David W. Marshall
Agriculture and Natural Resources
Program Leader
Leon County Extension

The months of March and April are months of change in the garden. Winter is ending and spring beginning. In the beginning of March freezes are still possible. By April, though, the probability of a freeze, though not impossible, is much more unlikely. It’s very important to know what to plant and when to plant it. If you wish to plant flowers for color in early March you should plant those that can withstand a freeze should it occur. By April, though, especially mid-April, you shouldn’t plant any more cool-season flowers. It will be time to think about the summer that will soon be here. So heat-tolerance will be the main consideration.

Sweet alyssum is one of those flowers you can plant in early March, because alyssum, being a cool-season annual, will be okay if we get a late freeze. Normally alyssum fades out in late spring as the temperatures begin to soar. But this particular one, Snow Princess, takes the heat pretty well. In fact, in this planting, at the UF-IFAS North Florida Research & Education Center in Quincy, Snow Princess lived through last summer. This photo was taken in the fall. So this plant should be on your “to plant” list now. Plant in full sun. Photo Credits: David W. Marshall

Verbena is another plant that can be planted in early March, as it, too, will tolerate the cool weather. Yet it will live into summer when the heat will probably take it out. It stays low-growing and creates a thick bed of color. The purples, pinks, and reds of verbena would be a good contrast to the alyssum shown in the last photo. Photo Credits: David W. Marshall

Vista Bubblegum Supertunia is yet another bedding plant for early spring. It is indeed a super petunia! If you didn’t plant it in the fall, delay no more and get some planted soon so that you can enjoy its flowers all spring. Petunias are cool season annuals. So most petunias fade out when the summer heat and rains begin. Vista Bubblegum has been known to survive the summer in our demonstration gardens and then start blooming again in the fall. Plant in full sun. Photo Credits: David W. Marshall

Another flower you can plant in fall or early spring is the snapdragon. Snaps will begin flowering a little later in the spring and go all the way to summer. Sometimes they will even hang on into the summer. Plant them now, in full sun, and you won’t have to worry about late freezes damaging them. They are plenty hardy! Photo Credits: David W. Marshall

Once we’re into April, it’s best to start thinking about summer heat when selecting flowers as June is only eight weeks away. The trailing torenias, as shown in this photo at the base of the variegated shell ginger plant, have been our best summer annual in the demonstration garden at the UF-IFAS Leon County Extension Center. The planting just gets thicker and thicker, wider and wider, and the blooming is non-stop until the first hard freeze next November or December. Make sure you select one of the trailing torenias, though, such as Summer Wave, Catalina, or the Moon series. The trailing torenias are much more vigorous growers than the upright Clown torenias… not that the Clowns are bad plants either. It’s just that even someone with a brown thumb can grow the trailing torenias. Half a day of full sun, in the morning, is preferable. But they will tolerate full sun all day, too. The hot afternoon sun just causes the plants to look a little faded. Photo Credits: David W. Marshall

The narrow-leafed zinnia (Zinnia angustifolia or Z. linearis) is another very heat-tolerant summer annual that can be started in April. Just give it full sun and well-drained soil. It’s a good complimentary planting to the trailing torenias, which you can see in the background in this photo. Photo Credits: David W. Marshall

Need some easy color in a spot? Then consider the many varieties of coleus. There are many that will even take the full sun, such as in this photo in Medellin, Colombia, the city of eternal spring. So plant some coleus in April, sun or shade, and create your own eternal spring in your garden, as the coleus will last until the following winter. The only downside to coleus is that they do require a good bit of water during the very hot weather. Photo Credits: David W. Marshall

Sunpatiens are the new super impatiens. They’re really a type of New Guinea impatiens, but much tougher than the New Guinea impatiens of the past. We’ve grown them the last several years in the demonstration garden and they have held up very well. This photo was taken in the fall. Yes, they will take full sun, but they probably do best where they get a little shade, too, for part of the day. They come in various flower colors and some have dark leaves, while there are others with variegated leaves. It’s another good plant to start in April.

If you plant any of the eight plants I’ve mentioned in this column, I would appreciate if you would drop me an email and tell me. Write me at marshalld@leoncountyfl.gov Photo Credits: David W. Marshall