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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Spring’s grab bag

Lots of bright, rare blooms despite weather ups, tree downs

By Annie Calovich
The Wichita Eagle

As I was shopping for annuals this week, my candy-stripe-loving self ran headlong into my must-plant-for-butterflies self.

I started down my predictable checklist of: craziest coleus, latest calibrachoa (Million Bells), loudest hibiscus, anything chartreuse for contrast, etc., etc.

Then I reminded myself of my goal, running two years now, to plant for fragrance and pollinators, often the same goal. I looked at my selections. Fail, fail, fail. Cute, but no cigar smell.

But I couldn’t put them all back. I have to find a way to make it all work. By the time I get to all the garden centers, I’ll have enough plants to cover several goals — and at least two houses.

This week also brought a brief heat wave all the way into the 90s, with a forecasted boomerang back to the 60s. I think all gardeners are waiting on some kind of pattern while being in awe of the grab bag.

Extension agent Rebecca McMahon said she thinks it’s fine to plant most early-May vegetables, including tomatoes, but she’d still wait for more warmth before putting in peppers, melons, pumpkins, some squashes and basil.

Amid all the spring lushness, some plants are coming out of dormancy oddly, Rebecca says. Some people have been noting problems with some trees being slow to leaf out, including Jason Griffin, director of K-State’s horticulture research station in Haysville. And K-State says it’s received reports of trees in many areas of the state being slow to leaf out, losing branches or not leafing out at all.

While weather stress somewhere along the line – or everywhere along the line – is generally to blame, Jason has a theory about the slow leafing out of trees that fits in with the particular weirdness of this year.

“I think it’s because we had such a mild winter,” he says. “I don’t think we got enough cold. Trees we grow here need a certain chilling requirement – below 40 and above zero – to break bud." (See the Gardener’s Almanac on Page 2C for more discussion of tree stress.)

One tree that is confounding the laws of nature is a golden chain tree in bloom in Wanda Schneider’s backyard in northwest Wichita. The tree is not to be confused with the golden rain tree, common here. No, this golden chain tree is seen dangling its wisteria-like yellow flowers only in the pages of magazines in these parts.

"It shouldn’t be surviving," Jason says bluntly. "It’s amazing that it is. It would definitely prefer Boston or Maine. It just won’t take the heat. It must be well-protected."

It is. Wanda bought her golden chain tree (Laburnum) from Arnold’s Greenhouse in LeRoy when they carried it about five years ago, and she planted it on the north side of the house to avoid hot summer winds and give it afternoon shade. It was about 5 feet tall, and in three years it had grown to the top of her garage. She decided to cut it back last year so it would grow round, fat and wide — the way it’s usually pictured in magazines. She lopped 6 feet off of it. The result? “It has been blooming for three years, but this year it is really full.” She thinks it’s supposed to live about 15 years. Let’s remember to check back in 10.

A flower that is more common than the golden chain but not seen nearly enough for my taste is the Oriental orange poppy. I remember planting them from pots once ... and that’s the end of the memory. But they are one of the many flowers – roses, anyone? – loving 2012 and are blooming in big numbers in the Haysville yard of Pat Maechtlen. Pat has been growing the poppies for 30 years but has had numerous setbacks along the way. But this year? You guessed it.

“They just exploded. I’ve got them in every bed. This year they came up everywhere. The poppies started opening April 3, about two weeks early. … I guess all the weather was just right this year.”

The poppies in 2012’s hot color were so thick they even developed a bit of a fungus for the first time, but a fungicide took care of it, and opening up the garden to more air circulation is helping, too, Pat said.

Poppies are very hard to start from seed — Pat has never had any luck at it — and, because they spread by underground runners, transplanting them is “almost like trying to replant a weed — they’re hard to start.” One trick she has learned is that when they come up between the iris or some other plant, “if you move the whole thing, the iris and the poppy, they do OK.”

“One other problem is when they first come up they look like a dandelion; they have the same leaf. I think probably they get sprayed or pulled up. I’ve been careful to study the differences.”

Pat tries to spread the poppy love, but they won’t cooperate.

“I give so many away — dozens and dozens of roots and seeds. Only one person has been successful. It took me about 10 years. I went out every year; I dug them up, I got seeds. I just kept trying till finally something happened.”

Ah, the wonder of the mysteries of nature. No one ever knows for sure what that “something” really is.

Reach Annie Calovich at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com.

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