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After harsh winter, gardeners have reason to get down and dirty

Courtesy Chicago Flower Garden Show

Courtesy of Chicago Flower and Garden Show

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When: Saturday through March 23

Where: Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand

Tickets: $5-$17


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Updated: March 11, 2014 8:07PM

During a winter where Chicagoans virtually forgot what the color green looks like, the Chicago Flower & Garden Show is the most gorgeous of spring sights. Starting Saturday, thousands of lovers of all things beautiful will head to Navy Pier’s Festival Hall to adjust their winter eyes on lush greenery and vibrant flowers awaiting all of us this spring.

At least we hope spring keeps up her end of the bargain.

Because according to experts, what gardeners across the Chicago area discover under all this white stuff might not be so gorgeous after all. In fact, it might take a bit more tender loving care to beautify our yards this year. First, we need to get rid of all this darn snow.

“No matter how much we hated it, snow was actually a good thing for everything living in our soil,” explains author and gardening expert Melinda Myers, who will speak at the Chicago Flower & Garden Show on “Green and Easy Gardening: 10 Things You Can Do to Make Going Green Easy, Convenient and Affordable.” “The constant snow cover and extreme cold temperatures insulated and protected our plants and flower beds. After a winter like we have had, many gardeners are left to wonder, ‘Did it all die?’ It’s important not to let your emotions get the best of you. Don’t immediately start pruning and removing. Patience is key.”

So take a deep breath, put on your work gloves and proceed with these spring gardening tips.

Assess the damage

“There are going to be many gardeners horrified this year by how much damage the critters under the snow have caused,” says Myers. “Because there has not been much ‘green’ food around our landscape, rabbits and moles spent the winter tunneling under the snow, chewing on the bark of trees and shrubs.”

Rake your lawn

“Snow mold is a fungus disease that may leave a few dead patches on your lawn,” explains Jennifer Brennan, horticulture expert at Chalet Landscape, Nursery and Garden Center in Wilmette and a featured speaker at this year’s Chicago Flower & Garden Show. “To cure snow mold, apply the early season fertilizer and with the warming temperatures, the lawn will grow out of the problem on its own.”

Check for salt damage

“For areas of the garden that have been exposed to salt run-off or salt spray from streets, apply gypsum, Calcium sulfate, and water well,” she says. “By doing this, the soil gets cleared out before the new plant growth begins.”

Begin the pruning process

“Look for damaged, broken or diseased wood first,” says Brennan. “Crossing branches should be pruned out because they can cause damage when they rub together during wind. This opens up wounds that are entry points for disease or insects.”

Prep the soil

“Popular garden items such as tomatoes and peppers and eggplants need warm soil before we put them out, so it is important to prep the soil,” concludes Myers. “You can even plant them up to a month early by covering the area with plastic harvest guard.”

Once the items on the above list are complete, it’s time for the enjoyable part — planting!

Brennan suggests five new flowers Chicago gardeners should seriously consider planting this spring, most of which have only been introduced to gardeners during the last two years:

Panicum virgatum “Northwind”: A 5- to 6-foot-tall wonderful rigidly upright vertical clumping grass with unique flower panicles.

Hibiscus “Midnight Marvel”: A hardy 4-foot hibiscus that combines deep wine purple and scarlet reds.

Salvia nemorosa “New Dimension Blue”: Perennial salvias have deep blue-violet flowers on deep purple stems and grow to 14 to 18 inches tall when mature.

Carex siderosticha “Snow Cap”: A bright, white accent for part shade to shade that forms a dense, spreading clump of deciduous foliage.

Baptisia “Solar Flare” Prairieblues: A 3- to 4-foot-tall vigorous, shrublike plant with blue-green foliage that likes full to part sunny locations.

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