Tips from Garden Experts

Warm weather has us itching to start our gardens, but hold off just a little longer. A cold night can stress new plants, giving them a weak start.

The general rule of thumb is to wait until Mother’s Day, which is May 9 this year, says Tyler Hagemann, owner and grower at Merlin’s Greenhouse, 300 Mix St., Oregon, Ill.

“The longer you wait, the better your plants are going to do because they’re not going though that stress level,” says Hagemann.

Once it’s time to plant, note the light and water requirements a plant needs before choosing where to put it. They’re normally found on the plant tag.

Most annual plants – the kind that offer bright color all season long and perish with fall frost – need plenty of sunlight to bloom properly. Common annuals include geraniums, petunias and begonias. Some varieties tolerate shade well, such as impatiens and coleus. The latter is prized for its colorful foliage.

“Every year they come up with another four or five colors and textures of coleus,” says Scott Gensler, co-owner of Gensler Gardens, 102 Orth Road in Loves Park and 8631 11th St. in Davis Junction, Ill.

Gensler often builds a container around a central, taller-growing coleus.

From purples to vibrant rusts, lime greens, reds and hot pinks, no-fuss coleus are rapid growers that enjoy a mix of sun and shade. If they get too big, just pinch off a few inches.

Perennials are plants which re-appear each spring, such as sedum, daylilies, iris, peonies, coral bells, hostas and some ornamental grasses and herbs. They bloom for a short period of time rather than all season long, but they won’t die with frost.

Once you’ve given plants a proper home, be sure to water and feed them.

“In order to keep those hanging baskets as beautiful as when you purchased them, you need to check them daily to see if they need to be watered,” says Jamie Swanson, owner of S & H Nursery, 5956 McCurry Road in Roscoe.

“The object of watering is to find that ‘happy medium,’ neither too wet nor too dry, because too much or too little water can be detrimental.”

Plants in containers need to be watered more often than plants in the ground, especially in hot, windy conditions. Most flowering plants need to be fertilized and deadheaded weekly to look their best. Snipping off the withered bloom at the first notch in the stem signals the plant to send nutrients to new blooms.

A thoughtful mix of annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees can improve both curb appeal and backyard enjoyment. ❚