Snow today – a perfect time to plant seeds outdoors. Yes, really!
Obviously, not just any seed can be sown in snow. The ground is still frozen solid so I can’t easily cover seeds with soil. And cold temperatures are going to rot most seeds before the weather warms enough for them to germinate and grow.
I’m planting poppy seeds. It does seem harsh to sow a flower whose seeds are hardly finer than dust and whose petals are as delicate as fairy shawls. But early sowing is a must, because poppy seedlings thrive during the cool, moist weather of early spring. Covering the seeds with soil? No problem: Poppy seeds sprout best left uncovered. And because poppies don’t transplant well, their seeds are best sown right where the flowers are going to grow.
I’ll be sowing annual poppies, whose petals and leaves are more delicate than those of Oriental poppies. Corn poppy (Papaver rhoeas) once dotted the grain fields of Europe with its blood red flowers. These flowers were immortalized in the poem Flander’s Fields, symbolizing lives lost in World War I. On Memorial and Veteran’s Day, red tissue-paper “corn poppies” are still distributed in memory of wars’ victims. Shirley poppy is a kind of corn poppy that has white lines along the edges of its petals. Corn and Shirley poppies begin blooming shortly after spring-flowering bulbs have finished their show, and continue blooming through July.
California poppy (Eschscholtzis californica) was named in honor of Dr. Eschscholtz, a Russian ship surgeon who found these bright orange flowers blanketing California hillsides. California poppy is a perennial but in our harsh winters must me treated like an annual and sown yearly.
Each winter, it doesn’t seem possible that the dust-like seeds I sprinkle atop the ground’s chilly, white blanket could ever amount to anything. Each spring, I’m amazed to see myriad of ferny poppy leaves, then flowers.
The rest of my flowers get sown in seed flats in the warmth of the greenhouse, or directly in the ground outdoors once the weather warms. In the former category, and already sown, are delphinium, snapdragons, and pansies.
I could have waited and sown delphiniums seeds outdoors. By sowing this early, though, the plants should eke out at least a few blue blossoms this year – nothing as spectacular as next year’s and the following year’s blooms, but at least something. After 3 or 4 years, our summer heat will finally drain the life from the delphiniums and I’ll have to sow seeds anew.
The snaps and pansies germinate slowly and need a long period of time to reach flowering size. Fortunately, they enjoy the still cool temperatures in the greenhouse.
Aphids are beginning to enjoy the greenhouse now also. Thus far, their favorite plants are mustard greens and kale. A burst of water from the hose knocks many aphids off the plants, leaving the insects stunned and unable to recover.
My other tack with the aphids is to press ladybugs into service. Lately, the beloved ladybug has fallen somewhat into disrepute, specifically the Asian ladybug that was introduced for agricultural pest control in southern U.S. and spread as it found conditions here to its liking. Anyone with an older home having poorly sealed, south-facing windows is familiar with the masses of these beetles that inadvertently make their way indoors this time of year.
Enter the dustbuster. On warm, sunny days, I vacuum up the ladybugs, which dizzies them but otherwise does them little harm. In the cool of the evening, I release the ladies into the greenhouse where they’ll hopefully begin feasting on aphids.
Children, adults, teachers, gardeners — anyone interested in learning more about ladybugs and helping to monitor the spread of native and introduced species should check out the website http://www.lostladybugs.org.