Ciscoe Morris, Seattle Times garden writer, talks about two new Daphnes that are becoming more available at local nurseries; offer tips on starting tomato plants and cutting back twig dogwoods.

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Two unusual, incredibly beautiful evergreen Daphnes, rarely seen at local nurseries, are becoming more available.

Although lacking in fragrance, when you see the dark purple foliage on Daphne x houtteana, you’ll know why it’s a must-have plant. This compact Daphne features dark-purple leaves all year round. In spring, the new leaves emerge green but quickly turn purple.

Hardy to minus 10 degrees, D. houtteana sailed right through our recent cold Seattle winters with its lovely dark foliage remaining unscathed. Plant this one in full sun for the best dark coloration.

If it’s the classic Daphne odora fragrance you’re after, then Daphne odora ‘Maejima’ is the plant for you. This gorgeous winter-blooming selection of Daphne odora features the same carmine pink, magnificently fragrant flowers as the commonly seen D. odora ‘Aureomarginata.’

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As an added bonus, the leaves are broadly outlined in creamy yellow, making it an especially attractive addition to the garden in all seasons. Hardy to zero degrees, D. ‘Maejima’ does well in both full sun and partial shade. Best of all, unlike the commonly planted D. odora, this one keeps its leaves in cold winters.

Start seeds

under lights

Growing your own tomatoes from seed is fun and it allows you to try unusual varieties not often available at local nurseries. Start your tomatoes from seed indoors six to eight weeks before they’ll be ready to plant in the garden around Mother’s Day.

Nurseries and garden centers usually carry kits that contain everything you need, or you can make your own seed-starting set up by buying a seeding flat equipped with a plastic cover, starter soil, fluorescent grow lights and heating mat. Buy a soil thermometer while you’re at it, because tomato and eggplants germinate best if the soil temperature is around 80 degrees.

Even though you want the soil to be warm, start your seeds in a cool space where air temperatures tend to stay in the 60s. This helps to keep your plants stocky and tough. Plant the seeds ¼ inch deep, water lightly, cover with the plastic dome and keep the fluorescent lights within 2 inches of the plastic cover.

When the first set of true leaves has emerged, transplant into 4-inch pots. Keep your newly transplanted seedlings cool, feed with diluted houseplant fertilizer weekly and give them lots of bright light.

Acclimate the little guys by leaving them outside for increasing periods in the evening for a week before you plant them in the garden.

Time to cut back

twig dogwoods

Most of us grow twig dogwoods because the colorful stems brighten the winter garden. Only the new growth develops the brilliant bark however, so if you want a spectacular winter display (and a much shorter plant) cut the stems back hard, to about 4 inches from the ground every spring. The plant will grow back to 4 or 5 feet tall, and next winter the branches will glow so bright you’ll need sunglasses to look at them.

There are two exceptions: Newly planted dogwoods should be allowed to grow uncut for the first year to allow them to build strength. Also dogwoods growing in the shade tend to be weak growers and cutting them back hard can harm them (I killed mine).

If your plant is in shade and lacks vigor, play it safe and cut back no more than a third of the branches in any given year. You won’t get as many colorful twigs as the ones you cut back hard in full sun, but your plant will survive, and a live plant tends to look a lot better than a dead one.

Ciscoe Morris:; “Gardening with Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING5.

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