The classic house salad employs the color of red tomatoes, green cukes and maybe a slice of purple onion to please the visual palate. But a variety of unusually colorful beets, radishes and carrots can be the root of a salad with true pizzazz. Once you've experienced the rainbow of color available in root crops, your lettuce will never look the same. Beets, carrots and radishes can be planted weeks prior to frost, as soon as soil can be worked, and provide a welcome early-spring harvest. They need a loose, friable soil in the garden, but are also easy to grow in containers in a sunny location. Try the green-skinned, red-fleshed 'Rose Heart' radish, 'Watermelon' (skins are whitish and when sliced or quartered reveal a deep-red heart) or 'Easter Egg', which produces a mixture of skin colors including pink, red, purple and white. Try 'Golden' or 'Touchstone Gold' beets, which have red skins and bright-yellow interiors—great marinated and sliced for salads, and they don't "bleed' like red beets. 'Bull's Blood' is a more traditionally colored red-rooted beet, but it sports reddish-purple leaves that make colorful salad greens. A wide variety of colored carrots exists, including 'Purple Haze', an All-America Selections winner with purple skins and orange centers. It is beautiful sliced, shredded or peeled. Immature ones with their leaves intact make a lovely garnish. The lemon-yellow 'Amarillo' is one of several yellow carrot varieties.
- Tiny seeds such as lettuce and carrots are sometime sold in "pelletized" or "seedball" form, surrounded by a coating that gives individual seeds more bulk and thus makes them easier to handle and to plant. Be aware that the seeds may have been primed in a water-based process that speeds germination. If you tend to save leftover seeds for subsequent years, keep in mind that pelletized seeds may have short-lived viability. Buy only the amount you need for the current season.
- Pansies look cheerful in the garden, but they also dress up a plate. Blossoms of pansies and violas are edible, with a mild flavor that works in entrées, desserts and even beverages. Carefully wash and dry the blossoms before using (Make sure these are from new growth in your garden. Newly purchased pansies may have herbicide or pesticide residue.)
- Continue to provide supplemental water for newly planted and young trees and shrubs throughout the winter. This is especially important this year because of extreme drought conditions in many areas. The best time to water is when air temperature is above freezing. Do not water when ground is covered with snow. Where possible, encircle plantings with a soaker hose attached to a main hose. During freezing weather, be sure to keep the main hose disconnected and flushed of water to prevent hose damage. Remember to continue to comply with any water restriction guidelines in your community.
- Before ordering from a new gardening or seed catalog, investigate the quality and reputation of the company. Ask friends about their experiences with various vendors. A helpful online reference is The Garden Watchdog at http://davesgarden.com/gwd, which allows you to search for information about companies unfamiliar to you. It lists customer reviews of a wide number of vendors and includes a handy Top 30 list of the site's best-rated companies.
- Rake up and remove dropped flowers from the base of camellias when the bloom period is over. This will discourage the spread of camellia flower blight, a fungal disease that produces brown spots on petals.