Early Spring Planting

April 19, 2014 (2)Planting containers for early spring has its pleasures and its pitfalls.  The overriding concern is always the cold.  We planted containers for a client in downtown Detroit Thursday and Friday of last week-a dicey move, considering the overnight temperatures were very cold.  One night-22 degrees.  How to best avoid cold damage in early spring is to be sure you are using plants that have had the opportunity to become accustomed to, or the inclination to tolerate the cold.

April 19, 2014 (8)Very few plants thrive in cold weather.  That does not mean that they will not adapt and tolerate it.  This project was planted solely with plants that had been sown and grown to a good size last fall, prior to being wintered in a cold but not freezing house.  The pansies had had months to become accustomed to cooler conditions.  Placing them outdoors in cold April weather did not send them into shock.

April 19, 2014 (31)Gardeners who start their own vegetables from seed indoors know that those seedlings need to be hardened off before placement in the garden.  Hardening off is a process of exposing seedlings to the reality of seasonal weather, a little bit at a time.  A few hours a day in a shady place, then the day outdoors in the sun.  Then a planting in the garden.  Early vegetables that are sown directly in the garden do not experience transplant shock.  Pea seeds can be sown when the soil is workable, and the soil temperature is 45.  However, peas that that has been germinated or grown in a warm greenhouse will react poorly to a drastic change in environment.  Easy does it.

April 19, 2014 (22)The same would be true for spring flowering perennials.  Some growers  winter their plants in tunnel houses with no heat, so they are subject to the same cold conditions as perennials already planted in the garden.  Other growers pot up bare root perennials in early spring, and bring them on in a warm greenhouse. A hothouse grown perennial may react poorly to being put outside without a hardening off period.  Forced pots of hyacinths need some limited exposure  to the elements before they are placed in a spring container.

April 19, 2014 (27)Lime leaved heucheras do not have much tolerance for cold.  The leaves will bleach, and go limp.  However the heuchera Creme Brulee  seems to shrug off the cold.  I have had angelina survive the winter in a small pot I had forgotten to get in the ground.  But moved outdoors from a warm greenhouse to a cold garden will cause the needles to color up orange and red.  This not so spring like look results from the plant’s inability to absorb potassium from the soil, due to cold.  If your zonal geraniums have red tinged leaves, they are out in the garden too early.

April 19, 2014 (24)There are plenty of plants that can handle the transitional season known as spring.  And having good success with them becomes easier if the plants have been properly hardened off.  The hellebores we had in our greenhouse in March were kept at just below 50 degrees overnight.  Once the season moderated, we moved them outdoors on carts for the warmest part of the day.  When we moved them outdoors for good, we placed them underneath our benches, in the shade.  Even a sunny greenhouse is not near the light intensity of a full sun location outdoors.  Plants exposed to the sun too abruptly can be scorched by sun and wind.

April 19, 2014 (17)Any plant that is already outside at a nursery is good to go for a spring container.  Small spring flowering shrubs are great in containers, and provide some scale.  Twigs and dry or preserved materials can add some heft and presence.  Perennials that look good in spring containers include hens and chicks, lady’s mantle, brunnera, columbines, coral bells, angelina, lavender and hellebores.  Spring vegetables and herbs such as peas, lettuce, cabbages and kales, bok choy and chard, rosemary and parsley, look great in pots.  Pansies, violas, ivy, sweet peas, alyssum, and fuchsia can provide so much color and fragrance.  If in doubt, harden off.

April 19, 2014 (15)My summer pots usually go on long into the fall.  They have the opportunity to get accustomed to the coming of the cold over a long period of time.  Petunias, verbenas, million bells, creeping jenny will look great until frost, having been planted in late May.  If you want to plant them in the spring, give them some time to adjust to the outdoors before planting.  Some gardeners cover their spring plantings for a week or so with floating row cover.

April 19, 2014 (14)A quick introduction to weather that is too cold can set some plants back such that their growth is stunted.  Some never recover.  Much better to celebrate each season, in season.



Spring Planting

crabapple espalier

I enjoy doing spring plantings for my clients.  It gives me a chance to get into the garden early, and assess how everything fared over the winter.  This winter was a breeze, but for a cruelly early break in the weather in March.  It remains to be seen how Michigan’s fruit and berry crops will be affected.   It was disconcerting to see that this pair of crabapple espaliers had long since bloomed out, and set leaf in mid-April, but I am happy about how they look.     

gingko tree

This garden is graced by a gingko of great size.  The entire layout and landscape of the house was organized around this tree.  The groundcover is finally starting to fill in.  It will not be so much longer before the boxwood completely obscures the wall.  A grand old plant such as this one needs little more than a big open space around it.   

fall planting

It is possible to arrange for a great spring planting months ahead of time.  Clusters of yellow tulips were planted in the fall; the pansies were planted over top.  Fall planting of pansies may seem like an exercise in futility, given that winter is not far off, but newer strains of pansies are proving quite hardy.  The clear sky series of pansies-especially tough.  The pansies came up lush and thick this spring, and were in full flower on April 10.  This garden had quite the jump on spring. 

planting pansies

Planting pansies and violas in ground in the spring is not nearly as prevalent as what it once was-I am sorry for this.  The spring season lasts just as long as any of the others.  Tulips don’t present much in the way of foliage at ground level, so they are a perfect candidate for a little company.  I also find that working with color in the spring is very tough-if I don’t have the names and faces right in front of me.  This mix that features a rose pansy will look great with the red/pink/rose and white pansy mix.  This is the ideal time to blob them in-I don’t plant everywhere.  I plant where I can see dirt. 



This picture was taken from the perspective of a 9 year old-any adult walking by will see the dirt spaces on the edge thickly planted with pansies.  That color at ground level adds a whole other dimension to the idea of spring garden.

Of course we plant the attending pot for spring.  This landscape is very simple.  Its beauty is all about the weather, and the seasons.  This small planting of flowers says all that needs to be said about spring.   


Bulbeck lead egg cup

I hate to see any pot sit empty-waiting.  In another month, this planting will overflow this big pot.  The sweet peas planted in the center will completely cover the tree of heaven branches in the center.  Stick support?  The English call a flexible stick that props up this or that in the garden a withy, or withe.  Withies-a natural and much less obtrusive version of a galvanized metal peony ring.  Slated to trail over the edge, a lime yellow sedum called Ogon.  The purple kale planted at the base of the sticks will grow considerably in size, before it bolts from the heat. 

tulip mix

 The curving shape of the tulips leads the eye right to this lead pot-imagine the disappointment, were it to be empty.  A pansy mix similar to what rings the pot borders the tulips. The front door seems so much more welcoming.

lead egg cups


Once the pots are planted up, and the pansy border added, these tulips make a much stronger statement.  They have a community of like minded spring friendly plants.  I do have another client whose wild flower garden goes right up to her front door.  At this time of year, it it is breathtakingly understated.  That garden would not work for me at home, nor would it work here.  Every property and house with a gardener in charge makes for an entirely individual celebration of the spring.   

spring container planting

The side porch has a sentry pooch.  I have seen him with hats, bandanas, necklaces and sunglasses. Sometimes there is a pumpkin on his head.  You have it right-there are kids who live here.  But for spring, a bucketful of lavender and a few pansies provide just the right touch-welcome, spring.  

spring pansy mix

I saw these at a nursery yesterday.  Irresistable, this.