The final week in April is a good time to make your plans for a colorful summer with blooming container gardens. It may still be too early to plant our heat-loving flowering and vegetable plants such as coleus, basil and marigolds but if you find nice specimens at a nursery or garden center, buy them now and just protect them at night by covering with a light sheet or moving them under a covered porch or patio.
If you are looking for instant color now that won’t mind a few more rainy days and chilly nights, these are the tough plants that can go into your garden this week and provide color all summer and into the fall:
Alyssum: Low-growing and drought resistant this is a great annual plant for edging borders or to mass in front of taller plants. Alyssum will even reseed and overwinter in well-drained or gravelly soil. You can find six packs of alyssum in pink and purple shades as well as white and for a hot and sunny bed a display of pink geraniums and purple alyssum is a lovely plant marriage.
Tip: Buy young plants just starting to flower as alyssum resents being transplanted when it is mature.
Lobelia: Here’s the clue to more blue in your garden without having to put up with the demands of that diva delphinium. There is no better annual than lobelia for intense color in mixed for containers in the shade. The annual lobelia comes in deep blue, sky blue, pure white and bicolored varieties and now it is also offered in violet and purple shades. Lobelia loves our cool Northwest climate and can handle the cool night temperatures of late April and early May.
Tip: Lobelia comes in compact short varieties for edgings and borders and also trailing types for cascading out of hanging baskets or spilling over the edge of a pot. Bring your glasses when buying plants and read the label as it will tell you what to expect when it comes to the size of each variety. Like alyssum, lobelia transplants best when young so buy plants not yet in bloom — have patience, they’ll flower soon.
Petunias: Many petunia varieties can survive cool nights, but if the temperature drops below 45 degrees at night young petunias may delay blooming in protest of just one good chill. Be on the safe side and cover newly planted petunias at night until mid-May or grow them in a protected location. The ground-cover petunias such as the weather-resistant Storm and Wave petunias are a bit hardier but all petunias respond to full sun, rich soil and plenty of water in the summer when they are in full bloom.
Tip: Pinch out the end growth of young petunias when planting to encourage more branching and more blooms.
Snapdragons: These old-fashioned, upright bloomers can go directly into the garden this week as they adjust quickly to the still cool nights and newer varieties stay in bloom all summer long. Use snapdragons as the taller plant in the back of bed or the center of container.
Tip: You will need to cut back the tall stems when the oldest blooms start to fade. This will encourage new side branches to sprout and keep the plants blooming.
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.
April 27: 7 p.m. at Green River Community College, Enumclaw campus, 1414 Griffin Ave. The topic is “Water Wise Solutions for your Landscape.” Call 253-288-3400. Fee of $39.
April 30: 11 a.m. at Nisqually Valley Home and Garden Show at Yelm High School, 1315 W. Yelm Ave. The topic is “Weed Wars — how to win the battle without upsetting Mother Nature” and “Dirt Cheap Tips for the Lazy Gardener.” Information at yelmchamber.com. Free admission.
May 1: 1 p.m. at The Barn Nursery, 9510 Old Highway 99 SE, Olympia. The topic is “Spring Magic — make weeds disappear and plants grow.” Information at thebarnnurseryolympia.com. Free admission.