Marianne Binetti

Spring's here but be careful. Many plants get the chills in cold soil

Now's a safe time to set out hanging fuchsia baskets but keep them close to the house so they're protected from cold winds.
Now's a safe time to set out hanging fuchsia baskets but keep them close to the house so they're protected from cold winds. University of California, Davis Arboretum

The last weeks of April are a safe time to set out hanging fuchsia baskets close to the house where they will be protected from cold winds.

You also can plant cold-tolerant bedding plants such as lobelia, pansies and Dusty Miller, but you’ll be gambling if you allow geraniums, petunias, marigolds and other warmth-loving flowers to grow outdoors in the still cold soil.

Don’t even think about planting tomatoes, basil or coleus outside this week. These three heat lovers get the chills even without a late frost, and one night below 50 degrees can stunt their growth, drop their leaves, yellow their foliage and shiver their timbers.

Q. We have a dark and shaded front porch. What flowers will bloom all summer in a large container? I am looking for something different from the same old impatiens and begonias. A.B., Puyallup

A. Consider the leaf. You’ll have it made despite the shade if you design with fantastic foliage plants.

Some — like evergreen, long-lived foliage shrubs such as Fastia japonica "Spider’s Web" — will dazzle in the darkness with intricate webs of white markings splashed on large, pointy leaves. Combine the white foliage with black mondo grass and spice it up with colorful coleus.

Unusual begonia Rex grown for foliage rather than flowers and training yellow leaves of Vinca minor "Illumination" will add to the leafy luster of any container garden placed where the sun don’t shine.

Q. Please suggest some blue and white flowers that I can bring indoors and use in a vase. I have tried lobelia but the stems do not grow very long. I want something with long stems for a tall vase to sit in my entry hall. Thank you. P.R.M. Tacoma

A. The dominate blue in any flower garden will be delphiniums.

But these divas of the plant world behave like royalty, as inbreeding has created tall flowers that need lots of support (stake each stem.) And like some royals they do have eating disorders (fertilize often) and a bit of a drinking problem, which means you can never allow delphiniums to dry out.

Still, for all their demands, one cannot look past a delphinium stem in a vase or a well grown delphinium plant ruling over the garden bed kingdom.

Agapanthus, flowering alliums and camas are blue and white blooming bulbs with long stems. Monkshood (Aconitum) is a deep blue perennial up to six feet tall that flowers even in the shade. Don’t overlook using the blue and white blooms of hydrangeas for cut flowers. Harvest hydrangea flowers early in the morning and late in the summer when the petals have matured to a leather consistency and they will dry to become long lasting cut flowers.

Q. What was the petunia you recommended last year that stayed more compact and bloomed better than others? There are so many choices at the garden center when it comes to petunias. W.W., Kent

A. Picking a petunia is like picking a puppy — the best plant for you depends on how much room you have and how much attention you can give it.

The more compact Supertunias such as Hot Pink Charm and Supertunia Mulberry Charm (purple and lavender) will spread about 18 inches, making them well behaved in containers and small spaces but they will need some pinching.

Fast growing petunias like the Wave and Storm adapt to high heat, full sun and bounce back quickly after rainstorms pelt their petals. Use these like ground covers to cover a bank or edge a large flowerbed.

Then there are the Superbells or Calibrachoas that look just like mini petunias. These new petunia cousins bloom in amazing bi-colors and some have double flowers like mini roses. Look for Superbells such as Double Orchid, Over Easy and Rising Star. The Calibrachoas Superbells need perfect drainage and do not do well in the ground in our climate.

Another idea is to just grab a plant that catches your eye and read the label to learn about size and care. Experiment with all the new varieties. Gardening should be an adventure, so keep trying new plants.

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