Originally published in April 2015.
North Texas has a long growing season; in fact, there’s always something we can be planting year-round. For annual color beds and containers, though, this can create a challenge. With a year-round growing season, few plants can be at their peak of color and beauty that long, so we divide the color season into ‘transitional periods’ that rely on a slightly different group of annual blooms to bridge the gaps.
Annual color plants for transitional periods include favorites like petunias, nemesia, and diascia. They’re tolerant of chilly temperatures, and therefore available from growers much earlier than summer heat lovers like purslane or lantana. The tradeoff, though, is that they don’t typically do as well in summer heat–they’re best suited for January into May/June (again, it all depends on the temperatures). They bridge the gap between our winter pansy/viola/kale routine and transition us to begonias, angelonia, purslane and other summer heat lovers.
Why don’t those heat loving annuals arrive earlier? Simply put, they need the warmth and light of spring to grow to transplant size and produce color. Flats will need to have at least 10% color for us to bring them in. Why? Because 99% of the time, consumers will not respond to bedding plants that have no color–even if they have a color tag.
Does this mean you have to plant them? Certainly not. Gardening–and the gratification you get from it–is all a matter of desired investment (be that investment in the form of time, of money, or both). Balancing your expectations against your realistic desired investment will grow your appreciation of your garden. Is it imperative to you that the large pots on your porch greet guests with pristine color year-round? You’re more likely to invest in those transitional color plantings to keep them looking sharp. Do you enjoy flowers, but would rather just wait and plant once to enjoy until fall? You’ll be better served by investing in the purslane, lantana and angelonia that will arrive later in the season.
What does that mean for the visitor to the garden center? If you arrive in March, and even early April, looking for those heat lovers, you may be disappointed. Growers have typically begun to get their earliest crops of these out, but the selection won’t peak until later in the month. Our role as horticulturists in your local IGC is to supply what will do well (remember, it’s all about your success), diversify our sources to get those early crops, and to help you understand and enjoy how other types of plants can play an important role in your garden and serve you just as well.
For perennials, we can move the line further back a bit. Experienced gardeners are usually undaunted by planting perennials they know and love when they’re out of bloom–even when they’re dormant and appear to be little more than sticks. In the next installment of our seasonality vs. availability discussion, we’ll talk about perennials and specialty, high-demand plants like Milkweed.