Wait till after Mother's Day to plant annuals

May 4, 2011 

Once upon a time the first week of May was when gardeners in Western Washington would plant out geraniums, tomatoes, squash, marigolds and all the other warm season flowers and vegetables. That story would no longer have a happy ending.

Despite climate change, our spring weather has been growing cooler over the past decade and so early May is no longer the last frost-free date for our region. To be sure that your heat-seeking annuals don’t shrivel and shiver, wait until after Mother’s Day (this Sunday) to plant annuals into the cold ground and don’t even think about planting tomatoes, basil, eggplants and coleus until June.

Now go ahead and break this rule if you plant in containers, have a protected spot close to the house and out of the wind or just live in a warm spot on the climate map.

Any time in May is a good time to add rhodies, azaleas, blueberries, vines, cool-season vegetables and all perennials to the garden.

This is also the perfect week to visit the nursery and seek out the perfect plants for the problem spots in your garden. So here’s to problem-solving plants of great grace and beauty:

We have a narrow side yard that is deep shade. I want an evergreen screen of some sort but it must be a plant that my shear-happy husband can keep trimmed. We have gotten rid of English laurel as it always looked so awful after he pruned it back. Any ideas? G.H., Tacoma

It’s all about yew. The yew family (taxus) has deep-green, nonprickly needles but no big cones. Yews are neat and tidy and can be sheared back to control their size. Yews can handle shade and moisture and come in many different varieties, some growing in formal pyramid shapes, some more upright and some that spread over the ground. All over Europe, yews are used to outline beds, separate properties and create formal statements in the garden. These slow-growing shrubs even do well in containers.

We have a summer place in Lake Chelan and only visit on weekends. Do you have some suggestions for plants that can survive on weekend water alone and that will be full of summer color? – T.S., Maple Valley

If you improve your soil with organic matter and add a mulch, almost any tree or shrub can survive on just weekly summer water. But there are some perennials that will thrive in the hot summer sun of Eastern Washington with an abundance of blooms. Rudbeckia daisies are tough, drought-resistant bloomers that produce more flowers the more you harvest the blooms. New colors in bright orange and bold gold make these summer and fall bloomers among the exciting new plants offered at area nurseries. New sedums are also creating a buzz for water-thrifty gardeners as the golden ground-cover sedum Angelina and the cousins of sedum Autumn Joy such as sedum Autumn Charm and sedum Autumn Delight add more succulent choices. Ornamental grasses will also make waves at Lake Chelan or any hot spot without displaying any drinking problems.

I want to plant pots of all-white flowers that are delicate and lacy-looking for a summer wedding. These pots will get sun most of the day and I do know that I will need to keep them fertilized and watered but hope you can recommend something that does not need to be deadheaded. So no petunias, pansies or geraniums. M.B., Buckley

In honor of brides and white lace, I promise these two new annual plants will not need extra grooming – as one groom is quite enough at any wedding. Check out the explosion of tiny white blooms from Lobularia Snow Princess and the airy, baby’s breath look of Euphorbia Diamond Frost, both new introductions from Proven Winners. These two are perfect pot companions in mixed baskets and containers as well but give them plenty of room. Last summer both of these enthusiastic growers began stealing real estate from their bedmates. The Lobularia Snow Princess did best in a large pot of her own where her royal highness could throw out her arms, trail down the sides and show off her voluminous gown of pure white blooms without having to share the stage with any attendants. Euphorbia Diamond Frost stays more compact and is the better choice for mixed container plantings.

Marianne Binetti is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and eight other gardening books. She has a degree in horticulture from WSU and will answer questions from her Web site at www.binettigarden.com.

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