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Rodd Moesel, Plant world is oblivious to coronavirus

We humans have been altering our schedules and behavior to avoid and beat the COVID-19 virus, but nature doesn’t know about this crisis in the plant world, and the seasons keep on advancing on their schedule.

The redbuds are spectacular in their various shades of pink, red and purple. It is easy to see why our forefathers made it the state tree as it blossoms across the native and planted landscape. What joy it must have delivered as the redbuds announced spring after a hard winter.

Today we have many improved varieties from which to choose. If you have room for a small tree on your property, you many want to select and plant a redbud to be your colorful spring alarm clock. The purple wisterias are cascading over fences, arbors, trees and homes.

Camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas all are showing color and starting their annual flower show. These three do best on the north or east side of the house or in a protected microclimate, but their spring flower show makes the effort to find the right location worthwhile.

Irises were one of Grandma and Grandpa’s favorite flowers, and many properties have plantings that go back decades or even generations. They are grown from iris bulbs, crowns, or you can buy container-grown iris to establish your own tradition. They will come back year after year to make the impressive display of royal bearded flowers against their plain strap or flag type foliage. They are available in most every color and exciting combinations of colors you can only imagine.

Creeping phlox is a mat of solid color in pinks and purple dotted across flowerbeds and is also a perennial that comes back year after year but must be grown in a well-drained location.

With lots of worry and concern about being quarantined at home and having regular access to fresh food, the interest in vegetable and herb gardening is the highest in many years. Interest is so high that many parts of the country are experiencing shortages of some vegetable seeds. Most folks start squash, okra, beans, corn and other easy vegetables from seed right in their garden or raised beds, and you can start your own tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant from seed.

Most buy vegetable transplants at your local nursery or garden center to get a head start on your crop and to reduce the days to harvest. Our last average freeze date is April 7 in Oklahoma City, but as I write this, the lowest predicted temperature on the 10-day forecast is 39 F. Many folks are planting and hoping to get an early start even before our April 15 “safe planting date.” Be prepared to cover early plantings with Hot Kaps, milk jugs, wall-o-water, row covers or sheets if another frost is added to the weather schedule.

It seems we are more appreciative of our outside time as we practice “social distancing” and are out of our normal routines. Many folks are spending part of this new unexpected home time to get outside and work in the yard from planting to cleaning, from fertilizing to adding new trees, shrubs or hedges.

Most everyone working in their yard wants to add color annuals to create the splash in your yard and landscape. The more daring gardeners are going ahead and planting tender annuals and will plan to cover them if another frost is coming. The cautious gardeners will concentrate on trees, shrubs, perennials and cool-season crops until mid-April and then plant away on summer annuals.

Everyone should wait until early May when night temperatures are warmer to plant periwinkle, caladiums, sweet potatoes and the like that are real hot-blooded crops.

Time in the garden is good for you physically, mentally and uplifting for your spirit and soul. Get outside and soak up some sun while you get exercise. Lots of local growers and garden centers have all their savings and borrowed funds on the line to raise their crops for you to plant at this time of year. Visit the local grower or garden center of your choice and help them find new homes for their crops while you raise the food and flowers to feed your tummy and your spirit.

Rodd Moesel serves as president of Oklahoma Farm Bureau and was inducted into the Oklahoma Agriculture Hall of Fame. Email garden and landscape questions to