Planting early – the radical gardener’s guide to getting started
Forget the good advice you were raised with. When it comes to enjoying springtime in your garden, good things do not come to those who wait. The time to start getting your hands dirty in the garden is when the first bedding-out plants are on sale. Disregard the whispered “It’s too soon” tsk-tsking uttered by the seasoned old-timer in the checkout line behind you.
It may seem rash to dash from the garden centre in gloves and toque protectively crouched over your first flat of annuals. But this apparent disregard for garden sense is actually the first step to a plan. The secret to having the first and most flowery garden in town is knowing what to plant, when to plant it and where to plant it.
Tough guys go first
Start with plants that can stand cool nights and even a touch of mild frost. Pansies are usually the first blooms for sale after Easter. Pansies shout “spring is here!” with their bold palette of purples and yellows. Pansies, and other super early plants listed on this page, are not bothered by cold nights or a bit of snow. Team up your pansies with other tough guys that can put up with an Alberta spring such as the silvery dusty miller.
Tough as they are, you still need to harden off pansies, like all outdoor plants before leaving them on their own to deal with the elements.
Start Small and Ramp Up
The second secret to starting early is to begin filling hanging baskets and pots that are small enough to move into a shed or garage on cold nights. This means a little more work for the gardener. But it will pay off with bountiful bloom even when the rest of the garden is barely waking from winter slumber.
As spring becomes more certain and the May long weekend grows nearer, fill a few more pots and planters. Choose plants that, while not as cold-tolerant as pansies, but at least can tolerate cold nights. Why not enjoy a container filled with the sunny faces of African daisies (Osteospermum) ringed with the wiry arching stems of verbenas on a warm early day in May? You are limited only by how many pots you are able and willing to shuffle around as the weather dictates.
When the May long weekend rolls around you can be enjoying the tranquility of your garden. And maybe even doing a little grooming and deadheading of your arrangements.
Consider skipping the complete mayhem and frenzy of the garden centre that marks the “official” start to the season. Leave the line-ups to those who looked askance at your flat of pansies in April.