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Not surprisingly, the weeks of rain and cold with a couple of late frosts thrown in have set flower and vegetable garden lovers behind, local experts say.

"I've had people come in and say that last year they had a lot of this done already," said Patti Backus, who along with her husband Michael owns the Prospect Hill Garden Center, 19305 W. National Ave., New Berlin.

Also, the ground has been so cold that perennials have been slow to come up, she said. "People are coming in thinking they're dead," Backus said.

Actually, perennials like cold springs better than warm ones, said Shelly Garbe, co-owner and operator of Shady Acres Perennial Nursery, 5725 S. Martin Road, New Berlin. A warm sunny spring encourages perennials to grow tall and a bit lanky, she said.

 

Black spot

It's not just the perennials that affected by the rain and general nastiness earlier this month. The leaves on some plants have developed black spots, said horticulture expert Kae DonLevy, with Poplar Creek Gardens, 16980 W. National Ave., New Berlin, though the issue isn't serious.

"That will go away. It doesn't like the heat and sun," she said.

If homeowners want to hasten their departure, they can always squirt the affected leaves with soap, water and a little vinegar, DonLevy said. She recommends the organic approach when possible so as not to kill bees and other insects needed to pollinate flowers and vegetables.

If perennial leaves turn black or are wilted from this unfriendly spring, they can be snipped off with no harm to the plant, Garbe of Shady Acres said.

As of last week, Mike Backus at Prospect Hill estimated gardeners are seven to 10 days behind.

"Planting is definitely delayed," agreed DonLevy.

Better times

But with more congenial weather blowing in this week, all that drear could soon be a memory.

The experts are betting that the soil is becoming tillable so that gardeners can start planting the hardier flowers and vegetables. They advise waiting until nighttime temperatures are at least 45 degrees.

In the land of flowers, the hardy souls are generally geraniums, petunias, cold weather daisies, snap dragons and marigolds, they said. The hardiest vegetables include those grown from seed, kohlrabi, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, the experts advised.

Gardeners might want to hold off on more tender plants such as coleus, impatiens, potato vine and maybe even begonias, they said. Similarly, tomatoes and peppers like it warmer, too. It may warm up enough to plant these more tender folks by Memorial Day, used as the traditional rule of thumb for safe planting.

People can tell if their soil is dry enough for planting by taking a handful and rolling it into a ball. If you stick your finger in it, the soil should crumble, Mike Backus at Prospect Hill said.

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