As our gardens are slowing down and settling into their fall season, now is the time to plan ahead and plant soon for early spring color.
February and March are generally very bleak months in the garden here in South Central Pennsylvania. Trees and shrubs are still bare, and perennials are still sleeping. If you get excited just seeing the tips of daffodils poking up through the ground, keep reading.
For the earliest possible blooms, bulbs offer the most color, and biggest variety of choices. Your early spring bulbs have to be planted in the fall, even into November. You can have color in your garden for an entire month before your first daffodil blooms. Look to the bulb catalogs to introduce you to a huge array of
available bulbs that will carry you from February into May.
In February and March, not too many people will be thinking of a garden tour around your house, or lounging on the patio, so concentrate on what people, and you, will see....the entrance.
I underplant the gardens at the front of my house with Snow Drops, Crocus, Anemone windflowers, Glory in the Snow, and Daffodils where I can enjoy them each time I walk in the door. (The top picture on right is Windflower Anemones, the lower picture is Glory in the Snow). In a normal winter, all of these except the
daffodils will begin blooming sometime during February and continuing through March. The windflowers, my favorite, cover the ground like a carpet with small Daisy-like flowers in blues, pinks, and whites. They look amazing in front of some Nandina 'Fire Power' , which are small (two foot) shrubs that have bright red leaves
By the end of March, the daffodils will take over. To enhance the daffodils, intersperse them with some Grape Hyacinth bulbs. The contrast of the blue with the yellow is very striking. Add some Johnnie Jump-Ups with their little blue and yellow faces, and you will love the results. Sow a packet of Johnny seeds in the
Fall, and they will bloom in the spring. When they start to get leggy later in the season, just pull them out. They have already reseeded themselves for next year.
A major problem associated with bulbs is how to hide the withering leaves after the bulb is finished flowering. Most gardeners know that any bulb will live longer and produce better if you let the leaves wither until they are brown, but this is not a pretty sight. You can solve this problem by using the correct
Be aware that, throughout the summer, the resting bulb will not tolerate wet soil, so you need perennials that don't require excessive watering. Try planting these very close to where you just planted the bulbs, or conversely, plant the bulbs beneath the foliage of the existing perennials. While the bulbs are blooming,
the perennials will be small rosettes of leaves. The bulb will add flowers above those perennial leaves. Later, when the bulb is finished, and its leaves become unattractive, your perennials will be filling out and will soon completely hide the unsightly bulb leaves. Three suggestions for a sunny garden are Sedum 'Autumn
Joy' or 'Matrona', Penstemon ' Dark Towers' or 'Red Husker', and Nepeta 'Walker's Low'.
For best results, never just plant one bulb here and there. Fill a planting area with bulbs, then plant a drift of perennials above them.
In the shade, Hosta, is an excellent choice for camouflaging withering bulb leaves. A beautiful and underused plant for the shade is Brunnera. It has large leaves very much like Hosta, but many varieties have leaves which are a soft silver color as opposed to the greens and yellows of hosta. My favorite Brunnera is
'Jack Frost'. All Brunnera get dainty blue flowers during April and May, and their very large leaves do a great job of covering old bulb foliage. Cut off the flowers when they are done to keep the plant looking neat. They like rich, moist shade. If you have such an area, you will love the Brunnera which will slowly spread
Another nice perennial to add to a shade garden for early bloom is Lenten Rose. It's leaves will usually stay green all winter, and it will be blooming in March. Unlike the Brunnera, it will tolerate dry shade. If you are lucky, it will reseed itself and produce quite a few babies. Bleeding Heart is also a beautiful
shade perennial that blooms in April just in time to accompany the daffodils and tulips.
Always remember, if you are planting perennials in the fall, to mulch them well to prevent heaving. The repeated freezing and thawing during the winter will sometimes force a new plant right out of the ground. Mulch will help to maintain a more constant temperature.
One of my favorite harbingers of Spring is our native Pussy Willow. Catkins appear in March. They can be snipped and brought into the house to make great dried arrangements. Do not put them in water unless you want them to root and leaf out. For something different, try 'Mt. Aso' for pink catkins instead of silver gray.
Outside, the catkins are popular with several species of birds, especially the American Goldfinch, and the Pussy Willow is a host plant for the Viceroy Butterfly.