Spring Promises Colorful Blooms Sure To Brighten the Soul



After what seems like a colder than usual winter, the promise of spring includes the blooming of enough colorful flowers to brighten the most bleak souls.

Nature picks its own times, of course, but the general schedule tends to begin with hardy daffodils in mid February followed in March, April, and even later by a plethora of hibiscus, honeysuckle, iris, lantana, lilies, passion flowers, rose of Sharon, sunflowers, and so many more. And, while nature provides abundance, we can do the same in our own yards with a little bit of planning and care and by asking lots of questions at local nurseries.

Master gardeners and master naturalists Clyde and Fran McKinney, who live at Lake Lydia near Quitman, remind that the average last frost of the year is sometime around the middle of March.

“Anything that can’t withstand freezing needs to be planted probably in late March or early April, although we can still get a freeze in early April,” Clyde said. “If you’re planting a cold-sensitive plant – anything that would die with a frost – wait until April.

The McKinneys are most interested in native plants because native seeds and berries are most likely to attract butterflies, birds, and even wildlife. Natives including black eyed susans, salvias, blue sage, purple cone flowers, and more and they don’t require as much water, either, since they are acclimated to the region.

“Once they are established, they will be drought tolerant,” Clyde said. “You can walk away from native plants for long periods of time – you could go on two months of vacation – and established natives should be still healthy.

Asking an expert is always a good solution. For example, coral honeysuckle is native, while its imported Japanese cousin is invasive because it has no natural enemies and grows profusely.

“They call it Texas kudzu,” Fran said.

Another consideration for planting flowers is the choice between perennials – which, when healthy, renew themselves every year – and annuals, which must be replanted every year.

Generally, perennials are hardy, while annuals are more tender and can’t be planted as early.

Again, turn to the experts who make plants their business.

“When the nurseries start bringing things in, that’s when you ought to start buying,” Clyde said.

Mary Wilhite at Blue Moon Gardens near Edom said lots of perennial flowering shrubs need to go in the ground in the fall or early winter to give the roots time to be well established by summer.

The standard advice for such perennials: “first year sleeps, second year creeps, third year leaps,” Mary said.

“Things that bloom later in the summer – the warm season – you probably don’t want to put them into the ground until April,” she said.

Mary cites a number of benefits for plants, especially but not limited to the natives.

“They attract butterflies and quite a few feed hummingbirds,” she said. “Some put on seeds that feed birds in the winter. And with lots of flowers, you can make tea from them. Like echinacea tea is not very flavorful but it is supposed to boost the immune system. You can also make tea from honeysuckle and some of the hibiscus.”

And you can cut them and bring them into the house.

Many Internet sites provide useful tips for growing all kinds of flowers. Two are http://easttexasgardening.tamu.edu/tips/flowers/flowers.html and http://davesgarden.com.

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