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Originally published Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 6:20 AM

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Plant a nice privacy screen; sow cool-season veggies

Garden writer Ciscoe Morris on the attractive evergreen shrub variegated Italian buckthorn (Rhamnus alaternus “Argenteovariegata”) and on sowing cool-season veggies


Special to The Seattle Times

Gardening Events

Ciscoe’s Picks

Meerkerk Rhododendron Specialty Nursery Spring Opening Plant Sale: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, March 22 and 23. 3531 Meerkerk Lane, Greenbank, Whidbey Island (360-678-1912 or www.meerkerkgardens.org).

Backyard Beekeeping 101 and 201 at Seattle Tilth: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, March 22. Register for the morning session ($36) or both sessions ($65). Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Ave. N., Seattle (www.seattletilth.org).

“The A, Bee, C’s of Raising Mason Bees”: Noon -1 p.m. Saturday, March 22. Molbak's, 13625 N.E. 175th St., Woodinville; free (www.molbaks.com).

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In the Garden

If you’re looking for a tough, attractive evergreen shrub that will quickly grow big enough to provide a privacy screen in sun or shade, variegated Italian buckthorn (Rhamnus alaternus “Argenteovariegata”) is a great choice.

Hailing from the Mediterranean, this mammoth shrub has green leaves thickly edged in creamy white, giving it a silvery glow that is exceptionally striking against a dark background. Drought-tolerant as a rock and hardy to about zero degrees, variegated Italian buckthorn is fast-growing, quickly reaching 15 feet tall and wide, yet can be pruned easily to control for size.

It’s also a great wildlife shrub. Bees are highly attracted to the inconspicuous yet pollen-laden flowers that occur in summer, and birds feast on the berries that ripen to black in fall. Additionally, thanks to its Mediterranean heritage, variegated Italian buckthorn is totally immune to salt spray and therefore is a great choice for a windbreak hedge in a seaside garden.

The one place you shouldn’t plant variegated Italian buckthorn is in a windy location where temperatures regularly drop into the teens or colder. Strong winds combined with very cold temperatures can burn the foliage, and the shrub isn’t nearly as attractive if it constantly looks like it’s been hit by a flamethrower!

Sow cool-season veggies soon

It’s important to sow cool-season crops early enough to give them time to mature for harvest before temperatures warm up in late spring. The seed of leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach, mustards and gourmet mesclun salad blends can be sowed directly into the garden as soon as the soil contains about the moisture of a squeezed sponge and soil temperatures remain above 40 degrees.

Most greens take at least 30 days to mature, and remain in prime eating condition for about three weeks. They taste best when air temperatures remain relatively cool. Once temperatures climb into the 80s, most greens become tough and bitter to eat.

Bulbing onions are another cool-season crop that should be planted as early as the soil can be worked. Many of the varieties that do best in our area need time to put on sufficient growth before the summer solstice, or they won’t form a good-sized bulb.

Peas also should be planted as soon as possible. Hot weather, especially if combined with a lack of moisture, can greatly reduce yield and produce much less tasty fruit, which would be almost too depressing to withstand!

Ciscoe Morris: ciscoe@ciscoe.com. “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING 5.



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