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In the Garden

Q: How early can I sow the seeds of salad greens and peas in my vegetable garden?

A: I used to believe in the adage that, in the Pacific Northwest, peas should be sowed directly into the garden on President’s Day (the third Monday in February). I changed my mind one year when a surprise snowstorm dumped 6 inches of snow on my garden the day after I spent all day sowing my spring crops.

Needless to say, none of the seedlings emerged to see the light of day. Having said that, it might be worth a try provided your soil is light, fluffy and extremely well-drained. Seeds of peas and salad greens germinate well in soil temperatures as low as 40 degrees as long as the soil is reasonably dry. The seeds will rot, however, if they sit in soggy, cold soil.

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If you’re determined to get an early start, sow the seeds indoors now for transplanting into the garden by early to mid-March. Sow peas by a window in an unheated garage in flats of seed starter soil 1 inch apart and 1¼ inch deep. Transplant the whole wad into the garden when the vines are 2 or 3 inches tall. Thinning is not needed.

Sow salad greens three or four per square inch in your flats. About three weeks after germination occurs, transplant the babies 10 inches apart into the garden. Be prepared to cover the transplants with row-crop cover if freezing weather is forecast.

Q: My burning bush is getting too big for the space it’s in. When is a good time to trim it, and how far can I cut it back without harming it?

A: Euonymus alatus (commonly called burning bush or winged euonymus) is an extremely hardy, practically indestructible shrub, loved for its brilliant red fall color. Nursery tags often underestimate how tall burning bushes can grow, and homeowners are often shocked to learn that the species can exceed 16 feet tall and wide.

If you need to reduce the size of your burning bush, it’s best to do it in winter, while the plant is dormant. Although the general rule of thumb in pruning deciduous shrubs is to avoid removing more than 1/3 of the wood, burning bushes are tolerant of hard pruning, and can be pruned back hard, even to a foot from the ground if necessary.

The goal, however, should be to reduce size while preserving the attractive natural shape. This can be achieved by pruning to short side branches at varying depths within the canopy. At the same time, thin out a few branches that are crowding the interior by cutting back to main stems that will allow light to penetrate to the interior and encourage growth within rather than only at the end of the branches.

Keep in mind that there are dwarf varieties of burning bush available. E. alatus ‘Compacta’ grows to 10 feet, ‘Rudy Haag’ stops at around 5 feet, while the dinker of them all is ‘Little Moses’ maxing out at a whopping 3 feet.

Ciscoe Morris: “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.

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