Last Friday, before the snowstorm blew in, I visited wildlife biologist Russell Link's Whidbey Island garden. I'm writing an "indispensables" column for Pacific Northwest magazine about his favorite plants, and I'd lucked out to walk around his multi-acre garden on a bright sunny morning. With his little terrier Cosmos fending off Bridget's (my wheaten terrier puppy) antics, we strolled past his freshly planted sweep of hedgerow, checked out masses of sword ferns, a golden garden, pond, rushing creek, and orchard. Native, orrnamental and edible plants co-mingle on his wildlife-friendly, bird-rich property. Snag trees, beloved by woodpeckers, hold pride of place. Look for drawings and descriptions of Link's ten indispensable plants, and why he wouldn't garden without them, coming up in May in Pacific Northwest mag...in the meantime you can get a dose of Link's compassionate and knowledgeable pragmitism on how to both attract animals to your garden and how to deal with troublesome creatures, in his two books from University Press: "Landscaping for Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest" and "LIving with Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest".
Below is a snag in Link's garden, well-populated by insects and woodpeckers.
ANSWER: Here's the dilemma with sweet pea timing - if the soil is too cold and wet you risk the seeds or plants rotting or damping off. But if you wait too long to plant, sweet peas won't have enough of the cool weather they need to get off to a vigorous start before warm weather sets in - we can only hope!
The traditional time to plant edible and sweet peas is Washington's birthday - the 22nd of February - but it's so cold this year (It's supposed to get down to 22 degrees tonight in Seattle!!) it wouldn't hurt to wait a few more weeks. The last few springs have been so chilly I haven't put my sweet peas into the ground - seeds or starts - until mid-to-late March, and they've done just fine.
QUESTION: My sister always told me not to cut hydrangea's back after they finish booming, but to wait until the next spring so they will flower that year. When can I do this and how far down are they cut back, as they look horrible now? Thank you!
ANSWER: How much you cut hydrangeas back depends on the kind, but let's assume you're talking about the common, old-fashioned mop-heads or Hydrangea macrophylla. (I say common not because they arne't fabulous and desirable, but because they're the kind you see most often). Anyway, your sister is right that leaving the old flower heads on the plants over the winter helps protect the new buds from cold damage.
The time to prune is soon - usually I'd say mid-March is ideal. But try to put up with their scraggly looks a little longer until we get through this spell of frigid weather. When it warms up a bit, cut the old flower heads off, being careful not to injure the fresh buds below them. On older plants, it's a good idea to cut a quarter or third of the old canes right down to the ground to open the plant up and keep it from getting too twiggy. To learn more about hydrangea pruning, and the best way to deal with types besides mop-heads, turn to the book by local pruning diva "Cass Turnbull's Guide to Pruning: What, When, and Where and How to Prune for a More Beautiful Garden" from Sasquatch Books.