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If you're looking for a way to keep spring bloomers blooming, there's an easy way once you have pansies, snapdragons, sweet peas and Iceland poppies in your garden.

These colorful annuals — poppies, especially — love cool weather, but in most of our microclimates they're spirited enough to last into summer if you help them along. Poppies keep coming when you deadhead their faded blooms or frequently collect flowering stems, easily done when there's a passion for fresh bouquets.

Snipping stems stimulates a burst of bloom in annuals, whether flowering or fruiting, as plants seek to replace blossoms and produce seed to propagate their species.

If you have green peas growing in your spring garden, they, too — like flowering annuals — benefit from frequent attention. In this case, it's harvesting instead of deadheading.

Daily picking will keep you in a steady supply of tasty pods or shelling peas as long as the weather stays cool.

If you're planting peas now — either edible types or garden sweet peas (Lathyrus) — take a few extra steps to protect sprouts and young shoots from birds.

Last year's shoots of my Sugar Snap crop seemed incredibly slow to reach a trellis. I checked them regularly, lifted stems, and provided a lower extension on the wire support.

When I realized that birds were pecking off tender growing tips, I belatedly put up netting. It was only a matter of days before the vines shot up, flowered and began producing pods. As soon as the vines toughened up, birds lost interest.

The beauty of bulbs

We're always thrilled to watch colonies of paperwhites and daffodils (Narcissus) slowly spread and bring more flowers to the early spring garden. But as these perky blossoms fade and their foliage begins to yellow and fall, we're not so enamored of what's left behind.

Bulbs bring this minor conflict to our gardens, a challenge particularly for those of us who like neat and tidy planting beds.

As unpleasant as it may appear, the foliage left behind as flowers fade is the secret to next year's bloom. It's crucial to let it stand and not zealously cut it to the ground prematurely.

These narrow, standing leaves must capture enough sun to photosynthesize, produce carbohydrates and build the next flowers that will rise from underground bulbs when spring rolls around again.

There are a few tricks to camouflage bulb foliage. Some gardeners interplant flowering annuals or plant bulbs around the base of shrubs whose arching stems slowly fill out and capture attention.

Some of us twist and tie daffodil leaves — loosely, never in tight, horizontal bundles — using one or two of the leaves themselves as ties. Although this method is often frowned upon, it won't interfere with next year's flowering when done carefully so that all leaves remain exposed to sunlight.

Deadheading won't extend bloom from bulbs but it will channel energy away from seed development and into bulbs where next year's flowers form.

Plants to watch

Spurts of new growth in spring become a serious concern when we shift our focus to invasive plants. Two of the most egregious — English ivy (Hedera helix) and myrtle or periwinkle (Vinca major) — are often found in gardens but have escaped into wildlands and along roadsides.

Both are now considered a thuggish nuisance and are targets for removal throughout Sonoma and neighboring counties. These species extend long stems that root as they grow and become a serious problem when they snuff out native plants that wildlife depends on for food, shelter and nesting.

Even though these groundcovers in your garden might seem innocent enough, small pieces can escape and be washed away into creeksides where they can take hold without our knowledge.

Jail sale

It's time to mark your calendars again for two spring plant sales at Jail Industries, 2254 Ordinance Road off Airport Blvd, just before the gate to the airport, on Saturdays April 14 and May 5, from 9 a.m. to noon.

Thousands of plants raised by inmates are offered from 50 cents to $25. Most are 1-gallons priced at $2.50. Sales benefit the Agriculture Vocational Education Program. Cash and checks only. Drought-tolerant Sonoma Master Gardener Superstars are also available for purchase.

Go to http://www.sonoma-county.org/jailindustries/plantsale.htm for details and information on special appointments to purchase plants.

Rosemary McCreary, a Sonoma County gardener, gardening teacher and author, writes the monthly Homegrown column for The Press Democrat. Write to her at P.O. Box 910, Santa Rosa, 95402; or send fax to 664-9476.