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April 2017
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More than pansies for spring pots

The tissue paper-like balls of ranunculus flowers work well with violas and pansies. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

We all love pansies and violas in spring, but did you know there are a lot more cool-season annuals and tender perennials we can use in our seasonal containers? Because most trees and shrubs are not fully leafed out, there’s less concern about sun requirements for these plants, too. These are plants we have for the season because they tend to stop blooming once the weather heats up. Here’s a sampler of plants that thrive in spring temperatures.

‘Jenny Brooks’ wallflower. Photo courtesy Aris Horticulture

Wallflower (Erysimum), although technically a perennial, it’s unlikely these fragrant beauties will survive winter here. Wallflowers, which come in lots of colors, add height to pots, window boxes and other seasonal arrangements. Extremely popular in England, wallflowers are not as readily available here in the U.S., but check with area garden centers. The lovely ‘Jenny Brooks’ can sometimes be found in the perennial section. Wallflower is a member of the Brassica family, the same as cabbage. The National Garden Bureau has named 2017 the Year of the Brassicas, so celebrate with one of the more fragrant members of the clan.

Column Miracle White stock. Photo courtesy Ball Horticulture

Stocks (Matthiola incana), sometimes called gillyflowers, are an annual whose spicy fragrance is a staple of many perfumes. These pastel-colored flowers are easy to grow from seed sown indoors in late winter, and they are a bit easier to find in garden centers than wallflowers. Like wallflowers, stocks add height to containers.

Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) are a lot more familiar, but maybe not as a spring annual. Snapdragons come in lots of colors and can be found in the summer garden, too. The tall ones, such as the Rocket series, add height to containers, serving nicely as a centerpiece. ‘Floral Showers’, ‘Montego’ and ‘Magic Carpet’ are shorter and work well when two or three plants are bunched together for a better show.

Montego Yellow snapdragon. Photo courtesy Ball Horticulture

The tissue paper-like, ball-shaped flowers of ranunculus (R. asiaticus) offer a different texture and form in pots. Ranunculus grows from tubers, which can be started indoors in late winter. Each tuber yields many flowers in many pastels, reds and oranges. These are usually available at garden centers beginning in April. These are less tolerant of temperatures below about 50 F.

The daisy-like flowers of Senetti come in many colors. Photo courtesy Senetti.com

Another beauty, commonly branded as Senetti (Pericallis x hybrida), is also a bit sensitive to freezing temperatures, but worth planting when it’s consistently a bit warmer in mid-April. This is usually sold in 6- or 8-inch pots in garden centers. Plant Senetti in the ground or use as a focal point in a pot or window box. The colors are divine, especially the blues. It also comes in white, pinks and bicolor.

April garden checklist

Indoors

  • Prune, repot and clean houseplants as needed.houseplant-window-stockxpertcom_id848849_size2
  • Fertilize houseplants as new growth appears. Follow label directions.
  • If not done already, sketch garden plans, including what to grow, spacing, arrangement and number of plants needed.
  • Order seeds and plants as early as soon as possible.
    Cyclamen. (C) iStockphoto
  • Place Easter lily, florist azalea, cyclamen and other seasonal flowering plants in bright, indirect sunlight. Keep soil moist.
  • Pot up summer flowering bulbs to be transplanted outdoors later, including tuberous begonias, caladiums and cannas.
  • Start seeds of warm-season plants, including tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, marigolds, zinnias and petunias for planting outdoors in mid-May.
Cyclamen. (C) iStockphoto

Cyclamen. (C) iStockphoto

General Landscape

  • Fertilize woody plants before new growth begins.
  • Complete pruning to remove dead and injured branches from trees and shrubs. Prune spring flowering shrubs, such as forsythia or lilacs, within a month after blooming.
  • Mow grass as needed to 3 1/2- to 4-inches tall.
  • Remove winter-damaged ground covers with trimmers or shears.
  • Divide or transplant hardy perennials.
  • Allow foliage of spring-flowering bulbs to ripen and yellow or brown before cutting back. Leaves make the food reserves stored in the bulbs that bring next year’s flowers. Divide or transplant spring-flowering bulbs after they’ve finished blooming. Mark empty spaces in the landscape to show where to plant spring-flowering bulbs next fall.
  • Harden off transplants started indoors earlier by gradually exposing young plants to outdoor conditions of wind, sunlight and lower moisture.
  • Remove winter covering from roses. Keep mulch nearby to use on plants in case of late freezes. Prune and fertilize as needed.

Vegetables and Fruits

  • Sow seeds for cool-season crops, including peas, lettuce, spinach, carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips and Swiss chard, directly in the garden as soon as soil can be worked. Soil should crumble instead of forming a ball when squeezed.

    Mesclun seedlings can be transplanted outdoors anytime or the seeds can be sown directly in the garden. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau

    Mesclun seedlings can be transplanted outdoors anytime or the seeds can be sown directly in the garden. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau

  • Plant seedlings of cool-season crops, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and onions.
  • Plant asparagus and rhubarb crowns. (Do not harvest until three years after planting.)
  • Plant certified, disease-free potato sections or seed tubers.
  • Plant strawberries, raspberries and other small fruit.
  • Remove winter mulch from strawberries, but keep it handy in case late frosts threaten and to keep weeds down.
  • Prune grape vines to remove dead or weakened limbs. Repair trellises as needed.
  • Apply a pre-bloom, multipurpose orchard spray to fruit trees.