I have been planting spring containers for over a week now. Of course the earliest pots had the biggest restrictions as to what plant material will tolerate the chill. No one wants to haul their pots into the garage every night that the temperatures threaten to be below freezing. But every gardener is ready and willing to risk being out early. We have been stuck indoors too long. The pansies are incredibly cold tolerant, as are the kale and cabbages. Lettuce is fairly cold tolerant-but the leaves are very thin. They can suffer over a cold night. Parsley has thicker leaves-they shrug off the cold. Ranunculus do quite well outdoors in early spring, but their time is short. Love them while you can.
Trailing pansies are new to me. The Cool Wave series. I love the colors, and the lax habit of growth. They are great and graceful in urns. By mid June, these pansies will put on a lot of horizontal weight. This wispy look is fine for now, at a time when the garden is just beginning to wake up.
I will confess that I have a few trick up my sleeve for height in spring pots. I could plant 1 gallon pots of forsythia in spring pots, but a 1 gallon shrub takes up an enormous amount of space. Container space is at a premium. These pots got a spring look via some spiralled dry palm leaf stems and dry palm leaf flowers. Do I mind that these stems come from natural materials that are dry-no. The greater good is an expression of spring that delights the eye, and the heart.
Cut pussy willow stems are beautiful in spring pots. Though we get in loads of straight stems from our grower every spring, I value the home grown branched stems that have volume. This pot had alyssum and phlox intensia which is barely showing color. Another few weeks of warmer weather will mean growth. The plants we use in spring pots are cold tolerant, but it will take some warmth for them to grow.
Spring flowering bulbs are actively growing, despite the cold. We do pot up lots of bulbs in the fall, as they are programmed to thrive in the early part of our gardening year. The small flowering bulbs are blooming in the garden right now. Having a pot full at the front door is all the more fun. From the time the tulips break ground, until the flowers open is an experience of spring not to be missed. This tulip, Jaap Groot, is a pale yellow, with dark yellow feathers. The cream colored edges on the leaves are beautiful, are they not? This pot looks good already. The joy and pleasure of growing any plant is much more than the story of the flowers.
These centerpieces graced the winter pots for this client. I did not see a need to replace them for spring. They just needed a spring hug. I like when materials can be reused from one season to another.
This spring pot features a pair of German ivy baskets whose long trailers were tied up into the birch branches that filled this pot for the winter. It will take a few days for the leaves of the ivy to turn back towards the light.
Twigs, whether they be fresh cut or dry, add some welcome volume to a pot that is freshly planted for spring. There is no need for any pot to sit empty in early spring. Though our greenhouses are filling up with summer flowering annuals, I like to take the time to enjoy the season at hand.
Putting ones hands in the soil of a container again feels great. It’s the first place I garden in the spring. I like to wait until the in-ground garden shows itself before I wade in. There are plenty of good reasons to plant for spring.
To follow are too many pictures of the spring pots we have planted up at the shop. But too many pictures of plants growing and blooming is just what I need right now. On this 18 foot antique Scottish railway bench, a collection of little mixed spring pots. Ever since the day years ago that I had a 14 year old boy put a ten dollar bill in my hand, and ask me what I would recommend for his gardening Mom for Mother’s Day, I make sure I have an answer.
The loss of the section of boxwood in front of the store is a loss I cannot really explain. Those plants had their roots entwined with a vision for a garden shop imagined 19 years ago. I would have been happy to have those plants there, always. But always is not an adjective one can routinely pair with the work and unexpected trouble that it is to sustain a landscape. Sometimes changes must be made. Though the end of this winter is not what I would have chosen, I have plenty of options to express the beginning of a new gardening season that are charged with life, vigor, and color.
A container planted for spring is all about a new season. Fresh ideas that grow out of old ones. A splash of color so welcome after an interminable winter. Spring is a season which is different every year. Ours so far is wet and cold. But these container plants revel in those transitory conditions. I admire their verve and robust habits. Bring on the spring plants.
Planting containers for early spring has its pleasures and its pitfalls. The overriding concern is always the cold. We planted containers for a client in downtown Detroit Thursday and Friday of last week-a dicey move, considering the overnight temperatures were very cold. One night-22 degrees. How to best avoid cold damage in early spring is to be sure you are using plants that have had the opportunity to become accustomed to, or the inclination to tolerate the cold.
Very few plants thrive in cold weather. That does not mean that they will not adapt and tolerate it. This project was planted solely with plants that had been sown and grown to a good size last fall, prior to being wintered in a cold but not freezing house. The pansies had had months to become accustomed to cooler conditions. Placing them outdoors in cold April weather did not send them into shock.
Gardeners who start their own vegetables from seed indoors know that those seedlings need to be hardened off before placement in the garden. Hardening off is a process of exposing seedlings to the reality of seasonal weather, a little bit at a time. A few hours a day in a shady place, then the day outdoors in the sun. Then a planting in the garden. Early vegetables that are sown directly in the garden do not experience transplant shock. Pea seeds can be sown when the soil is workable, and the soil temperature is 45. However, peas that that has been germinated or grown in a warm greenhouse will react poorly to a drastic change in environment. Easy does it.
The same would be true for spring flowering perennials. Some growers winter their plants in tunnel houses with no heat, so they are subject to the same cold conditions as perennials already planted in the garden. Other growers pot up bare root perennials in early spring, and bring them on in a warm greenhouse. A hothouse grown perennial may react poorly to being put outside without a hardening off period. Forced pots of hyacinths need some limited exposure to the elements before they are placed in a spring container.
Lime leaved heucheras do not have much tolerance for cold. The leaves will bleach, and go limp. However the heuchera Creme Brulee seems to shrug off the cold. I have had angelina survive the winter in a small pot I had forgotten to get in the ground. But moved outdoors from a warm greenhouse to a cold garden will cause the needles to color up orange and red. This not so spring like look results from the plant’s inability to absorb potassium from the soil, due to cold. If your zonal geraniums have red tinged leaves, they are out in the garden too early.
There are plenty of plants that can handle the transitional season known as spring. And having good success with them becomes easier if the plants have been properly hardened off. The hellebores we had in our greenhouse in March were kept at just below 50 degrees overnight. Once the season moderated, we moved them outdoors on carts for the warmest part of the day. When we moved them outdoors for good, we placed them underneath our benches, in the shade. Even a sunny greenhouse is not near the light intensity of a full sun location outdoors. Plants exposed to the sun too abruptly can be scorched by sun and wind.
Any plant that is already outside at a nursery is good to go for a spring container. Small spring flowering shrubs are great in containers, and provide some scale. Twigs and dry or preserved materials can add some heft and presence. Perennials that look good in spring containers include hens and chicks, lady’s mantle, brunnera, columbines, coral bells, angelina, lavender and hellebores. Spring vegetables and herbs such as peas, lettuce, cabbages and kales, bok choy and chard, rosemary and parsley, look great in pots. Pansies, violas, ivy, sweet peas, alyssum, and fuchsia can provide so much color and fragrance. If in doubt, harden off.
My summer pots usually go on long into the fall. They have the opportunity to get accustomed to the coming of the cold over a long period of time. Petunias, verbenas, million bells, creeping jenny will look great until frost, having been planted in late May. If you want to plant them in the spring, give them some time to adjust to the outdoors before planting. Some gardeners cover their spring plantings for a week or so with floating row cover.