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Pushing the Envelope - Early Spring Varieties

Early spring is a hard time for gardeners because the days have become warmer and the inactivity of winter is pushing you to get something planted out in the garden. The call to get planting before the threat of frost has passed is hard to ignore. There are some plants that, if properly hardened off, will take several frosts with little or no damage and are perfect for early plantings.

Early spring is a hard time for gardeners because the days have become warmer and the inactivity of winter is pushing you to get something planted out in the garden. The call to get planting before the threat of frost has passed is hard to ignore. There are some plants that, if properly hardened off, will take several frosts with little or no damage and are perfect for early plantings.

You might be asking exactly what the term "hardening off" means. It means gradually exposing plants that have been grown in warm environments to the cooler temperatures they will experience outdoors. Just as our bodies get used to colder weather as we are exposed to it, so do plants. Plants purchased in garden centers are rarely hardened off, so you will need to do this yourself.

To harden off your plants once you have them home, simply move them outside to a warm, sunny location for a portion of the day, gradually increasing the length of time they are exposed to the outside environment. If the temperatures are going to drop to below freezing, be sure to bring them back inside.

Once the plants have become accustomed to the cooler temperatures during the day, choose a night that will remain above freezing and leave them out overnight. You can cover the plants to help insure against damage. Once you are able to leave the plants out all day and night, you can plant them in your garden. Once they are in place, you might want to consider covering them with old sheets if the night temperatures are supposed to fall below freezing.

Not all plants will tolerate a frost, even if they are properly hardened off, so careful selection of plants is essential to success. Even with hardening off and careful plant selection, several days of especially cold weather could damage your plants. A certain level of risk will always be involved in trying to push the envelope on getting plants into the garden.

You may know that pansies and snapdragons are pretty cold tolerant and can be planted early in the spring. However, with the new plant introductions in recent years there is now a greater selection of cool weather tolerant plants that are also good for planting early in the spring.

Some ideas for early spring flowers include Argyranthemum, also called Marguerite Daisy, which comes yellow and white. The Butterfly Argyranthemums are the best on the market and come in yellow - Golden Butterfly, cream - Vanilla Butterfly® and Pure White Butterfly.  Another daisy-like flower that does well in cool temperatures is Symphony Osteospermum

Nemesia and Diascia both belong to the same family as the common Snapdragon. Both of these plants, despite appearing to be quite delicate with small, profuse flowers and dainty foliage, are tough and will take inclement weather with ease. Colors are mostly in the pastel range from lavender and pink through coral and apricot. Some varieties to look for include Bluebird, and Sunsatia® Nemesia and Flirtation® Diascia.

Alyssum has long been a great plant for cool temps, but the Princess and Knight Allyssums are fantastic in cool temperatures and can take the heat. They will bloom through the summer even in hot summer climates. Added bonus: their blossoms are super fragrant.


Other plants that are good for early spring planting include Dianthus (Pinks), Heuchera (Coral Bells), Heucherella (Foamy Bells), and Bracteantha (Strawflower). Dianthus comes in many forms from the compact bedding types to tall cut flower types. Coral Bells are grown mostly for their fantastic foliage. Some newer varieties to try include Primo 'Black Pearl', which has black foliage, Dolce® 'Blackberry Ice', with irridescent purple foliage overlaid with pewter in summer. If you are looking for something with a brightly colored flower power, try sunny yellow Sundaze® Strawflowers.

If you just can't wait for the threat of frost to pass, using a few of these varieties will satisfy your craving to plant while providing beauty that will last well into summer and beyond.

Patent Info: Pure White Butterfly Argyranthemum frutescens 'G14420' USPPAFCan PBRAF; Vanilla Butterfly® Argyranthemum frutescens '4starvan' USPP 14,642Can 2,148; Bluebird Nemesia fruticans 'Hubbird' PP: 12014 Can. Can.: 1634; Primo 'Black Pearl' Heuchera hybrid USPPAFCan PBRAF; Dolce® 'Blackberry Ice' Heuchera hybrid USPPAFCan PBRAF; Dolce® Cinnamon Curls Heuchera hybrid 'Inheuredfu' USPP 25,648Can 5,154

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