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April and May are the premier planting months for all colourful winter- and spring-flowering annuals. For a blaze of colour lasting for months, young seedlings need to be planted out during this period. Many gardeners forget about this important planting season, only realising they’ve missed the boat when the flowers start making an impact with their spectacular blooms. React now and join enlightened gardeners in planting the ‘winter colour run’ in time.
In warmer climates, plant seedlings 4-6 weeks later than in cooler climates. This is because warm temperatures can still occur during April, so always make sure that soil is well prepared before planting. Compost and root-stimulating fertiliser are important additives. Here are some of the most significant winter- and spring-flowering annuals for adding colour to the garden:
Pansies and Violas
Pansies and their smaller cousin, the viola, need little or no introduction. They are among the best-known and most-loved flower seedlings in the world. Some have delicate faces on the flattish flowers, while others are clear single colours that shine brightly in the winter and spring sunshine. They’re unsurpassed for mass bedding, borders and garden edging, pots and containers, hanging baskets and window boxes. Pansies and violas have a place in every garden no matter the size.
- Plant in full sun or light shade.
- Well-drained loamy soils.
- Plant at the same depth as in nursery tray. Do not bury.
- Space seedlings 20-25 cm apart.
- Water well immediately after planting.
- Apply cutworm bait after watering.
- Keep plants evenly moist and water in the morning.
- Remove flower buds from small plants to allow vegetative growth to dominate.
- Feed or fertilise every 2 weeks with a 3:1:6 water-soluble plant food.
- Check regularly for pests and disease.
- Once flowering commences deadhead every second day by removing spent flowers.
- When plants begin to look scraggly and unproductive, remove and replace with summer flowers.
Primulas and Primroses
Shaded areas in the garden are always in need of a touch of colour, especially in winter. Primula malacoides (fairy primrose) and Primula acaulis (primrose) fulfil this function perfectly. They lend vibrancy to the winter and spring garden, growing in even the coldest of areas. They are ideal for mass plantings, for pots and containers and for brightening up any dark corners.
- Plant in light to deep shade.
- Grow in rich, loamy, acidic soil. Add peat moss to improve soil conditions.
- Do not plant plants too deeply.
- Space seedlings 20-30 cm apart.
- Water to settle plants after planting.
- Apply cutworm bait.
- Keep plants moist. Do not let them dry out.
- Pinch out flower buds until plants are fully developed.
- Apply 3:1:6 water-soluble fertiliser every 14-21 days.
- Check for pests and diseases. Aphids and red spider mite are a problem.
- Deadhead spent flower spikes.
- Replace with summer annuals when plants are spent.
Iceland poppies are the doyen of spring cut flowers, with their papery petals in various shades and hues. Most poppies are cultivated for picking, while they also make a statement if left to flower in the garden. They are best planted en masse, although they integrate well in the mixed herbaceous border.
- Full sun is vital for happy poppies.
- Grow in well-drained, preferably slightly alkaline, soil. Add lime in acidic soil regions.
- Handle seedlings and root balls with care. They are fragile.
- Space plants 30 cm apart.
- Water after transplanting.
- Apply cutworm bait.
- Keep evenly moist. Do not overwater.
- Pinch out the first flower buds to appear. This ensures better flowers on strong stems later.
- Side-dress with 3:1:5 slow-release nitrogen fertiliser every 6-8 weeks.
- Check for mildew and fungal infections, as well as aphids on flower buds.
- Pick flowers almost daily to encourage more blooms.
- Replace with summer seedlings when spent.
Amongst the most vibrant and spectacular of all flower seedlings, there are always new hybrids and cultivars of Petunias arriving on the market in amazing colour variations. However, the white, red and pink petunias still reign supreme when it comes to making a floral spectacle. They are great plants for bedding, pots and window boxes, as well as ideal for hanging baskets. Remember that petunias are intolerant of rain and wet weather.
- Grow in full sun. Shade makes growth weak and straggly.
- Plant in well-drained, loamy soil.
- Do not bury plants when transplanting.
- Space seedlings 25 cm apart.
- Water to settle in after planting.
- Apply cutworm bait and snail bait in warmer climates.
- Water when plants have dried out. Do not overwater.
- If seedlings are long and leggy, pinch out the growth tip to encourage bushing.
- Feed regularly every 14 days with 3:1:6 water-soluble plant food.
- Check for pests and diseases.
- Remove spent flowers. Prune back long, leggy plants.
- Replace with summer flowers when petunias are over.