What a winter it has been. Lots of snow, the occasional ice storm, warm ups, sleet – we had it all this time. What has made it especially bad on our plants was the unseasonably warm weather in February followed by all that snow in March. The poor plants don’t know what to do. All of that late cold weather has a lot of our best early-blooming plants (like Texas columbine and Lenten rose) running a little behind schedule and has some of the best spring-blooming bulbs looking iffy as well. Those winter conditions are going to pose some tough challenges for us getting our yards looking spiffy for the early season.
So how do we get our beds in shape for the spring? The late cold weather means it is going to be a little tougher to make that happen. If we can’t rely on the old favorites to get the job done, what are we to do? This year the ticket to getting those beds looking good early is the use of annual plants. Annuals are the plants that must be planted every year. The trade-off for that extra work is that they are some of the most spectacular blooming plants. In addition, they can usually be purchased for fairly cheap and will often be looking good right away!
Here are some of my favorite varieties of annuals for the early spring:
Petunias – Love em for spring. Yes, summer is eventually going to melt them down, but they will give you several months worth of color before they surrender. They come in virtually every color under the sun and some are even fragrant. Want to create a show-stopping effect? Plant fuchsia or hot pink petunias in combination with lime green sweet potato vine. As the petunias die off in the summer heat, simply pull them up and let the sweet potato vine take over the area. This will give you sharp color all season long!
Calibrachoa (or Million Bells) – Very similar to petunias but a little smaller and more lower-growing, almost like a ground cover. These give you even more color options to choose from for the spring season. Calibrachoa look particularly good trailing over the edge of a container or in a hanging basket.
Pansies – That’s right, I said pansies. These are usually thought of as winter plants, and don’t get me wrong they are great for that, but left in the ground they will usually bloom well into May most years. Just like with petunias there are many different options available. I really like some of the pastel colors for spring display. By spring a lot of nurseries will be selling pansies at a significant discount, making them very economical. I would not hesitate to plant pansies right now for a quick pop of cheap spring color.
Geraniums – These are another all-star for the spring line up. I really like the Caliente varieties for extra heat tolerance later in the season. Keep these “deadheaded” (removing the old flowers) and they will stay in bloom for a long time. These look great in combination with lower-growing plants like petunias or sweet potato vine, or even interspersed with evergreen ground covers like ivy.
Don’t forget you can also create a huge impact with spring-flowering trees and shrubs. This time of year redbuds are hard to beat – I really like one variety called Avondale Chinese redbud. It produces more flowers than any other redbud, makes a nice, small, rounded tree and really does well in our soil. Another one of my favorites is gold forsythia. It makes a tremendous mound of golden yellow blooms in the early spring that will make you think the sun has landed in your flower bed! Although there are some dwarf forsythia varieties out there, they all get pretty big so be sure and give this plant some room. If you want to create an almost fairytale-like effect in your yard this spring, consider planting a Peppermint Flowering peach tree. The entire tree covers itself in two-tone pink and red flowers that are sure to grab some attention. Of course there are many other tree and shrub options, but these are a few of the more underrated choices for the early season.
What about Easter lilies (Lilium longiflorum)? These are the bulb plants you will see decorating churches and for sale at nurseries this time of year. I am really fond of these spring-blooming lilies. They produce a large, white, trumpet-shaped flower that is also fragrant! They are reliable, hardy and produce more and more flowers every year. Just know that every year they may not be in bloom at Easter time, as their flowering time can vary year to year.
That’s it for this week guys. I just wanted to share a few of my favorite plants and ideas for brightening up your early spring flowerbeds. Stay tuned – we’ll talk veggie gardens and more flowers real soon. It’s game on now and spring is in the air. Just keep reading and I’ll keep writing!
Manager, Greenhouse on the Midway