Tidewater Gardening - April 2008

What's New for April


K. Marc Teffeau

   I don’t know about you, but I like the earlier change to daylight savings time in March. I get tired of going to work and coming home in the dark. The time change gives us a little extra time for activities in the yard and garden, especially after work. It also seems that spring has come a little earlier this year. I heard the spring peeper frogs out in the woods the first week in March.
    The extra daylight and warmer temperatures gets the proverbial sap running to go outside and do something. In April, market packs of many flowers and vegetables start appearing at roadside stands and garden centers. Many people like to buy these because it’s a good way of getting well-developed, sturdy transplants early in the season without having to start seeds indoors yourself. Tomato, pepper, petunia, marigold and impatiens are some of the most popular choices. Unfortunately, none of these plants are frosty hardy. Planting them should be delayed until after the danger of frost has passed.
    The average last frost date in Caroline County is April 16th and in Talbot it’s April 17th. This date can vary as much as 5 to 10 days depending upon your location in the county and proximity to a body of water like a river, creek or the Bay. However, it has been my experience over 30+ years of living on the ‘Shore that we can get a killing frost the first week of May, so be prepared to protect early plants in the garden with a fabric cover, basket or similar covering. You can, however, seed or set out “cool season” plants including peas, cabbage, broccoli, onion sets, potatoes, lettuce and root crops like beets and carrots. Flowers in the group include pansies, sweet peas and larkspur.
    I have noticed that because of the fairly mild winter, in some protected sites, the pansies planted last fall survived over the winter and have colored up nicely. In the past few years, a pansy cousin – the viola – has come on the gardening scene and has challenged its bigger cousin as being the number one early spring flowering annual in the landscape.
    Some folks get pansies and violas confused, but they are from the same family and are grown the same way. Pansies generally grow about 8 inches tall with delicate 2- to 3-inch flowers of five overlapping petals in every color and marking imaginable. The similar viola grows 6- to 8-inches tall with smaller 1½ inch blooms and the color selection is not quite as broad as with the pansy. Violas have smaller flowers but they generally bloom longer than pansies.
    A new viola introduction that you might want to look for at the garden center or nursery is Viola F1 ‘Skippy XL Plum-Gold,’ an All-American Seeds Cool Season Bedding Plant Award winner for 2008. According to AAS, ‘Skippy XL Plum-Gold’ have flowers that are “uniquely designed with plum shades surrounding the gold centers (face), which contain radiating black lines affectionately called whiskers.”
    Compared to pansy blooms, this viola’s flowers are small, about 1½ inches, but are very prolific. Because of this trait, ‘Skippy XL Plum-Gold’ won the AAS award for its ability to grow a lavish number of blooms. The petite plants grow 6 to 8 inches tall and wide, and are highly recommended for combination planters. These plants do well in containers, window boxes and in the annual or perennial garden.
    A perennial you may want to add to the bed this year is Geranium ‘Rozanne.’ Not to be confused with the common annual red, white and pink geraniums of summer gardens as those “geraniums” are of a different species. The perennial geranium’s genus is Geranium; the annual’s genus is Pelargonium. You may be more familiar with Geranium ‘Rozanne’ from its common plant name, Crane’s Bill.
    The perennial geraniums grow 4 inches to 2½ feet tall, depending on the species grown. The leaves are cut and can be almost fern-like. The smaller species may be used in the rock garden. Taller types are not invasive like some other perennials. The flowers are usually 1 to 2 inches in diameter. Flowering is best when the plants are grown in full sun, although they tolerate some shade. Some of the geraniums have colorful red fall foliage. Crane’s Bill gets its common name from the resemblance of their seed-pod shape to that of a crane’s bill or beak.
    For 2008 the Perennial Plant Association has awarded the title of Perennial Plant of the Year® to Geranium ‘Rozanne.’ Geranium ‘Rozanne’ is an English import. Donald and Rozanne Waterer discovered this strong performing hardy geranium in their garden in Somerset, England in 1989. They collected seed from two geraniums growing as neighbors in their garden in Somerset, England. From the resultant seedlings, ‘Rozanne’ stood out as being exceptional, featuring stronger growth, larger flowers and leaves than their parent plants.
   ‘Rozanne’ has 2½-inch, iridescent violet-blue, saucer-shaped flowers with purple-violet veins and radiant white centers. It blooms from late spring to mid fall. The perennial is hardy in our area. At maturity its size is 20 to 24 inches tall and 24 to 28 inches wide. Crane’s Bill and ‘Rozanne,’ in general, do well in full sun to partial shade. One of the nice attributes of ‘Rozanne’ is that it has great heat tolerance. This perennial prefers a moist, well-drained soil. It is a vigorous plant but does not have a problem with becoming invasive.
    The Perennial Plant Association comments that Geranium ‘Rozanne’ may be used as a dynamic ground cover or as an attractive specimen plant. They recommend it as good companion plant to Shasta daisy, perennial salvia, speedwell, hostas, and short ornamental grasses. It will also do well in patio containers, window boxes, and hanging baskets. In the landscape you can place it in front of beds or borders.
    Blooms of Bressingham of England, who I understand introduced the plant to the gardening public, mentions that it this perennial has large 2½” saucer-shaped violet-blue flowers with purple-violet veins and small white centers offer non-stop flowering through the growing season. It has one of the longest flowering periods of any of the hardy geraniums. Their large flowers just never quit. As with the species, its mounded, slightly marbled, deep green foliage becomes reddish brown in fall for added interest. As an added characteristic ‘Rozanne’ is deer and animal resistant and attracts butterflies.
    The daffodils popped out early in March so pay attention to how they do. Observe your daffodil and other spring bulbs while in bloom this spring to be sure they have not been shaded by the new growth of other tree or shrub plantings. If they have, you may need to move your bulbs to a new, sunny location or prune back the plantings. Label the clumps of daffodils that are too crowded, as overcrowding inhibits blooming. Dig up and separate in July. Cut flower stalks back to the ground on daffodils, hyacinths, and other spring flowering bulbs as the flowers fade. Do not cut the foliage until it dies naturally. The leaves are necessary to produce strong bulbs capable of reflowering.
    Also in the flower category, late April is a good time to plant dahlia tubers in the flowerbed. Stake at the time of planting to avoid injury to tubers. If you dug up and stored dahlia tubers over this winter one easy was to determine if they have survived storage, is to sprout them indoors in a warm, lit spot. Fill the bare spots in the flowerbed with moss roses Portulaca and feed regularly to encourage blooms into the summer.
    Happy Gardening and enjoy the spring season!