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Mon, Sept. 16

Early spring means we're running out of time

Courtesy photo<br>Free gardening classes begin for another year next Saturday.

Courtesy photo<br>Free gardening classes begin for another year next Saturday.

Have you noticed the flower buds swelling on fruit trees? I was grateful to see that snow shower this week just to stave off their growth. We really don't want to see fruit trees bloom until the middle of March or the blossoms can be damaged by frost.

If you're still thinking about putting in a fruit tree, grape or berry plant, you are running out of the optimal planting season. The ideal window for planting, especially fruit trees, is before the spring bloom. Normally this is by the end of March, but it looks like spring might be early this year. Earlier planting is better than waiting if you want a real chance of having fruit this year.

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Two months ago, just before that nasty storm hit, I dedicated a column to planting wildflowers. If seed had been sown back then, new seedlings already would be showing some growth. Now that the weather has turned nice, I decided that another reminder of the best planting technique and seed types was apropos. It's not too late to plant wildflowers, but for best germination this year you do need to get these wild seeds into the ground by the end of February.

The high country of Arizona has the perfect climate for wildflowers, but there are a few secrets to successful sowing. First has to do with the seed mix. 'Beauty Beyond Belief' is the seed of choice for wildflower purists. It is the best collection of truly wild seeds collected throughout the Rocky Mountains for use at high elevations. This family business is so helpful to local garden centers that, by working together, we were able to develop an 'Arizona Mix' of wildflowers. This mix is my favorite of the dozens of good local wildflower mixes I sell.

There are four simple steps that really make a difference between wildflower success and failure. Here are the specific planting techniques that I count on to guarantee breath-taking crops of wildflowers:

Step 1: Select and prepare the planting area. Wildflowers, except those that are shade loving, need a considerable amount of sunshine so choose an area that receives at least six hours of sunlight daily.

Planting in weed-free soil assures optimal results so pull out any growth you don't want mixed in with your wildflowers. Then rake the seedbed to loosen the top 1"- 2" inches of soil. I find that better growth occurs when a natural plant food is raked into the seedbed when loosening the topsoil. My 'All Purpose Plant Food' is well suited for this use. It releases slowly throughout the spring and is exactly what's needed during the germination period because slow regular feeding creates healthier roots and better flowers.

Step 2: Create your own hydro mulch. Some of the seeds in a mix are so small you can barely tell if you've spread the seeds evenly across your planting area. Buy a bag of composted mulch, pour it into a wheelbarrow and mix in the seed. Spread this seed-mulch blend over the prepared seedbed. This simple trick helps you see where the seed is placed, ensures good seed to soil contact, insulates the seed and camouflages it from hungry birds.

Step 3: Keep the seedbed moist. If sufficient moisture is present, seeds will start to germinate by the end of February and on through April, as soon as soil temperatures warm. Regardless of planting location, your wildflowers will require supplemental water if it doesn't rain enough to keep the seedbed moist. A layer of snow over your seedbed is perfect for wildflowers. It maximizes germination every time without extra watering.

Step 4: Re-seed. In the fall, after the blooms are off and the seed heads are ready to drop, you can help spread your wildflowers for the following spring.

Just trim back the drying plants with a weed whacker. Besides pruning back the flowerbed, this will send a mixture of seeds flying throughout the garden for next season's growth!

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Garden classes are another sure sign that spring is just around the corner. For the past 20 years I've held free garden classes under the greenhouse glass at the garden center. If you ever want some spring gardening inspiration, take a garden class in the middle of a greenhouse packed with plants. The earthy smells alone will inspire even the novice gardener. Join in the garden fun with these free interactive classes.

This spring's entire class schedule has been posted under the events tab on my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/watters1815?sk=events. Classes are every Saturday at 9:30 a.m. and last for about an hour depending on participants' enthusiasm. On Feb. 4, I kick off our sessions with "Healthy Happy Plants Indoors," followed by "Wildflowers Unleashed" on Feb. 11. These free interactive classes are a lot of fun. Bring your cup of coffee or tea, and if arriving late you might carry in a chair. Note: To become teacher's pet just bring along an extra latte for that week's professors.

Until next week, I'll see you at the garden center.

Throughout the week, Ken can be found at Watters Garden Center located at 1815 W. Iron Springs Road, Prescott, or visit www.wattersonline.com.

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