Mass Planting - It's Spectacular!!

Pat Ferguson
Adams County Master Gardener

Do you have a sunny garden space where you would like to see a blaze of color? A riot - - an explosion of color? So often we see a grouping of annuals and perennials of different colors that look nice but there is just something lacking. Zing. It's lacking zing!

Often the number of plants in the garden are just not enough and it looks sparse. It's always more interesting and pleasing to the eye to plant in groupings rather than rows. A "grouping" can consist of a dozen tulips in an irregular planting pattern fairly close together with some dwarf hyacinth beneath.

If you plant three dozen tulips, three dozen daffodils, three dozen hyacinths and some crocus in a Spring garden space of 5 feet by 6 feet, it may seem like a lot. But when Spring comes you are going to have a lot of bare space. If you are a serious "row" planter, your flowers are going to be strung out all over the garden and you will still be showing a lot of ground.

If you "group" plant, the same thing will happen because you will have lots of space around your groupings. However, if you were to mass plant the entire garden with yellow or peach or red tulips or just daffodils or a combination of dwarf grape hyacinth in front of taller yellow tulips, WOW, what a show! A solid mass of the brightest, most cheerful, most waited-for show of the season pops out when we are craving color! Try mass planting! It's fun, it's rewarding, and when blooming, fairly shouts with liveliness! Here are some ideas for mass planting in sunny gardens (we'll talk about shady gardens next week).

If you want to try mass planting in a small way and have a lamp-post in your front yard with 6-8 hours of sun per day, cut out a circular garden with the lamp post in the center and make the total space about 5-6' in diameter. Add some good soil and soil amendments to build the space back up and mass plant the entire bed with one color of sun-loving annual - salvia, petunia, snapdragon, geranium, zinnia, cosmos, English daisy, sun coleus, plumed cockscomb, Dahlberg daisy, globe amaranth, portulaca, lantana, verbena, etc. Any of these annuals will show well in the sun. Begin in the center of the circle and plant less than half the recommended distance apart.

If your garden space gets some shade you will need to add white to your planting to set off the darker colors or those darker colors will absolutely disappear into the shade. When using two colors, begin at the center of your circle and plant with white, close together, for three or four circular rows and finish with the darker color to the outside of the circle. Water thoroughly. I tried this last year with white salvia in the center and purple salvia on the outside.

It really did look great! You can also use yellow in the center if you're using snapdragon or zinnia, for example, with purple on the outside, that's always a striking combination. For your first effort, stick with the same species - use all salvia, or all marigold, or all snapdragons, etc., use two colors if you wish, but don't mix things up too much the first time. Experiment more next year if you like this year's results.

A larger square, circular, rectangular, diamond or crescent shaped garden would be gorgeous if fully planted and brimming with color - for example, plant the entire space with mixed colors of sun coleus, planted close together. If your space is really large, add several of the fabulous striped-leaved cannas (canna "Tropicana") in the back of the planting. Or try planting the taller variety of dusty miller above a mass planting of deep red sun coleus. Pinch back the coleus to keep it shorter than the dusty miller!

Another idea would be to plant a curved garden using the perennial, artemisia, then add a short annual in front of it, like "Escapade Red" verbena (a new color this year). This new color of verbena has wonderful dark green foliage which will mix well with the artemisia. You do have to be careful when mass planting with deep reds that have very little foliage. For some reason, a lot of red is actually hard on the eye (or maybe it's hard on the senses) and you need to use some rich greenery or plant some white, silver or pink to make the dark reds appear more pleasing.

You could also try planting a "green garden". Using one of the light variegated-leaved yucca (one with some gold tones) mixed with a light variegated coleus, like "Pineapple Queen" will produce a light colored, yet striking foliage mixture. The "Pineapple Queen" variety of coleus has a very light green leaf with a touch of red veining. Adding some perennial wormwood would further lighten up the space and some licorice plant would add some low-growing texture. Choose how many you wish to use.

If you like ornamental grasses, plant something smaller either in front of them or in between them. One combination I like using is "Autumn Joy" sedum with feather reed grass or maiden grass. Both the grass and the sedum will take you into the Fall and also provide winter interest - how can you lose? A totally different look would be to plant hibiscus as a companion to ornamental grasses. Check the nurseries, there are hibiscus that are now perennials in our area and in many bloom colors.

Another good choice for a sunny location is mass planting with vinca (not vinca vine, vinca plant). This is a versatile plant with dark green shiny leaves with blooms of rose, red, pink, purple, white and now in apricot, too, and several varieties have an eye of a contrasting color. They range in height up to 1-1/2' and make a wonderful display. Plant less than half the recommended distance apart for a mass planting.

For an incomparable display of summer's "hot colors", mass plant a garden using "French Mixed" marigolds. This mixture contains a medium-to-dark solid rust color, a yellow with the rust color at the center of the flower and stopping halfway up the bloom, and a solid yellow color. If you want to add another texture to this mix, add calendula "Double Lemon Coronet" which is a solid yellow-gold pot marigold with a double bloom in a swirl pattern. Or add some zinnia in a compatible color.

You can choose to mix your colors randomly or in the case of planting with two colors, you could choose to use the darker color in the middle of two white or light colors. Think about it. Plan it. Have fun with it. Enjoy it! Experiment!

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