written by Mark Anderson, owner, Anderson’s Seed and Garden
It seems like it’s been forever since there was blooming color in my yard, but only five months have passed since the first hard frost of fall finished off our gorgeous flowers from summer.
Those long winter months seem to last an eternity, and despite my valiant attempts to brighten up the “indoor garden” with amaryllis bulbs, succulents, and a few mini greenhouses full of micro greens, I can’t wait any longer for spring to arrive. After all that white outside, green is amazing, but when do I get to start enjoying that amazing color of flowers in my yard?
If you planned ahead last fall, you could have snowdrops and crocus bulbs blooming shortly after the snow disappears, with daffodils and tulips soon to follow. Nothing screams spring more than flowering bulbs in bloom! For everyone who neglected to plant bulbs (put it on your calendar for September so you don’t forget this year!), March is the beginning of flower season.
Despite our most positive hopes, Cache Valley’s average last frost usually occurs around May 20. So, what flowers can we plant and enjoy that can handle the frost until the true colors of summer arrive? Early blooming flowers that can tolerate frost, shade, and anything else Mother Nature may throw at them abound. For annuals, watch for new colors and styles of pansies and primroses: ruffled pansies, trailing pansies, double primroses, and new color palettes have hit local greenhouses in the last few years. Don’t forget about Gerbera Daisies, too. Some other cold-tolerant annuals include Symphony or Osteo-type daisies, Diascia, Geraniums, and Nemesia. These can all produce eye-catching, vibrant colors that stand out in any landscape.
Have you ever seen a Hellebores in full bloom in March? Few perennial flowers display such delicate, unusual colored flowers that tolerate snow, wind, and cold like the Lenten Rose. More than a handful of perennial flowers bloom early in March and April: Candytuft, Rock Cress, Arabis, English Daisy, Ranunculus (bulb), Basket of Gold, Dianthus, Bleeding Hearts, and many others. Keep in mind that all perennial flowers will only bloom for a limited time — generally about two to three weeks — and then they are done for the year. While many have attractive foliage that will last longer into the season, most early bloomers need trimming and a little maintenance shortly after their bloom season is over.
I could write an entire book about annual flowers and how to keep color in your garden all year long with perennials. Other authors have done it already, so instead, let me remind you of some of the outstanding flowers you can enjoy all summer long, whether you have a large garden or a small patio with a few containers.
Wave petunias — there are multiple varieties referred to as wave: Vista, Surfinia, Tidal Wave — give more flowers with minimal maintenance than any other flower I have ever grown. They are my flower of choice because they don’t need deadheading or trimming in season, they tolerate heat, they perform equally well in planters, hanging baskets, and in the garden, they require less or average watering, and — for their cost — they provide the most bang for the buck. Just feed them a lot (like two to three times a week with a liquid or water-soluble fertilizer), and they will bloom all summer and late into the fall.
For hanging baskets and patio planters, gardeners have many choices. Calibrachoa or Million bells grow just like the Wave petunias; they are low maintenance, easy, free-flowering, and have great hot/cold weather tolerance. They look just like mini petunias, and trail almost as much as the Waves. Trailing verbena bloom with vibrant colors and tolerate diseases and heat. Sweet potato vines, like Blackie or Marguerite, don’t bloom, but their foliage looks amazing with other plants.
Even though they are technically bulbs, dahlias will bloom and bloom all summer, and come in a wide variety of sizes and colors. You can also harvest their bulbs and store them to use again next year. Portulaca look like little succulents, but they produce delicate, colorful flowers in the hottest and driest of conditions. Another favorite for sunny locations are Gazanias — imagine short, four-to-six-inch tall sunflowers with bright, showy three-inch flowers and you’ve got a good idea what they will look like in the garden. For shady areas, I love adding a few coleus varieties like the Stained Glass series. Again, they have colorful foliage like the sweet potato vines and no flowers, but they love shade and can tolerate moist soils quite well.
It’s never too early to start researching new additions to your summer flower gardens. I’m going to use the sunny, drier days that pop up periodically in March and April to plant some cold-tolerant color outside, and maybe start a little something in the greenhouse for May as well. I just can’t wait any longer to enjoy the summer color that I know is just around the corner!