Margaret Lauterbach

Flowers are starting to unfurl, but don’t prune your roses yet

Dig In video series: Aphids are tiny vampires in your garden

That sticky icky stuff on your rose plant leaves? It's probably aphids. In this 6th installment of the Dig In gardening video series, Master Gardener Debbie Courson Smith shows us how to battle the bugs.
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That sticky icky stuff on your rose plant leaves? It's probably aphids. In this 6th installment of the Dig In gardening video series, Master Gardener Debbie Courson Smith shows us how to battle the bugs.

It’s really difficult to work up enthusiasm over the main flowers of this season — snowdrops — since they’re the boring white color we’ve seen too much of this winter. Close on their heels are cheerful yellow blossoms of winter aconite. Lenten roses, or hellebores, are even more colorful, and they’re coming right along. If you have the type of hellebore whose blossoms face down, you won’t see much of their color. If you haven’t trimmed back last year’s hellebore foliage, do it now.

Hellebores come in shades of purple, pink, red, yellow, green and white sepals, not really petals. The double flowers, being heavier, are more pendant than the singles. I think the purple is the most common blossom color, and that’s the color of blossoms on all three of my hellebores. They can self-seed, but have not in my shade garden, perhaps needing more moisture than they receive here.

Those varieties that bloomed earlier in winter are popularly known as “Christmas roses.” The blossoms are long-lived, and if you’d rather look at them than have them face Mother Earth, cut them with a half-inch of stem and float them in a bowl on your dining table. I’d change the water every day, but it should provide you with a winter “pick-me-up” for at least several days.

Some folks are growing them in containers indoors, so placing on a high surface lets humans see the blossoms as they expand.

Crocus blossoms are early and colorful, IF squirrels spare them long enough to let them bloom. I’m surprised that I do have surviving species tulips poking through the mulch. Squirrels haven’t found those yet.

On the subject of indoor blossoms, you can force forsythia or other spring blossoms by cutting now, putting in a vase with very warm water (hotter than lukewarm), and changing the water every day. In this manner you can also force fragrant blossoms of fruit trees that you’ve just pruned.

Hold off a bit on pruning your roses for a few weeks. Our winter was tough, down to minus 11 degrees F., even though we had a long-lasting blanket of snow protecting vulnerable roots. If your roses were winterkilled, canes would be black, and scratching with fingernail would reveal dry black wood. If scratching reveals red moisture, your rose likely has the pseudomonas syringae variation blight that’s been destroying our roses the past few years.

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Leeks do not always overwinter reliably in our valley, but Stella Schneider found her Carantan leeks, although outer leaves were moldy, the center section remained firm and delicious through this hard winter. Pinetree Seeds describes this variety as “exceptionally hardy,” but hardiness may have been helped by the snow blanket. Researchers haven’t often compared temperatures under snow with the air above, but one study showed a 25 degree difference, that much warmer under the snow than the air temperature.

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If you’re starting seeds indoors, the biggest enemy of seedlings is a fungus called “damping off.” Evidence of that is a seedling’s pinching shut at soil line, and the seedling keeling over and dying. It can be prevented by sprinkling cinnamon on the soil, watering with chamomile tea or using a chemical fungicide rated to prevent or stop damping off disease.

If seedlings arise too densely for easy prying apart, use manicure scissors or other small scissors to cut paths between bunches of seedlings. Deprived of primary leaves by the cutting, the seedlings will die, giving the survivors more room for root growth.

I confess I became impatient at the prolonged snow cover, and started seeds early. Now I’m losing several tender seedlings to breaking because of legginess and entwining with neighbors. Planting seeds did help my mood, though.

Send garden questions to or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.

More gardening stories inside

Spring is around the corner —and it’s time to think gardening! Today’s Explore section is devoted to inspiring you to get started on your green dreams for 2017. We will also feature extra gardening content in the Explore sections next Saturday, March 18, and Saturday, March 25.

Inside today on page 3C, you’ll find your “pull-out and save” to-do list to help guide your outdoor chores.

You’ll also find tips on page 6C from Idaho Botanical Garden horticulturist Daniel Murphy on how to use flower power to help the bees — and our ecosystem. Plus, learn about upcoming garden-related shows and other local gardening resources on page 5C and see a gardening glossary on page 7C. Happy gardening!