Dreaming of spring flowers

The spring catalogs are arriving in droves. One of the first to arrive was High Country Gardens, which focuses on water-efficient plants tolerant of southwest (which includes Northern Nevada) environments.

The colorful flowers on the front caught my interest and brought cheery relief on a cold, gray day. I want one of every new plant, from the Agastache 'Orange Flare' (hybrid licorice mint hyssop) to the Zauschneria garrettii 'Orange Carpet' (creeping hummingbird trumpet), and everything in between, including Helianthus maximiliana 'Santa Fe' (Maximilian's sunflower) and Salvia pachyphylla (giant-flowered purple sage).

I'm also dreaming of tomatoes, herbs and fresh veggies. Gurney's covers those dreams, as well as small fruit, berries, perennials, roses, bulbs and every other plant category. "Johnny's Seeds" has luscious strawberries, fat snow peas, hot peppers and sweet grape tomatoes to tempt me.

"Seeds of Change" is a certified organic grower dedicated to preserving biodiversity and heirloom vegetables, flowers and herbs. They have gourmet greens, such as beetberry, broccoli raab, epazote "Mexican tea" and many more. They sell amaranth, giant groundcherry (a relative of the tomato), burdock and all the common veggies.

With a plethora of garden possibilities, what's a gardener to do? When planning your gardens, consider how much space you have and how much maintenance you want to do.

Make sure the tempting treats you want to plant grow in our climate. Will they withstand hot, dry days, intense sun and desiccating winds? If they will grow here, how many plants of each type do you really need?

Don't plant enough to feed an army if there are only two of you at home. Even though you can donate food to local food pantries, they might not know what to do with bergamot or sorrel.

Be choosy when selecting decorative plants. Too many plants shoved into one small plot may contribute to disease and insect problems. From a design perspective, one of everything can look cluttered and haphazard, rather than attractive.

If you're going to start some seeds indoors, don't start them too early. It is usually recommended to plant seeds only six weeks prior to the date they can be planted outdoors. It is too soon to start tomatoes, which are planted outdoors after the average last frost date of May 15.

But, it is almost time to start sweet peas. Local gardener's lore says St. Paddy's Day is the perfect time to plant them outside.

Enjoy your catalogs and dream away. Maybe it's even time to plan an extensive garden renovation. Circle the items you think you want in the catalogs, and then set the catalogs aside for a few weeks. Revisit your selections, and maybe your garden design demon will have quieted in the interim, leaving you with only sane and practical choices.

For more information, e-mail skellyj@unce.unr.edu or call me at 887-2252. You can "Ask a Master Gardener" by e-mailing mastergardeners@unce.unr.edu or call your local University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office. Check out many useful horticulture publications at www.unce.unr.edu.

• JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

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