April weather too fickle for some flow­ers

Don’t be fooled by fickle April weather; some plants just aren’t ready to face cold

Vancouver Sun - - FRONT PAGE - BRIAN MIN­TER

It hap­pens ev­ery year, and re­cent weather swings have cer­tainly ex­ac­er­bated the prob­lem. When we get 20 C weather in late March and April, many folks who are hun­gry for early floral colour and fresh food from the gar­den are equally anx­ious to get ev­ery­thing grow­ing.

But not ev­ery­thing can tol­er­ate April’s fickle weather pat­terns. Mak­ing mat­ters worse, most gar­den re­tail­ers of any size are putting ten­der plants on their shelves, mostly be­cause of consumer re­quests.

Many savvy gar­den­ers have small green­houses and cold frames, and have learned through ex­pe­ri­ence to shel­ter ten­der plants and the early hang­ing bas­kets and planters they have pot­ted up. Novice gar­den­ers, how­ever, sim­ply don’t know the dif­fer­ence be­tween cold-tol­er­ant and heat-lov­ing plants and, un­for­tu­nately, many marigolds, be­go­nias, gera­ni­ums, toma­toes and pep­pers end up in a chilly April gar­den where they quickly go back­wards, or worse, die be­cause of ex­po­sure to cold, wet con­di­tions.

There are lots of bloom­ing plants that will do well in the cool, early spring tem­per­a­tures, but most of them tend to peter out in the warmth of late June and the heat of sum­mer. Peo­ple start look­ing now for bas­kets and planters with the ex­pec­ta­tion that they will last through Septem­ber, but that’s just not fea­si­ble at this time of year. In the colour de­part­ment, a lit­tle strat­egy goes a long way. For con­tain­ers, es­tab­lish your an­chor or fo­cal plants as a per­ma­nent fea­ture and then ac­ces­sorize with cool-lov­ing colour un­til late May when you can swap them out for heat lovers.

There is an ar­ray of beau­ti­ful plants that look stun­ning used as fo­cal pieces. The overused green spikes of dra­caena palms can tol­er­ate some cold, and they now come in a myr­iad of unique new colours such as bur­gundy, red and yel­low, as well as hot new pinks, limes and stun­ning tri­colours.

The new “Danc­ing ” se­ries of cordy­lines will knock your socks off, es­pe­cially “Danc­ing Zumba” and “Danc­ing Salsa.”

Strik­ing new phormi­ums (flax), such as “Pink Stripe,” “Jester,” “Evening Glow” and the well­known “Yel­low Rib­bon,” cre­ate lovely dis­plays all sum­mer and well into Oc­to­ber, but must come in for win­ter. If you add in colour­ful ever­green grasses, such as “Ever­gold,” “Ever­sheen” and the much-sought-af­ter hot lime “Ever­illo,” as well as ever­green perennials, such as the new eu­phor­bias, “Ascot Rain­bow” and “Shorty,” you have the mak­ings of a beau­ti­ful last­ing dis­play.

Now you’re get­ting there. One of the new heucheras, avail­able in black, lime, bur­gundy and pur­ple, will add a vi­brant touch, and I love to fin­ish off us­ing hardy os­teosper­mums that come in an ar­ray of invit­ing colours in­clud­ing pure whites, bright yel­lows, rich pinks and pur­ples.

Vi­o­las and pan­sies are the tra­di­tional early spring colour spots. The newer “Cool Wave” pan­sies are nice spillover plants for con­tain­ers. The trail­ing alyssums, called lob­u­lar­ias, are get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter, both in habit and colour in­ten­sity.

I love the var­ie­gated fo­liage of “Frosty Knight.”

Many Proven Win­ners neme­sias, such as Sun­sa­tia “Cranberry” and Juicy Fruits “Kumquat” and “Cher­ries on Ice,” are re­silient in cool tem­per­a­tures and are also some­what heat-tol­er­ant. They will re­ally spice up your colour at this time of year.

Al­though the very pop­u­lar ba­copa is used a lot in sum­mer plant­ings, it’s not the best heat per­former. It ac­tu­ally does bet­ter in cool con­di­tions. The broader colour range of pinks, pur­ples and whites gives you many op­tions, and folks even use them as ground cov­ers. To­day, with all these va­ri­eties at your dis­posal, you can cre­ate stun­ning planters and gar­den beds that are suit­able for spring tem­per­a­tures. Sim­ply change out the few flow­er­ing plants with petu­nias, be­go­nias and cal­i­bra­choas when we shift into our hot sum­mers.

Most of these plants will tol­er­ate a light frost, but de­pend­ing on where you live in the prov­ince, keep one eye on the night tem­per­a­tures. If the tem­per­a­ture drops be­low –4 C, use a pro­tec­tive cover such as the white N-Su­late cloth.

Switch­ing to food gar­dens, there is much that can be planted now. Peren­nial veg­eta­bles, such as rhubarb, as­para­gus and Jerusalem artichokes, can go in now. All small fruits, in­clud­ing straw­ber­ries and ever­bear­ing raspberries, are ready to start grow­ing.

Peren­nial herbs, such as pars­ley, sage, thyme, oregano, mar­jo­ram, mint and chives, should be planted any­time now, ready to add unique flavours to all your culi­nary creations. Hold off on le­mon grass, le­mon ver­bena and dill un­til it gets re­ally warm. Basils should not be set out un­til night tem­per­a­tures are 12 C or higher. With some frost pro­tec­tion, all your greens, such as let­tuce, spinach, swiss chard and mesclun, can go out. Early bras­si­cas, onions, pota­toes and peas love the cooler tem­per­a­tures.

Toma­toes, pep­pers, cu­cum­bers, squash and beans need the heat, so the May long week­end should be the ear­li­est tar­get date for these heat lovers. If you wish to grow younger heat-lov­ing plants into large plants to give you a head start in May, you can eas­ily cre­ate an out­door cold frame with a south- or west-fac­ing ex­po­sure. This works even on a pa­tio or apart­ment deck.

A lit­tle gar­den plan­ning now will go a long way to get your early colour and early food grow­ing with­out need­ing a com­plete do-over a lit­tle fur­ther into the sea­son.

There are lots of bloom­ing plants that will do well in the cool, early spring tem­per­a­tures, but most of them tend to peter out in the warmth of late June and the heat of the sum­mer. Brian Min­ter

Neme­sia Sun­sa­tia Cranberry are low main­te­nance and a great choice for spring plant­ing.

Vi­o­las are tra­di­tional early spring colour plants. Not all plants can tol­er­ate April’s weather.

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