Felder Column

Published 2:18 pm Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Chomping at the bits for spring? Not me; to paraphrase poet Robert Herrick, “Gather ye daffodils while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying; and this same flower that smiles today tomorrow will be dying.”

So, I found myself sitting on the steps the other day, fresh-picked fragrant jonquils and paperwhites in a vase by my side, savoring a day of warm midwinter sun. But I winced at feeling rising hormones causing a flush of spring fever, which compelled me to want to start planting stuff. And I gave in.

Not that I’m succumbing to temptations to do some chores too early. While I see winter wildflowers as natural blessings, I also know that this is the best month to spray for stickers and other truly bothersome noxious lawn weeds, while they are still small and easier to kill. But fertilizing the lawn early risks late frost damage and root rot; wait till April, after it has greened up and growing new roots. Just say no to weed and feed.

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And though it is weeks too early to sow seed of summer plants like zinnia, peas, beans, and cosmos directly into the ground, I planted onions and Irish potatoes, and three pots of mixed lettuces that can be brought indoors during freezes. Later this month I will set out cabbage, broccoli, cabbage, and seeds of carrots, turnips and more lettuces.

Because a lot of my little winter flowers get beaten up by hard freezes and heavy rains, I visited bored friends working at garden centers and got good deals on leftover winter flowers to set out now; because in the warming days of late winter and spring I get a big color bang out of new pansies, violas, and snapdragons.

It is also time to start little pots of heirloom tomatoes, rare peppers, castor bean, and other warmth-loving summer flowers and vegetables that are better set out as transplants. So, I filled Styrofoam egg cartons and used six-pack plastic pots with premoistened soil mix, sowed the seeds on top, wet them down, and covered with plastic food wrap to trap warmth and humidity. Soon as they sprout, I will set them outdoors in real sun and slight breezes to keep their little stems stocky and sturdy, bringing them in only when temps dip below the mid-40s.

They will be ready to set into the garden as soon as the chances of frost and cold rains have passed, and there is less chance of seeds or transplant roots to rot in cool wet soils. While I usually mulch my summer stuff, I will wait until April for the soil to warm.

Unfortunately, while working up one of my small beds last week I accidentally unearthed a little tortoise that had buried itself for the winter in the compost and chopped leaves I had spread last fall. Cleaned it off to make sure I hadn’t nicked its shell, and quickly buried it again in a safe area, hoping I hadn’t interrupted his hibernal slumber so badly it would not survive the cold we have still coming our way.

Anyway, my working out in the garden every chance I get reminds me that yeah, it’s still winter, with its unique experiences, and will be for well over another month.  But I’m not giving up and waiting for spring. Instead, I’m fully appreciating how we Southerners can dream away indoors when its cold and rainy, but are able to get right out to dig in the winter sun.

As Anton Chekhov put it, “People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.”