PLANT YOUR GARDEN WITH CUES FROM NATURE
Watching the Oldman River watershed come alive with wildflowers is one of my favourite pastimes. Despite our chilly spring this year, the coulees are already dotted with yellow bells and pale purple prairie crocuses, along with petite prairie townsendia daisies and patches of tiny white moss phlox flowers. These four early-blooming native plants launch a parade of beautiful wildflowers that will continue until the first fall frost.
If you're interested in following wildflowers or garden flowers, you might like to participate in Alberta Plantwatch - a program that tracks plants as they break bud in spring (http://plantwatch.naturealberta.ca). It includes native species like prairie crocus, saskatoon and poplar, as well as cultivated plants like the common lilac. For almost three decades, people from all over the province have contributed bloom and leaf date observations that help researchers study how climate affects plants in Alberta.
Since rising temperatures determine when plants bloom and leaf out, and the timing varies year to year, cues from nature can also help you predict the best time to plant your garden. Records show that when saskatoons burst into bloom, temperatures have likely warmed enough to sow carrots, beets and broad beans, and as poplars leaf out, it's time to plant potatoes. One study proved that when the common lilac is in full bloom, green beans can be sown, and by the time lilac flowers fade, it's usually safe to set out squash and cucumber plants.
Even though some garden vegetables require warm temperatures, there's no need to wait until the May holiday weekend to renew your enthusiasm for cultivating the earth. Salad greens like spinach, lettuce, mesclun greens and herbs such as parsley, dill, chervil and cilantro prefer cool weather for germination and growth. It's best to sow these greens as soon as your soil dries out enough to be worked, because heat and long summer days can cause some varieties to bloom prematurely and taste bitter. Late spring snows or cold spells usually don't harm the seeds or sprouts if they are sown directly outdoors.
See my Plants page at www.juneflanagan.ca for more growing tips.
June Flanagan is a Lethbridge botanist, environmental horticulturist and author. She has published five regional books including local gardening guides, Edible Plants for Prairie Gardens and Native Plants for Prairie Gardens, and the newly revised plant guide Common Coulee Plants of Southern Alberta. Find garden tips and what's in bloom - "like" her Facebook Author Page: facebook.com/pages/JuneFlanagan/616537095101785 and follow her on Instagram: www.instagram.com/juneflanagan