Spring is a special time in the garden. Everything is fresh and full of promise. There are minimal weeds or pests and new blooms can be so enchanting. Managing Editor and lifelong farmer Kevin Broady shares his tips for planting and preparing for a cascade of color.
Early spring flowers are the surest sign that warmer weather is coming. There’s nothing like a patch of gently nodding golden daffodils to raise your spirits. But daffodils aren’t the only spring bulbs to herald an end to dark winter days and bring color to the garden.
If you plant thoughtfully, you can enjoy blossoming flowers throughout spring and summer. Here, a few tips and techniques to help you create a continuous profusion of color.
MAKE YOUR BEDS
The first thing that comes to mind when talking about spring blooms are daffodils and tulips. But it’s important to plant cool season annuals to compliment the spring bulbs you planted last fall. Not only does this add even more brilliance to your beds, but a dense planting of annuals will hide the often-unattractive foliage of the bulbs after their flowers have faded.
There's nothing like a visit to your local garden center in the springtime to find out what's blooming. You're bound to find old favorites and perhaps a few types of flowers you've never seen before. As long as you can provide the growing conditions required, don't hesitate to bring a new plant home and make it part of your own garden. Pick blooming plants for transplanting and don’t forget your seeds to plant later. Choose plants that are well developed with lots of flowers and buds; cool-season annuals do not have much time to develop after planting.
WATCH YOUR TIMING
In the Louisville area, the typical last frost date is April 20, so be cautious when planting cold-sensitive plants before this date. The date may vary so watch the weather forecast closely. You can plant cool-season annuals such as pansies and primulas as early as mid-April, since they can tolerate a light frost. These plants will perform best during the cooler temperatures of early spring and will generally start to decline when consistently warm summer temperatures set in.
Ideally, the plants you install will have been hardened off (acclimated to outside growing conditions) by the garden center. If you’re not purchasing plants directly out of a greenhouse, you can harden them off yourself in about a week by putting the plants outside during the day when temperatures are above freezing and back in the garage or in a window well when temperatures are going to drop near or below freezing.
PLANT YOUR SEEDS
There are many annuals, like poppies and love-in-a-mist, that should be planted directly in the garden because their seeds need a period of cold to germinate and their seedlings don’t handle transplanting well. While it’s still very cool in early spring, loosen soil with a rake, broadcast the seeds, rake again (without covering the seeds), sprinkle or let rain settle the seeds, and keep the soil moist. It’s works like a charm, year after year.
There are plenty of pretty flowers that can survive cooler temperatures and start your explosion of color early. Here’s a little advice to help you choose:
Violas: Violas are cold hardy, heat tolerant, heavy bloomers with tons of small flowers. Use in containers and border edgings. Plant in full sun during the cool months and partial shade during summer.
Pansies: The pansy is the larger-faced cousin of the viola. I like to plant these two annuals together in containers and as a border edging.
Petunias: There are many varieties, so read labels carefully to choose the best type for your home. Some are low-growing and spreading, while others are more upright, so they can be planted at the edge of flower beds, in hanging baskets, or in containers mixed with taller cool-season annuals.
Snapdragons: Available in both upright and cascading forms, snapdragons are the perfect choice for both flower borders and containers. Plant in full sun, in early spring. They’ll tolerate temperatures down to 40 degrees.
Sweet Pea: Plant directly into your garden in early spring. They climb to six feet, so provide a trellis for support.
California Poppy: This bright, popular, frost tolerant flower can be direct sown and thrives in cool climates.
Argyranthemum: This daisy-shaped bloom is cold hardy down to 25 degrees, which makes it perfect for unpredicted spring freezes. Count on this tough plant to reward you with blooms well into the summer. Plant in full sun.
Helichrysum: ‘Silver Spike’s’ silvery, spiky foliage is an excellent complement adding texture and silver contrasts to beds and gardens. This plant will tolerate a light frost. Plant in full sun.
Love-In-The-Mist: Their beautiful hues range from ‘Miss Jekyll’ bright blue to the blues, mauvy-pinks and white of the ‘Persian Jewel.’ These work best when sown directly into the flower beds.
Dianthus: These 10 to 20-inch-tall plants are annuals, biennials or perennials, depending on the variety. Common names include carnations and pinks. These cool-season, sun-loving plants feature large flowers in jewel colors like cherry, salmon, rose, lilac, and white. They look great in garden beds or containers. Keep them well-watered and fertilized.
Sweet Alyssum: These fragrant flowers produce plenty of nectar for butterflies and hummingbirds. Direct-sow into your yard and watch the show.