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.
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.
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.
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.
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.