Gardening Events

Ciscoe’s Pick

‘Romance Blossoms,’ 2015 Northwest Flower & Garden Show: 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Feb. 11-14, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Feb. 15. Display gardens, marketplace and seminars (Ciscoe Morris speaks Feb. 13 and 14). Washington State Convention Center, Seventh St. and Pike St., Seattle; $22 general admission (group, half-day and early-bird discounts), $5 ages 13-17, age 12 and under free (

In the Garden

Q: On one of your shows you talked about the sweetbox. I planted one about two years ago and I loved it because it smelled so good. It was in bloom when I bought it and it has not bloomed since. What do I need to do to get it to bloom?

A: It’s hard not to love Sarcococca (commonly known as sweetbox). Two highly attractive species of this easy, drought-tolerant member of the boxwood family are generally available at local nurseries. S. ruscifolia forms an upright bushy shrub that can reach 4- to 5-feet-tall, while S. hookeriana humilus rarely exceeds 1 ½- feet-tall and spreads by underground runners, making it a great ground cover for dry shade. Both sport dark-green leaves and have attractive berries. Of course, the crowning feature of these attractive shrubs has to be the small but powerfully scented flowers that attract hummingbirds and fill the winter garden with delicious fragrance for weeks after they open in January. As long as you haven’t been pruning your sweetbox down hard, it’s most likely that it isn’t blooming because it is too young. Despite the best efforts of the nursery employees, shrubs and trees in nursery pots often are a bit rootbound or stressed in some way. Stressed plants in nursery pots often bloom earlier than they normally would in order to create seed, just in case the worst happens. We bring them home, plant them in perfect conditions, and they realize they’re in good shape and there really isn’t any hurry to create offspring after all. Your Sarcococca will undoubtedly flower abundantly in a couple of years after it matures, but if you want to hurry the process along try stressing the plant a bit by holding back on watering next summer. It’s often the case that a little tough love is the key to persuading a reluctant bloomer to start flowering again.

Q: My backyard in Redmond is south-facing with minimal sunlight due to the shade of bordering trees. Heavy rains beat the heck out of the grass, creating a muddy mess. Any suggestions for this spring?

A: I suspect that even the Mariner’s head groundskeeper couldn’t grow a lawn in the conditions you’ve described. Grass isn’t suitable for shade and wet conditions, so unless you want to spend horrendous amounts of money and effort in a losing cause, I recommend you replace the lawn with a shade garden. There are two ways you can rid the area of the grass. The first, sheet mulching, requires less effort but takes significant time before you can replant. To do this, cover the lawn with a thick layer of newspapers, or cardboard, overlapping so that no open space remains. Immediately cover the newspaper or cardboard with a 6-inch layer of compost. Do the sheet mulching as soon as possible so that the grass will have died out by fall, just in time to plant. Cut holes in the newspaper or cardboard and plant right through the mulch. If you prefer to plant sooner, wait until we get some dry weather in March or April, rent a sod cutter and use it to remove the grass, which can then be recycled. That has the added advantage of allowing you to amend the soil by using a rototiller to work in a 2-inch layer of compost 6 inches deep. Weeds are rarely a problem in shade, so your shade garden should be low maintenance. Best of all, there are all sorts of incredibly attractive shade loving trees, shrubs and perennials available at local nurseries, plant sales and online, so planting up your new shade garden will be the fun part of the job.

Ciscoe Morris: “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs weekly on KING 5; check local listings.

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