Adding Color to Your Winter Garden and Getting a Jump on Spring Planting

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Adding Color to Your Winter Garden

After spring flowering bulbs have bloomed and before the perennials and annuals are at their prime, there’s a period of time in the growing season when there isn’t much blooming. But cool-season annuals can come to the rescue.

Dianthus or pinks (left), pansies (below right), calendulas or pot marigolds, snapdragons, and sweet peas will all brave the cool weather and give you lots of colorful blooms to enjoy. You can plant them in your area when the nighttime temperatures no longer drop below 25 degrees Fahrenheit and the soil can be worked easily (and not form clods). Give the plants a boost at planting time with a 10-10-10 fertilizer and water in well.

Although sometimes sold as annuals, some of these plants, such as dianthus, can be left in the garden from season to season and come back year after year. Dianthus ‘Ideal Mix’ stands up to summer heat more than most varieties and will have blooms all summer. If these plants are left through the winter, they will bloom again-and even earlier next year.

Pansies and calendulas will have few blooms during the hot season, but if they are moved to a shady location and frequently watered, they may come back and bloom again in the fall. You also could start transplants in June for an August planting and have a bold, colorful bed blooming into late fall.

Snapdragons will bloom for weeks in early spring. Once the flower spikes fade, pinch them back to encourage blooming again later in the summer and into the fall.

Through midsummer, sweet peas can create a wall of colorful blooms that will also make beautiful cut flowers.

Getting a Jump on Spring Planting

Gardeners usually can’t wait until the last frost date to begin planting. Fortunately, there are some ways to plant crops early, ever if there is still a chill in the air.

The first warm days of spring tempt gardeners to jump-start the season. And they can. By covering tender plants until the weather warms, it is possible to plant and harvest weeks early.

One way to protect a seedling is to cover it with a glass jar called a cloche (klosh), which acts as a mini-greenhouse (right). It can provide 4 to 5 degrees of frost protection. Called a hot cap or hot tent, cloches are found in many sizes and shapes at garden centers, and are also available in plastic.

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