Flowering bulbs are the first to announce the pending arrival of spring. The crocuses are the first to peek out, often through the snow. They’re followed by daffodils, then tulips and hyacinths. Then what? Many people go back to late winter drab until shrubs like lilacs and forsythia flower. It’s too early for most annuals.
It may be too early for most annuals but not all of them. There’s a group of cool weather annuals that can take up the slack. Around here, the most popular of that group is, arguably, the pansy. Even at the southeast entrance to Highland Park, at the corner of South Goodman Street and Highland Avenue, visitors are greeted by a sea of color from the pansy bed. When Mother Nature delays the lilac bloom, the pansies still come through.
Pansies are in the viola genus, as are violets, which also are cool weather species. Marigolds and snapdragons are popular early spring flowers, too. Additionally, the 70 species in the Nemesia genus can be planted locally. So, you have a wide choice of plants to provide post bulb color to your landscape.
It’s recommended that you plant these cool weather annuals in containers. You don’t know what kind of weather we’ll have this spring so it’s not a good idea to work in your planting beds until you can squeeze a handful of soil that will be damp, but no water will run down your arm. The containers will look nice on your patio, deck or porch. Or even in your planting beds.
If you do place containers in your beds, place them near the edge so you don’t have to disturb the wet soil in the bed. They may not want to stand up in the wet soil. They could sink or tip, so put them on a platform of flagstone, bluestone or wood. In addition to keeping the containers upright, a platform will also keep them cleaner than standing them in soil.
Most gardeners have their own potting technique. The most common potting method is to place potting mix directly in the decorative container and plant the flowering plants in the mix. The drawback to this method comes if you plan to change the plants out for warm weather annuals later in the season. You’ll then have to empty the container, wash out the inside and sanitize it with bleach before refilling it with potting mix and planting the new plants.
An easier method is to buy your cool weather annuals in nursery pots that will slide right into your decorative container. When you’re ready to change them out, buy your warm weather annuals the same way and make the swap. If your garden center sells the flowers you want only in six packs, ask them if they’ll pot them for you in nursery pots. Some will and some won’t. Shop around until you find one that will.
If you can’t find a garden center that will pot up your plants, it’s still easier to pot your purchases in nursery pots than decorative containers. If you don’t have a collection of different size nursery pots at home, shop the garden centers and landscape companies. You’re sure to find someone who will give them to you or sell them to you for a half a buck or less