Saturday, April 27, 2013

Spring Finally Here! (We Hope)

We have enjoyed a cool, late spring this year, and that has had multiple effects on gardeners. The bouts of light frost over the past several days have nipped at foliage, but mostly the effect has been to hold back emerging plants and seeds. If you have not put in your spring garden yet, it's now or never. This week is a great time to plant carrots, lettuce, radishes, scallions and spinach. All of these should mature a crop in the next 60 to 70 days, likely before night time temperatures warm enough to encourage bolting. But time is running out.

Old timers recommend waiting until after the dogwood blooms have fallen before planting tomato plants. Very likely, plants set out now will be just fine, but they will not begin growing again until the soil temperature reaches 60 degrees. Besides the dogwood blooms, you can look at the dandelions. When most of them have reached the puffball stage, the soil is warm enough. Another often used rule is to wait until after Mother's Day, which this year is May 12. You could always measure the soil temperature in your garden with a thermometer, but that would not be as much fun as following the traditions.

Our Plant of the Week on "Garden Talk" this morning was Japanese Solomon's seal, Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum.' It was chosen by the Perennial Plant Association as their 2013 Plant of the Year, a designation often given to garden subjects that perform reliably under a variety of conditions and climates. Japanese Solomon's seal certainly fills the bill, as it endures drought, wet, shade, sun and a variety of soil types and still performs without ever becoming invasive. The foliage looks great in the landscape along with ferns, hosta, hellebores and other shade lovers, and even the early shoots are decorative. Find plants at your local independent garden center. They are well-stocked now.

I mentioned the Citico Creek Wilderness in last week's post. Last Thursday, we took a day off from the garden and toured the margin of the wilderness via Citico Road (Forest Service Road 35.1). We accessed the road from Cherohala Skyway at the marked left turn for Indian Boundary campground. From there it is 27 miles, mostly along Citico Creek, to Vonore, TN. The best route is to take Smokey Branch road west from Citico Road, just before the turn to Citico Beach. Smokey Branch becomes White Plains Road before reaching the hamlet of Tariffville, where it intersects with State Route 360. Follow 360 north about 12 miles to Vonore, where you connect with US 411. Turn right on 411 to return to Knoxville. The richest forest cover is between Indian Boundary and the turn at Smokey Branch road. Several unimproved roads snake through the region, all accessible from Citico Road. Most are recommended for four-wheel drive vehicles only.

 From Indian Boundary campground to Double Camp campground, about four miles, the Citico Creek Wilderness area lies just to the east, where the Unicoi Mountains separate it from the Joyce Kilmer Slickrock Wilderness. The latter lies partly in Tennessee and partly in North Carolina. Together, these tracts of rugged mountains harbor biological diversity almost unparalleled anywhere else in the temperate zone.

The photo above shows a typical wildflower and fern display in the lush temperate rainforest along Citico Road. You can see both purple and white phacaelia, five-finger maidenhair ferns and a few cranesbill geraniums. We observed numerous other wildflowers, including Trillium erectum, T. cuneatum and T. leuteum, with a T. grandiflorum here and there. On dry, sunny slopes, usually below a stand of pine trees, we observed fine stands of Viola pedata, birdfoot violet. On rocky slopes in partial sun, the bright red flowers of fire pink, Silene virginica (see image below), stood out like candles. Large, undisturbed stands of plants that require many years to mature, such as trilliums, demonstrate the extent to which the area remains largely unspoiled, despite logging in the previous century and the development of access roads.

Citico Creek is home to numerous fish species, including some rare ones, but it is best known for its trout fishing, being practiced in earnest by several folks that we passed along the way. The road has some big potholes, but we had no trouble negotiating it with a Toyota Corolla. There are multiple turnouts and campgrounds, offering plenty of opportunities to stop and take in the view or shoot some pictures. Camping is allowed in designated campgrounds only. Some are primitive and some have rest rooms and other amenities. There are also plenty of picnic tables. The wildflower show will continue for a couple more weeks, so why not visit this area and understand why it is worth preserving? The round trip from Knoxville is about 175 miles.

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