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Crowning your home with a calendar of color

If landscaping begins with contouring and grading the yard, and planting shrubs and trees, it is certainly brought to a beautiful finish with blooming plants.

Annuals, perennials, and bulbs are your choices here. Those re-grown every year from seed are the annuals. The plants that survive through the years and the seasons are perennials.

Advantages of EachTop of Page
“I want plants that come up every year,” is a frequent opinion and indeed, most gardens have a backbone of perennials for continuity. Each clump has a season of bloom that may last for only two to as long as eight weeks.

Annuals have to be replanted every year, in most cases because they simply bloom themselves to death. Nothing else gives the profusion of bloom; most of them starting as early as May and never stopping until frost. Some, like marigolds and geraniums, bloom even after frost until the snow covers them or a hard freeze ends the show.

When Names Get ConfusingTop of Page
Most plants are classed as perennial or annual depending on their behavior in most of the continental U.S. Some known as annuals, such as coleus, impatiens, and scarlet sage, are perennials in the Sunbelt. In Florida, they bloom for years until a hard freeze hits, while the summer heat and humidity make it necessary to grow some perennials like delphinium, poppies, and bishop’s flower as annuals starting in the fall. Many of the common perennials like bearded iris and peonies will not grow at all in much of the Sunbelt, but there are many tropicals like bird-of-paradise to take their place.

Biennials make vegetative growth one year and bloom the next. But many of them seem to be perennials because they self-sow and, once planted, come up every year. These include sweet William, hollyhock, pansies, foxglove, forget-me-nots, English daisies, and some canterbury bells.

Your Purpose in Planting Top of Page
This will be the strongest influence on your plant choices. You may want flowers to bring indoors or to take to friends. Plantings can set off the beauty of your house, screen off certain views, or decorate with living color in planters, urns, or window boxes. Fragrance can be a deciding factor and so can form and color.

You may want flowers like butterfly weed, coneflowers, or cleome to attract butterflies. You will have more birds, both for interest and for insect control, if you plant calendula, cosmos, chrysanthemum, and stonecrop.

How to Find Out All You Want to KnowTop of Page
1. Your garden shop or nursery personnel will be glad to offer suggestions appropriate for the local climate and for your particular needs.

2. Your county Cooperative Extension Service will have a great deal of helpful information. Many of them offer classes and have demonstration gardens.Top of Page

3. Check also at your library and bookstore. Seed catalogs are also wonderful sources of information.

Consider Your Climate and Your Microclimates
The length of your growing season and the intensity of the heat and cold can determine some of your choices of plants. Each perennial is rated and listed in most catalogs or garden books with a zone of hardiness, or better yet, a range of zones, like 3-9. If you live in Minnesota (2-4), you want to know if the roses will survive the cold. In California (8-10), will they take the heat and dryness? In Florida (also 8-10) many plants that will take the heat die off when it combines with intense and long lasting humidity. Type of soil and amount of sun or shade are all crucial in choosing plants.

Every yard has microclimates, areas of sun, shade, various combinations of both, low damper areas or places where the eaves overflow, dry places where the rain seldom reaches or the sun and wind quickly draw out the moisture. The most important microclimates involve heat and cold. Plants that are not usually hardy as far north as Iowa may thrive along the south wall of the house or in a corner where they are protected from wind.

Take note and try various places for the same plant until you learn these details. When you get a four or six-pack, try some in one place and some in another. Soon you will learn to make the most of these spots.

Time of Bloom Top of Page
This is a major consideration. Most people want to have some bloom in every section of the garden from earliest spring to frost. With careful planning, you can always have some color interest outdoors and some stems to pick for bouquets. With even more forethought, all the colors will harmonize. Or you can use ready-made plans and adjust them to your needs.

Be aware also that certain flowers like morning glory, purslane, flax, four o’clocks, evening primrose, and several others open for only part of the day and place them where their schedule will fit with yours.

Perennials for

Spring Summer Fall
Lenten rose Astilbe Aster
Creeping phlox Delphinium Chrysanthemum
Primulas Daylilies Hosta
Iris Foxgloves Helenium
Columbine Phlox Monkshood
Bleeding heart Salvia Kolchia
Bluebells Coralbells Sedums
Spruges Liatris Goldenrod
Trillium Veronica Japanese anenome

Color CoordinationTop of Page
Most flower colors have a translucent quality that, along with the masses of green, allows a rather grand mix of color to be pleasant. But a magenta pink phlox beside a clump of orange marigolds may clash.
Plan on perennials and bulbs for the most part to carry the color scheme for early spring. Pansies are perhaps the earliest annuals. Most annuals take until mid summer to show much color, but they can fill the stage from then until frost either alone or among the perennials.

Providing a Good HomeTop of Page
The secret of gardening success is selecting the right plant for the right place. The main things you need to know about each plant are:
Does it need sun or shade?
How tall will it get?
How far will it spread? How fast?
When will it bloom? For how long?
What color will it be?
Will it need watering often, occasionally, or will it survive on natural rainfall? Try to group plants accordingly to make watering easier and more efficient.

Start with Good PlantsTop of Page
If you begin with good root stock and new seed packed for the planting year, you will do better than with any bargain or discount plants. In almost every case, you get what you pay for. Look for strong, well branched, healthy-looking plants with good color in the leaves.

Starting Seed IndoorsTop of Page
There is no better way to get the jump on spring and put some speed into winter’s passing than by starting seeds indoors. This also gives extra months, even an extra year of bloom from some perennials, and produces dozens of plants for the price of one.

You can start geraniums in December, perennials that will bloom the first year from seed in January, and slow growing or early blooming annuals like pansies, petunias, and impatiens in February. Most annuals can be started in March and there are still advantages to starting some in pots in April, though by then many can also be planted outdoors.

Most perennials and the hardier annuals like alyssum, calendula, California poppy, larkspur, petunia, snapdragon, stock, strawflower, sweet pea, and viola can go outside as soon as the ground can be worked. They can even be sown in the fall or on top of the snow, for they germinate best in cold, damp soil. Most of the others are tender and must stay inside or be covered on cold nights until danger of frost is past.

Use a sterile medium like sphagnum moss, sterile potting soil or vermiculite.

For containers, clean pots are fine. Or cut off cottage cheese or milk cartons so they are about two inches deep. Take a knife or an ice pick, warm it in a flame, and punch drainage holes in the bottom.

Fill your containers with moist but not soggy medium, and firm it down lightly so that it is about 3/8 inch below the rim. Sprinkle the seed evenly, either singly, broadcast, or in rows. Press seed down for firm contact with the medium.

Seeds pinhead-size and smaller need no covering indoors. Larger seeds should be covered with finely sifted soil or sphagnum moss.

Labels are important whenever you plant. You will not otherwise remember what is what or where.

Water, preferably by placing the pot in a pan. If you must water from the top, use a very gentle spray. Then cover, but not air tight, with a plastic bag to keep in the moisture. Remove this as soon as the seeds begin to sprout.

Light is not necessary for most seeds until they germinate, but warmth helps, especially if it comes gently from the bottom. Move the seed pans to your brightest window as soon as they sprout, and water with great care. Too much water will lead to damping-off: seedlings rot at the bottom of the stem and die. Too little water will cause wilting followed quickly by death.

Seedlings really prefer a cooler temperature than most people do. If your space and time are limited, only plant special varieties that you cannot buy from local sources.

Artificial LightTop of Page
One of the best aids to indoor plant growing is artificial light. You can raise your spring plants without this, but the quality will be so improved that even the simplest light set-up will pay for itself in one spring.

Fluorescent tubes work best. For peak efficiency, get tubes at least 36 inches long. Shorter ones cost more to run than they are worth.

Be sure to give your plants at least six hours of total darkness out of every day because plants do a large part of their growing at night. The tops of the seedlings should be only from one-half to three inches from the light tubes. Lower or raise the individual flats.

Seedlings should be transplanted soon after their true leaves develop to give each one enough room to spread. Trays with individual sections work best for this.

Starting Seeds OutdoorsTop of Page
Most seed can be planted in a coldframe, hotbed (with some sort of heat in the bottom), or in an intensive-care area outdoors. This should be a flat surface sheltered from the wind, perhaps near a south wall for early heat, in sun for most of the day, and close to a supply of water. A few seeds like larkspur, sunflowers, poppies, zinnias, nasturtiums, cosmos, and sweet pea do not transplant well-the seed packet will say so-and should be planted where you want them to grow.

Soil PreparationTop of Page
Prepare the soil by deep spading or rototilling. Good drainage is essential. Any soil will benefit from generous additions of humus in the form of peat moss, compost, or well-rotted manure. Till or fork this in until it is well mixed with the soil. Smooth out any lumps, measure out the spot, then scatter the seeds as close together as the packet suggests. Press seed gently into the soil and cover with fine soil to the suggested depth. Even tiny seeds can use a light covering outdoors so they won’t dry out, but never plant too deep.

Water seedbeds as often as needed, to keep the soil moist. Once seedlings are up, water less frequently but more deeply. Some seeds will need to be thinned so that plants won’t be too close together.

Hardening and Transplanting Top of Page
Plants grown indoors need to be -hardened-off’ before planting outside. Keep them on the dry side for several days. Set them outdoors for increasingly longer periods so they can adjust to the lower temperatures, higher light intensity, and drying breezes.

If you have a coldframe or a large box you can cover at night, give your plants several days to a week there. Otherwise bring them back indoors each day. 

The time of transplanting is very important. Pick a cloudy day or late afternoon. Plants in peat or other -grow through’ pots can be planted pot and all.

Plant without disturbing the root clump any more than necessary unless it is a tangled mass of roots.

Then pry roots apart slightly. Fill the soil in around the plant and firm it down well. Use your trowel to make a donut like depression a few inches from the stem to hold in water. Space plants far enough apart to allow for their final spread. Annuals like alyssum, can go as close as 6-9 inches. Most go 12-18 inches apart, and very large growers like tithonia can fill 36 inches between. Perennials also vary widely. Check seed packets or tags.

Always water in new plants, even if it is raining. The watering helps the soil settle.

If the sun is bright the next day, you may need to cover some plants with straw, newspapers, or overturned pots. Milk cartons or canning jars over them will keep in the humidity and warmth and keep out the drying breezes. A good beginning will get your plants off to a good start and early bloom, so it is worth a little extra effort.

MulchTop of Page
Besides enriching your soil with humus, the best thing you can do for your plants is to mulch them. Many people grow plants without this, but they are passing by a huge help.

·Mulch keeps soil temperatures more even in hot or cold weather.
·It keeps in moisture so plants need less water and can use what water they get more efficiently.

·It increases the beneficial microbial life in the soil and encourages earthworms to come and multiply.

·It keeps down weeds, lets you walk and work in the garden sooner after a rain, and reduces pest problems by reducing stress on the plants.(Top of Page)

Mulch can be free: grass clippings, leaves, wood chips, sawdust. Or it can be purchased. Some can add color or texture. All organic mulches add humus as they rot. Replenish as needed, but this is a much easier job than hoeing. If you haven’t used mulch before, try it. You’ll find it makes a magnificent difference in your gardening.

FeedingTop of Page
All plants need nutrients to thrive. Some soils (Iowa) may be rich enough to grow for a year before they are replenished. Other soils (Florida) are so poor that they need fertilizer every three weeks or so.

There are slow release fertilizers that last longer. Fertilizer content is always listed in the order of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium; their numbers indicating relative quantity. Any food like 10-10-10, (8-8-8 or 6-6-6) with even numbers is recommended for general use.

It is best to mix fertilizer into the soil before planting annuals in spring and to add more to the soil surface in summer when you pinch or shear plants back. For perennials, apply fertilizer in spring when growth starts. For any plant that shows signs of deficiency- pale, yellowing leaves-a dose of liquid fertilizer, according to package directions, will usually have an almost immediate effect. In most cases, it is better to give too little than too much.

SupportTop of Page
Most plants are self supporting, but a few of the most spectacular like delphinium, lilies, lupines, foxgloves may need a bit of help. For some like peonies, you can stick twiggy branches around the stems. Newer varieties of peonies are also bred for stronger stems. Delphiniums may need inconspicuous bamboo stakes, one stake for each heavy stem. With lilies, a series of stakes surrounding the plant and connected with string will work. Insert stakes carefully so as not to damage roots, and have support in place before it is needed, for stems may never straighten again after they fall over in a storm.

WateringTop of Page
All plants need water, and only some climates furnish enough. Even these are subject to occasional drought. Improving the soil, mulching, selecting the right plants, and careful maintenance can cut down on water needs. Newly set plants need careful watering for a few weeks until they settle in. After that, any time that the rain does not average one inch a week, be prepared to water. This can be done much more efficiently if you group your plants into three zones according to their water needs. The oasis zone will need water most often. Moderately drought tolerant plants will survive with only occasional watering. Extremely drought tolerant ones will usually survive on natural rainfall. Be prepared to water much more often in containers and even more in hanging baskets.

Dividing Your PerennialsTop of Page
Most perennials need to be divided whenever the clumps become too crowded. Mums are best separated every spring. Others, like peonies and hostas, can go a dozen years or more without disturbing unless you want to propagate more plants.

Early spring is a good time to do this. But for early bloomers, wait and divide soon after bloom.

Gently lift the entire clump with a spading fork. Then pull or cut it apart into sections.

Replant sections in well-prepared soil, setting the growing points at the same depth as they were before and spreading the roots out below. After midsummer, up to half of the foliage can be cut back. Give intensive care until the new clump becomes established.

Some Favorite Annuals for SunTop of Page
Alyssum grows 3 to 6 inches with mats of dainty, fragrant flowers in white, rose, lavender, or purple. Give it full sun to partial shade. Buy plants or sow directly for edges, rock gardens, hanging baskets, or window boxes. This often self sows. Alyssum may suffer from intense heat. In the Sunbelt, plant in fall to spring in the oasis zone.

Ageratum or floss flower grows 4 to 12 inches with mounds of dark foliage and flowers of lavender-blue, pink, or white. This likes full sun to partial shade, the latter especially in hot climates. It grows easily from pots, cuttings, or seeds, but keep indoors until frost is past. Plant taller varieties for cut flowers. Put ageratum in your oasis zone.

species, 2 to 6 feet tall, with lacy foliage come in two forms, one with white, pink, maroon, or lavender daisylike flowers up to 5 inches across. The other has shades of yellow, orange, gold, or reddish orange with less delicate foliage and smaller flowers. Grow in full sun or light shade. Sow directly in the garden after frost. Cosmos will not bloom all season without severe cutting back of faded blooms.

Marigolds come in many choices of color and height from 6 inches to 4 feet. This and usefulness as cut flowers make them favorites from first blooming until frost. Because they resist and repel many insects and soil nematodes, many people like to put these in, among and around vegetables and fruit.

Petunia hybrids are reliable and colorful. They grow 10 to 18 inches tall in spreading mounds for easy gardening. They are slow starters, so most people buy plants. They come in a wide range of intense colors and with single or double blooms and are ideal for the border, hanging baskets or cascading over walls or containers. Second-year volunteers may revert to the old fashioned, fragrant kind. Petunias are extremely drought tolerant. Grow them in winter in Florida.

Annuals for ShadeTop of Page
Coleus grow 8 to 18 inches tall and come with foliage in a wide range of bright colors and leaf forms. They are lovely in masses or as accents, with ferns or in containers. Seeds are easy but slow. Plants grow quickly and are easy to multiply or keep over winter with cuttings.

Impatiens also called busy lizzy or patience plant are the most popular bedding plants for shade. They grow in various height from 6 inches to 2 feet, have rich dark green or variegated foliage, and flowers in white, pink, rose, red, scarlet, violet, salmon, or orange, some with contrasting centers, and all fade gracefully without the need for deadheading (removing spent blooms). Some will tolerate sun if well watered. Set out only after frost. In Sunbelt they bloom for years until nipped by frost. These are oasis plants.(Top of Page)

Violas or horned violets thrive in both shade and cold. They grow in small clumps 6 to 8 inches in glorious colors and patterns like little faces. Pansies are actually biennials that bloom the first year if sown early enough indoors. Some violas are perennials.

Favorite PerennialsTop of Page
One of the most popular perennials is the chrysanthemum, available in a wide choice of colors and forms. Garden varieties can be purchased and transplanted in full bloom for instant color. 

Blue balloon flowers, red-and-yellow gaillardias, phlox, and beebalm are other easy-to-establish perennials. To decorate walls or trellises, three favorite vines that return year after year are trumpet vines, clematis, and honeysuckle, the last one attracting birds.


Getting Started

  • Pick location
    • light
    • soil
    • space
  • Selecting your plants ·seeds
  • Pot or container
  • Soil or seed starting medium
  • Peat, compost, or soil amendments
  • Fertilizer
  • Mulch
  • Tools
    • spade
    • hoe
    • trowel
    • hose or watering can
    • pruning shears or scissors
    • extra labels
    • gro-light fixture
    • vases
    • oasis
    • stakes
    • plant ties