A perfect midwinter day for planting

Published 3:16 am Saturday, February 25, 2023

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I got down on my gardening knees last week, albeit cautiously with an eye on our fickle weather. It was a perfect midwinter day for planting, so the day got seized. Carpe diem and all that.

As poet Robert Herrick put it nearly four hundred years ago, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a’flying…” I’m not waiting til spring. Gonna garden here and now.

All the winter damage has been cleaned up, with wilted, mushy, split bark, and otherwise not-gonna-make-it plant parts strewn atop my combo compost/leaf-pile bin. Windblown branches and the crispy brown trimmings from my aspidistra (cast iron plant) are in my cache of fire starter material. Roses, figs, and ornamental grasses are pruned, and the used plastic pots and other garden detritus are neatly stacked, all to make room for a tidier spring.

But in spite of how the most popular gardening almanac, written by Northerners who don’t understand out fickle weather at all, say we can plant early, I know it’s a huge gamble to set out tomatoes, peppers, basil, zinnias, and the like, before April. Lotta folks do it, lotta folks succeed, lotta folks end up replanting after root rots, stem blights and other cold rain problems kick in come late March.

I do start a few in pots, left out in real sunshine, humidity, and breezes to develop sturdy, stocky stems. I only bring them in if temps dip below 50, and even then just for the frosty duration. I did have to cover some with hardware cloth to keep the neighbors’ feral cat and the squirrels out of mischief.

But like I wrote earlier, not being the type to let pots or a raised bedful of good bare dirt sit idle during winter months while dreaming of what I will do later, this week I gardened for late winter and spring, not summer. We still have two or three months of fantastic weather for leafy greens like a mix of lettuces, turnips, carrots, onions, kale, broccoli, cabbage, and others that die when it gets hot. I don’t plant them densely, leaving room in between to stick peppers and ‘maters in April.

After lightly working old leaves and mulch into the raised bed soil, I thinly sowed seed of a home-made mesclun – a mix of colorful lettuces including Oakleaf, Ruby Tango, and Black-seeded Simpson plus some kale. Lightly wetted them down to get them started, and am ready to go;  though lettuces are actually sweeter when hit with a light frost, I’m prepared to throw protective blanket over them if we get a freeze.

In my big pots I have pansies, violas, garlic, multiplying onions, daffodils, emerald green cold hardy parsley, and a handful of straggly snapdragons salvaged from a garden center bin. I’m tucking in broccoli for filler, and adding some sticks to make it look like a big flower bouquet.

Speaking of which, I keep my gardening juices going without going outside and planting stuff too crazily early, by arranging flowers and other stuff from the yard in a vases. I have a favorite lime green “Depression glass” vase my great grandmother gave me when I was ten or twelve years old, and all I do is grab a camellia flower or two, stick in a few daffodils, and add gnarly sticks for height. Keeps my mind outdoors, even when the weather guys say stay indoors.

Rather than wring my hands for better weather, I have a midwinter garden that is still very fetching — and when I’m tired of looking at it, I can eat it.


Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to rushingfelder@yahoo.com.