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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Early blooms have garden clubs playing wait-and-see

By Annie Calovich
The Wichita Eagle

As irises, roses and even peonies bloom in our early spring, I realize I have to take my own temperature when it comes time to deciding when to plant.

Ron Marcum of Dutch’s Greenhouse spoke to a rather frenzied crowd of plant junkies this week at Botanica, and announced that several varieties of hot vegetables and annuals were already sold out. That’s not unheard-of even during a normal spring, but this year knowing that some heat-loving lantanas and tomatoes were being grabbed up in early April hit a little harder.

I realized I didn’t care how warm it had been, and how we’d just passed the average last-frost date for Wichita. As long as clouds are in the sky, a jacket is on my back, and I see a 39 in the nighttime forecast, I’m not in the mood to plant yet.

Extension agent Rebecca McMahon pointed out that as long as soil temperatures are at least 60, warm-season plants such as eggplant, tomatoes and peppers can theoretically be planted. And many people surely have planted at least tomatoes. But any sign of coolness works against my willingness to sink their little warmth-loving roots into the soil. It isn’t warm enough for me yet.

Nonetheless, bloomers continue to confound. Peonies normally bloom in May, and several already are in flower at Botanica. Ditto the roses, which horticulturist Janet Gordon says are bigger than ever. The poor garden clubs that have flower shows scheduled in advance have to play a wait-and-see game. The Wichita Area Iris Club, for example, has three shows every year to display early, tall-bearded and late-season irises. The “early” show usually features small iris varieties along with a few tall-bearded iris. But by the time it rolls around April 29 at Botanica, it’s looking like it will mostly show off tall bearded irises – normally at peak bloom over Mother’s Day, the club’s Sherryl Fitzpatrick said. “We will have to see if this early trend of iris bloom continues, to know what we will do for the other shows,” she said. Beardless irises usually flower two weeks after the tall bearded.

“I keep track of my bloom dates, and the daffodils and iris are blooming about 20 days earlier this year than last year,” Sherryl said.

As I cool my heels sniffing every iris and rose I encounter these days of mid-April, I listen to Ron of Dutch’s give these tips and observations:

•  Pea-pod green and Tangerine Tango are the hot colors in the garden world. I have to admit that orange has become my new favorite color, threatening to supplant pink. I almost even bought some orange sandals the other day. Orange plants are flying off the shelves, Ron said. People attending his lunchtime lecture gobbled up the green Wasabi coleus plants that Ron had brought along.

•  Coleuses that have big leaves will be bigger plants, while those with small leaves will be half or a third as big.

•  Dreamland zinnias are no longer available this season, because of a seed-crop failure.

•  Keep flowers of perennials deadheaded to produce more flowers.

•  Trailing vinca has become popular to spill out over the edge of a pot or planted every two feet as a ground cover.

•  While potting soil has become more expensive, don’t turn to filling in the bottoms of big pots with non-organic material such as shipping peanuts. Instead, use bark chunks in the bottom if you must. And don’t worry about replacing all of the potting soil in a pot from last year. Get rid of some of the old and add some new.

Reach Annie Calovich at 316-268-6596 or

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