- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2005

It’s just two weeks away, the first day of spring. Depending on the weather, March is not too soon to plant a tree or shrub. Flowers must wait another month or two. Certainly, you’re wasting your time planting annuals before mid-May.

Still, there is much to do in the garden now — primarily redesign and research — while the earliest spring bulbs and wildflowers do their thing.

Some suggestions:

Define your planting beds with graceful, sharp edges. Reshape the beds as needed. For example, if you have existing trees and shrubs dotting the lawn, cut a bed to create an island grouping or include them in a sweeping extension of your foundation planting.

Carefully crafted beds make mowing easier, which is one of the goals of good design. Doing that and filling the lower tier of plants with a border of hardy evergreen ground covers also can eliminate the need to trim edges — or mulch, for that matter — a few years down the road.

Seek drought-resistant plants, selecting them for sun or shade as needed, and you also can eliminate the need for watering. Design your gardens with a combination of evergreens and flowering deciduous plants, with a wave or two of flowering perennials and annuals. Prepare to install them with a nice planting mix of topsoil, compost and organic fertilizer.

Even drought-resistant plants need to be watered their first year. The beds also need to be mulched until the ground covers fill in to create nice, tight masses. Use shredded hardwood mulch, keeping it from touching tree trunks so as not to invite pests.

Garden centers should be filling up now with everything you need to get started.

Come April and May, hundreds of drought-resistant plants will be available in the Washington area. If you’re not sure which they are, ask.

A few I like, depending on where and how they are used, include the American holly, Nellie Stevens holly, blue hollies, flowering cherries, crape myrtles, redbuds, Russian olives, abelias, aucubas, butterfly bushes, kerrias, gold flame spirea, viburnums, sarcococca, ornamental grasses (including miscanthus and calamagrostis), perennials including day lilies, coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, hostas, lily of the valley, sedum, irises, epimedium, Virginia bluebells and helleborus. Among the most drought-resistant annuals are begonias, geraniums, marigolds, flowering tobacco, zinnias, salvia and nasturtium.

Among the activities at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton:

• A sculpture show and sale is under way through April 17 amid the winter-spring display of colorful and fragrant plants in the conservatories. It is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

• The Camellia Society of Potomac Valley is holding a show and sale from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at the visitors center.

• The Friends of Brookside Gardens are having a show and sale of exotic orchids from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 19 and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 20 at the visitors center. For information, call 301/962-1400.

A gardening seminar series continues at Behnke Nurseries’ garden center in Beltsville. The following programs are free, but registration is required. To register or for information, call 301/937-1100.

• World-renowned clematis breeder Raymond Evison will speak at 10 a.m. Saturday on “Queen of the Flowering Vines.”

• Gardening author and editor Carole Otteson will speak at 1 p.m. Saturday on “Healing Herbs,” the subject of her recent book.

• A panel of professionals from Behnke’s staff will discuss their favorite annuals and answer questions from the audience at 10 a.m. Sunday.

• Diane Lewis of Brookside Gardens will speak on “Hardy Ferns for the Mid-Atlantic” at 1 p.m. Sunday.

• Arborists Tim Zastrow and Christopher Larkin of Bartlett Tree Experts will speak at 10 a.m. March 19 on “What’s Going on Down There,” about root systems and maintaining soil health for trees.

• Doug Ford of Jackson & Perkins Roses will speak at 1 p.m. March 19 on the best of the newly introduced roses.

• “All About Easter lilies” is the subject of a discussion by the Behnke staff at 10 a.m. March 20.

• Lisa Bierer-Garrett of the Great Outdoors will speak on hummingbird gardens at 1 p.m. March 20.

• Sara Tangren of Chesapeake Native Nurseries will speak at 10 a.m. March 26 on “Native Plants for the Landscape.”

• Woody plant expert Phil Normandy of Brookside Gardens will speak at 1 p.m. March 26 on his favorite plants for the mid-Atlantic garden.

• John Peter Thompson of Behnke’s will speak on “Invasive Plants: Little Crop of Horrors” at 1 p.m. March 27.

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