The New Year may be white or brown depending on where you live, but there's potential for bright colors in your garden. Now is the time to plan your annual and perennial flower gardens for this spring.
Annual flowers, such as marigolds and zinnias, bloom their heads off from early in the season until fall frost. Growing annual flowers is a great way to add instant color to garden beds, containers, and hanging baskets. However, annuals only last one year and need to be replanted every year.
Perennial flowers, such as rudbeckias, daisies, and coneflowers, take longer to start flowering and tend to flower only at certain times during the growing season. But they can last for years and actually increase in size and number of flowers as time goes on.
Planting a combination of annual and perennial flowers is a good way to add instant and long-term color, texture, and variety to your garden. Consider planting them with shrubs or even among your vegetables and herbs.
While you can buy a multitude of flowers in garden centers in spring, it's easy to start them from seed this winter to get more plants for less money. Some flowers, such as rudbeckias and coneflowers, need to be started indoors and then transplanted when they're large enough to go outside. Others, such as zinnias, cosmos, and nasturtiums, can be directly sown in the garden once the soil has warmed.
Here are some of the easiest flowers to grow in your garden. Check the seed packets for the proper time to start seeds in your area.
Low-growing annual flowers, such as alyssum, dianthus, and nasturtiums, are great for using in hanging baskets and containers or as edging in front of a garden bed.
Alyssum stands only inches tall, yet over the summer it will spread its white or pink flowers into a sizable mound. It has a sweet fragrance and grows well in sun or part shade.
Nasturtiums come in mounding varieties, such as 'Jewel', as well as vining varieties. The bright yellow, orange, or red flowers are not only colorful, they also are edible and have a peppery flavor.
Thumbelina zinnias are smaller versions of this classic large cut flower. They come in a range of flower colors, such as scarlet, white, orange, pink, and yellow. They make great container plants since they are best viewed up close.
Perennial flowers are the backbone of your garden. They feature not only colorful and interesting flowers that bloom at various times during the growing season, but also foliage that fills in a border planting.
Here are some easy-care perennials that aren't fussy about soil conditions and sun exposure.
Rudbeckias or black-eyed Susan are found growing wild in meadows. Cultivated versions of this popular wildflower feature bigger and bolder flowers and a longer blooming time.
Shasta daisies are larger versions of the classic ox-eye wildflower daisies. They grow best in sunny locations and are great for cutting.
Echinacea or coneflower has become a popular perennial garden plant. Common selections of this wildflower have purple flowers. Newer varieties have white, yellow, and even orange flowers. These plants are tolerant of heat, drought, and insects.
Gaillardia or blanket flower features spectacular 3- to 4-inch-diameter orange-red blooms on 2-foot-tall plants. They are also drought tolerant.
While many flowers can be used as cut flowers, including all the perennial flowers listed above, there are some that can be grown solely for that purpose. These tend to be annual flowers that produce lots of bright colored blooms on strong stems. Experiment with mixing and matching these cut flowers with others from your garden in a floral bouquet.
Cosmos can grow into 4-foot-tall plants with bunches of papery thin, brightly colored blossoms. They tend to produce more flowers toward the middle and end of summer and can be very prolific.
Dianthus or bachelor's buttons are perennial flowers that only grow 18 inches tall but come in a range of colors with strong stems that are perfect for cutting. These flowers, which resemble mini carnations, grow best in full sun.
Sunflowers are the classic American cut flower. There are many varieties available with tiny to huge flower heads and in colors ranging from white to burgundy. Direct sow many different types to create Monet-like bouquets for your summer table.
Zinnias are another classic cut flower. The large-flowered zinnia, California Giant's Mix, is a double-flowered annual that comes in colors ranging from orange to yellow. These 3- to 4-foot-tall plants love the heat.
Starting Lupines from Seed
Q. I purchased a pack of lupine seeds and understand they have special germinating requirements. How should I start them?
A. Lupine seeds need to be soaked in warm water to soften the seed coat and then chilled for four weeks to stimulate germination. Soak the seeds in warm water overnight, then sow seeds in a moistened seed-starting mix in trays or individual pots. Keep the trays in a cool (55 to 60 degrees F) location, such as the refrigerator or an unheated garage, for a month.
The seeds can take anywhere from 15 to 60 days to sprout. Cover the tray with a plastic bag to help retain moisture, and remove the plastic as soon as seedlings appear. Keep them growing indoors under grow lights until you are ready to harden them off and plant them outdoors this spring.