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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gardening: Signs of spring come early

Pat Munts Correspondent

I don’t quite know what to think of the blooming dandelion I found in my garden on President’s Day. Part of me was excited to encounter a touch of early spring. The other part of me said I was already behind on the spring chores. On further looking, I also found blooming hellebores and a witch hazel tree.

So, what does spring have in store for us this year? The long-range forecast calls for a little bit of dryness for late winter followed by average rainfall and temperatures into June. The summer is still a bit sketchy but I haven’t seen any prognostications of the return of last summer’s heat. That doesn’t bode well for my second attempt at growing sweet potatoes.

There are some learning opportunities coming up in the area you might want to take advantage of. The Spokane Conservation District still has room in its annual Backyard Stewardship workshop. Participants will learn about using native plants in landscaping, improving pollinator habitat, composting and soil management, to name a few topics. The class runs 5 to 7:30 p.m. Mondays, March 7, 14, 21, 28. Cost is $25 per person. Register at www.sccd.org or by calling (509) 535-7274. Veteran scholarships are available.

Friday is the last day to register for the WSU Master Gardener Cabin Fever symposium to be March 12 at the CenterPlace Regional Event Center in Spokane Valley. Workshop topics include using biochar as a soil amendment, designing a naturalized landscape, creating pollinator habitat and alternatives to lawn. Register at the Master Gardener Foundation website www.mgfsc.org. Cost is $75 and includes lunch.

At last check, my soil was still too wet to dig in. Instead, I am moving several small conifers and shrubs around while they are still dormant. Last fall’s storm and the snow bent over a small pine such that it is going to need a little help for a few years to regain its balance. I plan to drive a metal T-post in and then gently tie the tree up to it using some pieces of old soaker hose threaded with string. The soaker hose protects the trunk from being scuffed up.

Instead of completely clearing out the dead plants and other detritus from my flower beds, I am continuing my effort to garden a little more naturally by either leaving the dead leaves and needles in the beds or raking them out and then shredding the material before returning it to the beds. Over time, the soil critters will break it all down releasing nutrients while providing a home for worms and other useful soil microbes. It also helps smother weeds and retain soil moisture.

The robins have returned and the rest of the spring birds aren’t far behind. To help them build cozy nests, we are hanging out dryer lint, cat fur and fibers left over from sewing projects in a mesh bag for the birds to use as nesting material.

Pat Munts is the co-author of “Northwest Gardener’s Handbook” with Susan Mulvihill. Munts, a Master Gardener, has gardened in Spokane Valley for more than 35 years. She can be reached at pat@ inlandnwgardening.com.

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