Pushing the Envelope
Planting in early spring can be a gamble but choosing the right varieties can stack the deck in your favor.
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 hardening off is. It is gradually exposing plants that have been grown in warm environments to the cooler temperatures they will experience out of doors. 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 blankets if the night temperatures are supposed to be much 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 selections, 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.
Most gardeners are already aware that Pansies and Snapdragons are pretty cold tolerant and can be planted early in the spring. However, with the introductions from recent years there are new plants that would also be good for planting early in the spring. Some ideas for early spring flowers include Argyranthemum, (Golden Butterfly™ Marguerite Daisy, below left). Another Daisy-like flower that does well in cool temperatures is Osteospermum (Bright Lights™ Double Moonglow, below center left). Another great option is Orange Symphony (below center right) from the Symphony Osteospermum series, which comes in colors of bright yellow and orange. Nemesia and Diascia (Opal Innocence® Nemesia below right) 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.
Other plants that are good for early spring planting include Dianthus (Paint the Town Magenta, below left), Heuchera (Dolce® Appletini, below center), and Bracteantha (Sundaze® Golden Beauty, below right). Dianthus comes in many forms from the compact bedding types to tall cut flower types. Coral Bells are grown mostly for their fantastic foliage. If you are looking for something with a brighter more summery color try the Sundaze® Golden Beauty.
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.