Garden Diary - February 2004

Spring is on the way. I see the signs each morning when the sun arrives a little earlier each day, coaxing birds into their first chorus after winter's quiet. The gray squirrel who nests in the tulip poplar outside my study window once again has been busy, bringing soft nesting material into the hollow. Sometimes it is long strips of cedar bark, folded into tidy packages she can carry in her mouth (a good choice for its insect-repelling properties.) Other trips find her bringing a mouthful of dry leaves. And the bark of willows and shrubby dogwoods are brighter tones of golden ochre and scarlet red, sure signs that sap is again on the rise.

If these phenomenological signs of spring's return interest you, then visit Spring's Journey North

Another sure sign are the revolving racks of seeds, twirling displays with colorful packages of beets and beans and vegetables galore, flowers annual and perennial, perused by bemused gardeners eager to get going with the activities of the season. Keep in mind that with few exceptions, most seeds need only a 6 to 8 week jump-start on the outdoor planting season. Here in New Jersey over near the Delaware River, I cannot assume we are reliably frost-free until mid-May. That means tomatoes, zinnias, and other tender annuals should not be started much before mid- to late March. So February is a good time to buy the seeds, scrub old pots and buy new ones, make sure there are adequate supplies of potting soil and seed starter mix on hand and not frozen in the tool shed. If that's all taken care of, pass the time by writing labels. Perusing catalogs can be dangerous - it leads to the purchase of yet more seeds!

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