Does all this talk of warmer weather have you just itching to get out and plant something? There are plenty of plants that like the cool spring weather and will do just fine when planted in cool soil. However, not every plant will tolerate our upcoming conditions as well. I say “GET ON OUT THERE AND PLANT!” Just make good choices so you can “Grow a Good Life” of beautiful spring color and food.
Here are my top tips for cool weather planting:
Stick to containers and hanging baskets for blooming plants. The potting media in containers and baskets can warm much faster than the soil in the ground. They are also much easier to cover for protection or bring inside for shelter for the remaining cold snaps that are sure to happen! Cool weather veggies are fine in the ground.
The Right Plants. Plant selection is always the foundational key to success. Since we have no leaf cover from trees right now, consider your actual growing conditions. Its easy to think of a familiar area in our yard in terms of how it appears to us when we are most likely using that area—later in the spring and through the fall. Do a little research to be certain you can provide the conditions needed for the plants you want.
Give a little extra care. Because our weather conditions change so rapidly, early spring plantings may need a little extra attention. Heavy Dew, frequent rain showers, bright sunny days all factor in to how plants use water. Be sure to physically check the moisture in the soil frequently. This will prevent over watering which will cause plants to rot.
Feed your plants. Most early spring flowering plants bloom very heavily. That requires a tremendous amount of energy. If you want your plants to give you championship performance, you need to give them the diet of a pro athlete! Use a balanced, water soluble fertilizer every third watering. (Look for the three numbers on the fertilizer to be very close to equal or the middle number to be the highest for best results)
Know your weather conditions. What does it mean when a plant can tolerate a light frost, or will die back from a hard freeze? A hard freeze occurs any time the outside temperature falls below 26 degrees F for 4 hours or more. There are plenty of good hourly temperature forecasts available on line. My favorite is local source is KSHB Action Weather. at. If you are outside the Kansas City area, try . If there is a risk of cold temperatures, good protection must be provided for many “cold tolerant” plants. Move containers to the garage or other indoor area or cover will with a light sheet. Be sure to remove the sheet as soon as temperatures are out of the danger zone. For plants in the ground, it is a good idea to give a little support with some bamboo or wood stakes as you drape your covering material over the plants. Plastic will work, but if it is clear, it can cause some damage if there is bright sunlight and warmer temperatures will it remains on the plants.
My Favorite Cool Weather Plants:
Pansies– Nothing cheers me up from a case of the winter blues like the happy little faces of Pansies! I am a big fan of their sweet fragrance. The trailing types, somewhat newer to the market, are by far my favorites. In a container or basket, they spill and flow in a colorful cascade. In the landscape bed they fill in like a carpet of color. Pansy “Cool Wave” series takes the cold and keeps blooming long in to the summer months, giving you plenty of time to enjoy them. They often make a great comeback in the fall as well as overwintering. For big bloom impact, the Delta series is my go to plant. Big, bold blooms, easy care, and reliability! That will always win my vote. Once we are passed St. Patrick’s day, I never worry about planting pansies. Even if the blooms get hit by the coldest of nights, they will bounce right back.
Dianthus– These tough beauties are related to carnations and most have that lovely spicy sweet fragrance. They stand up to the cold temperatures of early spring as well as the heat of the summer. This is another work horse that you are likely to see come back year after year in your garden beds. Excellent cold tolerance lets you plant with confidence as soon as you can work the soil.
Snapdragons– Whether you choose the new “Candy Showers” trailing series or the tried and true Montego series, Snapdragons are a sure bet for early spring planting. They easily move from spring in to summer and are likely to still be blooming late in to the fall. They do like to eat well, so be sure to feed them. You might see some damage to the blooms on very chilly nights. A quick snip to remove the damaged areas and your Snapdragons will snap right back! Personally, I like to wait a bit longer to plant taller snapdragons like Rocket or Liberty, but they will not disappoint in the cool season garden or the summer garden. We have not had sufficient time to determine how well “Candy Showers” returns the following year, but we do know that Liberty makes a strong comeback in the garden bed for years to come.
Osteospermum– Large daisy style flowers in vivid colors over compact green foliage make this plant a wonderful addition in the cool season garden. Able to tolerate light frost, you will want to give some extra protection on the coldest of nights. These lovely bloomers are so worth the effort though! My all time from the Zion series- Copper Amethyst. You just can beat the water color blend of the amethyst center of the petals to the rich, copper edges. There is nothing else like it!
Nemesia– With blooms similar to a Snapdragon and lacey foliage, Nemesia add great color and texture to planters and can get a little too wet in the landscape bed, so be sure you know your conditions if you choose to put them in the ground.
Petunias and Calibrachoa– Yes, you read that right! While we often think of these as summer annuals, they actually tolerate light frost extremely well. I personally have had them take a hard freeze and bounce right back, but I don’t recommend you leave yours uncovered on the coldest of nights. Using either of these in your early spring plantings means a jump on your summer color as well! Just replace some of its cool weather companions with a few summer jewels and you are done! Remember, Calibrachoa does not do well in the ground here. It is best used as a container plant. Some are now bred to tolerate our soil and pH, but for the basic gardener, I recommend you steer clear of them in the ground and go for a Petunia instead.
Don’t Forget Your Veggies! Even if you are not a veggie gardener, mix some lettuces or a lovely red or green cabbage in to your containers. They give wonderful texture and interest to any planter. Lettuce can be grown easily in containers. Loose leaf varieties allow for fresh harvesting of outer leaves while letting the plant continue to grow and produce. If you do plant a cool season veggie garden, try something new every season. Kohlrabi is a really unique looking plant with a great mild flavor somewhat like broccoli. It is very easy to grow and kids just love its ‘space ship” appearance. Peel, slice and eat it raw, shred it for slaw, chunk it in to a stir-fry, or add it to stew or roast. We love Kohlrabi and our dogs even like it as a treat!
I hope you are in a part of the country that is getting a big dose of spring over the next few days! If you are, get out there a ‘Grow a Good Life’!