by Naomi Mathews
Let's face it. What most gardeners begin to crave whilst Old Man Winter finally starts to slink away for another year is some Springtime Pizazz! If you're one of those eager gardeners, read on. There is a way to put the winter blahs behind you while your sleepyheaded flower beds are still deciding whether to awaken from their long winter snoozes.
You won't even have to touch those mucky, bare flower beds to bring a bright glimpse of spring to one or more of your favorite spots almost overnight. If you have a balcony, a backyard patio, a private courtyard, or a drab entryway that's simply begging for springtime, plant a dazzling "Trio of Pots."
Glazed Terra Cotta Pots are Perfect Containers
For planting our spring trio, we will use a group of three matching terra cotta pots of different sizes. These pots have a glazed finish which will help them retain moisture better, especially during warmer summer days. Each pot has an adequate drainage hole in the bottom, a necessity for plants grown in containers.
Before filling the pots with soil, place a few broken pieces of clay pottery, Styrofoam peanuts, or small pebbles in the bottom of each pot. This will help promote good drainage. Using a reliable commercial soilless mix, fill each pot to within 3-4 inches from the top rim. It is helpful to water the soil in each pot the day before planting. This helps settle the soil in the pots, and your plants won't need to be watered as heavily following planting. With your pots now ready, planting won't take long.
Replace Winter Blahs with Pleasant Spring Pastels!
For great eye appeal, we're going to plant a single specimen plant in each pot with very different but complementary flower and foliage colors, textures, and growth habits. When grouped together and blooming they will blend as one beautiful mixed bouquet.
AGAPANTHUS (A. africanus)
In the first and largest container, we will plant an Agapanthus (A. africanus), commonly called Lily of the Nile or Blue African Lily. This lovely plant is regarded as an evergreen or deciduous perennial. Because agapanthus don't mind being crowded, they are a great choice for our largest single specimen. Agapanthus develop large root systems and are very selfish about their space, which they don't enjoy sharing. Therefore, it's wise not to plant other plants in the same container with them.
The agapanthus will be the focal plant of our trio, lending a romantic, almost tropical appearance to the group. Agapanthus have long been prized for their unique 1 to 4 inch clusters of tubular flowers--often as many as 20-50 per cluster. Their blossoms range from deep blue to white and bloom from early summer through fall atop stately 2-foot stalks rising from mounds of dark green, straplike leaves.
Plant agapanthus after all danger of frost is past if you live in a cold winter area. After planting, agapanthus need at least three or four hours of sunlight a day, but they don't tolerate hot afternoon sun. Water regularly during their growing season to keep the soil moist but not soggy. Fertilize every two to three weeks during the blooming season with a water-soluble fertilizer such as 20-20-20.
Agapanthus are marginally cold hardy, and some varieties, such as 'Bressingham Blue' and 'Headbourne Hybrids', will thrive outdoors in USDA Zones 6-9. Some varieties will thrive outdoors in Zones 8-11 without protection. In colder zones, move your agapanthus to a sun room or place it in a cool basement or other protected area during the winter. Plan on dividing your agapanthus every four or five years, as this will help retain the quality of the flowers and also provide you with new plants.
SCHIZANTHUS (S. wisetonensis)
In our medium-sized pot, we will plant Schizanthus (S. wisetonensis), a very showy annual also called a "Butterfly Flower" or "Poor Man's Orchid." This truly lovely plant hails originally from the South American country of Chile. Although not a well-known flowering annual, you're sure to fall in love with it when you see its remarkable flowers. Schizanthus are very slow to germinate, so it's best to purchase plants that are already potted from your garden center.
Depending on variety, schizanthus will grow from 1-2 feet in height, forming a neat, bushy type plant. Their medium green fern-like foliage will contrast beautifully with the dark green straplike leaves of the agapanthus.
Showstopping flowers spilling over the rims of their pots in bursts of color will catch the eye of all who see them. Their dainty orchidlike flowers bloom in dense clusters of pink, lilac, violet, purple, and white. Open-faced blossoms usually range from 1 1/2 inches to 6 inches across, depending on variety. Each little blossom has distinct varicolored markings with yellow and white centers.
Schizanthus can be planted when you plant your agapanthus, after all danger of frost is past. After planting, water regularly, but just enough to keep the soil moist throughout summer and early fall. To maintain longer blooming time and healthy growth, feed your schizanthus with a 20-20-20 water soluble fertilizer about every two weeks. Schizanthus need only minimal deadheading. However, if you enjoy picking fresh flowers to bring indoors, you'll be pleased to know that schizanthus blossoms will last for five to seven days.
Primroses are a fabulous spring flower and a welcome sight planted in containers after a long, drab winter. They can be found in nurseries, garden centers, grocery stores, and floral shops in early spring.
Primroses are members of the genus Primula and can be perennials, biennials, or tender annuals. Although there are about 600 known of species of primroses, their blossoms and leaves are all somewhat similar. Blossoms can be either flat, tubular, or bell-shaped. The most widely cultivated primroses have been classified into three main groups: Candelabra, Auricula, and Polyanthus.
As its name implies, Candelabra primroses are reminiscent of a beautiful candelabra holding bright colored candles. Candelabra primroses feature delicate tubular-shaped flowers that bloom on stems of varying heights.
Auricula primroses are very different from the Candelabra and Polyanthus primroses. Their flowers are flat with evenly rounded petals surrounding creamy or white colored centers. This species is superb for gardeners who wish to use them for exhibitions.
As a cheerful announcement of Spring, let's select two or three Polyanthus Primroses to plant in the smallest of our pots. Their cheerful blossoms peeking just above their oval textured leaves will be another attractive contrast to the agapanthus and the schizanthus. Planted as single specimens, primroses are also very showy.
Polyanthus Primroses are a tender perennial, but are widely grown as early spring bloomers. This species is a favorite of gardeners because it is so easy to grow. They sport round clusters of 1-1/2 inch blossoms on 4 to 6 inch stems that bloom profusely in cheerful splashes of color. Primroses are available in a wide array of colors. You're sure to find many that will blend beautifully with your agapanthus and schizanthus blossoms.
When shopping for primroses, inspect them carefully and don't buy plants that are droopy or have pale leaves. Healthy plants will have compact leaf structures with root systems that are well developed. Select plants with at least one or more blooms open to be sure they are the colors you want. Also, try to select plants with more new buds forming that will bloom later.
Your primroses will thrive in the soilless potting mix we've used. They prefer a location with filtered sun and like to be kept moist but not soggy through their growing season. Deadheading spent blossoms will help to promote further blooming. Feed your primroses with a reliable water soluble fertilizer about every two weeks to maintain healthy growth.
And now -- it's time to sit back and enjoy your dazzling trio of flowering pots. Before you know it, it will be time to dig into those bleak flower beds that will be begging for your attention!