By Bodie V. Pennisi
University of Georgia
Spring is perhaps the one season we gardeners are most eager for. We've spent months poring over catalogs and magazines, exchanging seeds and cuttings with fellow gardeners, sharpening tools and promising ourselves that this spring our garden will be the neighborhood show-stealer.
Think about effects
When you plan your spring bed, think about the effect you're trying to get. You can do this with color combinations.
- For a soothing look, try white, silver, pink, blue and purple.
- For excitement, plant red, orange and yellow flowers.
- Complementary colors, such as orange and blue or purple and yellow, form contrasts and create a lot of interest in the landscape.
Plant height is important to the design, too. Next to the house, plant a flower border with the tallest plants in the back, medium plants in the middle and short ones in the front. In the front-yard island, put the tallest plants in the middle of the bed and surround them by plants of decreasing heights.
With your design goals in mind, consider getting spring off to an early splash with annual bedding plants that grow well in the cool spring season. Among these colorful favorites are pansy, viola, lobelia, alyssum, snapdragon, flowering cabbage and kale and dusty miller.
Buy carefully, plant and fertilize
Look for locally grown plants. Since they've been grown in Georgia, they're better adapted to local climates and haven't been put through the rigors of long travel.
Georgia growers produce excellent plants. And after spending months carefully nurturing for their plants, they're just as eager as you to show their colorful displays.
You can buy these plants at a retail greenhouse business, garden center or local farmers market. All of them do best in full or partial sun in well-drained soils. They prefer moderate fertility, or roughly two applications of 1 pound of 10-10-10 per 100 square feet per season. Fertilize them once at transplant and once in midseason.
Pansy and viola. Space these plants on 4- to 8-inch centers. They do best when planted in full sun and given plenty of moisture.
Lobelia. This cool-season annual forms brightly colored mounds, 15 to 24 inches tall. The distinctive flowers have two small upper lobes and three lower, spreading, fan-shaped lobes. Depending on the cultivar, lobelias can be pure white, pink, red, violet or purple. Space plants on 6- inch centers. Like pansy and viola, lobelia prefers cool, moist soils.
Alyssum. Tiny, cross-shaped, scented flowers in rounded inflorescences form mounds 15 to 24 inches tall. With colors similar to lobelia, treat alyssum similarly in the garden.
Snapdragon. For providing height in the flower bed, there's no better plant than the snapdragon. There's no scarcity of colors, including bicolored flowers. Cultivars range from dwarf (15 inches) to tall (48 inches). Plant them in full sun on 6- to 8-inch centers. You may need to stake the plants and deadhead to prolong flowering.
Ornamental cabbage and kale. These wonderful plants are prized for their leaf color. They work well with pansies. The foliage is showy, with colors from white through pink or red. Kale's leaves have frilly edges and are sometimes deeply lobed, while cabbage leaves are usually ruffled. Plants grow to 12 inches across and 15-20 inches tall. Plant them in full sun on 12- to 15-inch centers.
Dusty miller. A traditional summer annual, you can use it as a cool-season annual by planting it between the flowering species. Its silver-gray, soft foliage complements a range of colors. And when it's time to remove the early-spring annuals, leave dusty miller in place and plant around it with summer annuals.
(Bodie Pennisi is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)