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Garden Q&A: About golden groundsel and what’s up with the last frost date

Golden groundsel is a native flowering plant that offers a good option for ground cover. - Original Credit: For The Baltimore Sun
Golden groundsel is a native flowering plant that offers a good option for ground cover. - Original Credit: For The Baltimore Sun(Ellen Nibali / HANDOUT)

My friend offered me seedlings of this plant, which she said seeds itself around freely. I need to know if it is native before it plant it.

Golden groundsel checks off many of the attributes Marylanders are looking for in a native plant — or any plant. Deer don’t eat it. Packera aurea grows in sun to shade. Golden yellow flowers rise in spring on stems 1-2 feet above the heart-shaped foliage, blooming over a long period and attracting butterflies. It prefers moderate to moist soil.

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Where happy, it forms colonies and is evergreen except in the harsher winters, thus a good groundcover. When too happy, it can spread aggressively, but in natural situations that’s just fine. Some suggest it can even out-compete invasive lesser celandine.

What do you estimate our last frost date is this year? It seems like with climate change the weather keeps getting warmer, and the charts I am referencing seem old enough that they could potentially be out of date.

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It is true that our weather is getting warmer. This year, spring “leaf out” (when deciduous leaves emerge) is occurring three to four weeks earlier than the long-term average in some places. That said, climate change makes our weather more unpredictable, so a late freeze is possible. We recommend you still follow the charts based on historical data. Search ‘frost dates’ on the Home and Garden Information Center website.

However, if you want to experiment and push planting a little earlier, just be prepared to cover plants for protection when frost is predicted. Floating row cover is multi-purpose. It can speed up growth like a little greenhouse, yet it also protects from cold.

An old blanket, sheet or glass containers — all can be used for emergency freeze protection. However, these must be removed immediately as soon as it gets sunny and warm or you may parboil your plants. Plastic bottles or jugs with the bottom cut off have one advantage — you can release heat by removing the lid.

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.

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