’s everyone’s waiting for – spring bulbs.  Here’s some daffodil action in front of The Fiber Gallery (7000 Greenwood Ave N):

Some Bagley Elementary students are getting a jump start on tulips under grow lights in the entryway. I’m told there has been one bloom already.

But watch out, along with the good guys, crabgrass is already plotting its takeover, getting rootholds in your garden.  My garden has at least a bushel that needs pulling.  At least that’s one good thing about the sog – it makes pulling weeds a lot easier.

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