Garden Planner: Flowers Galore

It’s what this season of rebirth is all about

Storms and frosts may linger, but gardens generally enjoy a growth  spurt that delivers bouquets and bounty in the months ahead. Gardeners scurry to plant, prune and fine-tune everything from perennial borders to backyard orchards and vegetable beds. Opportunities abound to try new plants, polish gardening skills and find design inspiration. It’s what this season of rebirth is all about.

Do the Groundwork 
Prepare now for a bounty of homegrown, warm-season edibles. Remove spent winter veggies to the compost pile and spade the ground, working in new soil if needed, organic material and slow-release vegetable fertilizer. Check your irrigation system and make needed repairs. Using pots or trays washed in a weak bleach solution, start seeds for warm-weather favorites, including squash, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. They’ll be ready for planting in six to eight weeks. Keep in mind that many of these heat lovers will languish in the ground before nighttime temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees. Also remember to rotate crops, especially tomatoes and peppers, to lessen damage from soil-borne pathogens. 

Notable Newcomers
Nurseries brim with temptation this month, especially for gardeners always on the lookout for the latest plant introductions. Here are some choice newcomers that are ideal for local gardens.

From Monrovia Growers (
‘Vestito Rosso’ Camellia — Elegant ‘Bella Rossa’ from California’s famed Nuccio’s Nurseries is the parent of this showy introduction. Both produce rosy crimson flowers winter to spring, but ‘Vestito Rosso’ adds inky red new foliage to the display. This evergreen is a slow grower reaching 6 to 8 feet tall and wide. Plant it in an area with partial shade to filtered sun. 

‘Summer Soul’ Arabian Jasmine — Double white flowers on this compact evergreen vine resemble miniature gardenias with a sweet vanilla fragrance. Blooms appear spring though summer when the vine is placed in full to partial sun. It grows 6 to 8 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide and is ideal in containers or as a small hedge.

From Annie’s Annuals & Perennials (
Giant Purple Lobelia — During its first year in the garden, this rare, striking perennial forms a 3-foot-tall rosette up to 40 inches across. In year two, the fireworks begin when 3-foot-long spikes yield orchid-like purple flowers that bloom for months atop strong stems growing 8 to 10 feet tall. Plant in sun/part shade and provide moderate water.

‘Princess’ Iochroma — Clusters of flared plum flowers lure hummingbirds to this handsome small tree ideal for side yards and other bright sun or partial shade locations. This drought-tolerant, quick grower endures clay soil. Supply it with moderate water until it is well established.

From High Country Gardens (
‘Amistad’ Sage — Discovered at an Argentine market, this bold sage is thought to be a cross between the popular Salvia guaranitica and S. gesneriiflora. Royal purple flowers with black calyxes top plants up to 5 feet tall and 6 feet wide. It thrives in coastal settings.

‘Luminous’ Pineleaf Beardtongue — Shown above, the 10-inch-tall Western native (Penstemon pinifolius) is compact yet commanding, with masses of yellow-throated orange flowers that bloom in spring. It thrives in poor soils and hot sun. It is High Country’s 2016 Plant of the Year, avail-able at Mountain States Wholesale Nursery (

‘Pink Flamingo’ Muhlenbergia — This tall, hybrid ornamental grass combines long, upright, blue-green leaves and a showy froth of dainty pink flowers in fall. It forms a 4- to 5-foot-tall, 2-foot-wide clump. 

The Wild West
Time your visit to Borrego Springs this month to take in wildflowers — likely spectacular in an El Niño year — and some of the desert community’s finest gardens. Kicking off the 2016 season, the 18th annual Borrego Garden Tour is set for March 19, when organizers expect wildflowers to be at or near peak bloom. Six gardens — all native, succulent or low-water landscapes — will welcome visitors between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Among them is Happy Days, the historical home of the late publisher James Copley now owned by former San Diego City Manager Jack McGrory. For tickets, visit or call 769-767-3098. 

Water-wise Show and Tell
Volunteers at The Water Conservation Garden in El Cajon open their personal landscapes to the public on March 26 for the WCG’s inaugural Water-Wise Home Garden Tour. The tour’s five properties — in El Cajon, La Mesa and Rancho San Diego — emphasize the beauty and variety of plants from semi-arid regions, including the U.S. Southwest, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Succulent cuttings, birdhouses, pots and garden jewelry handmade by local artisans will be for sale at the properties; and hosting homeowners will be on hand to answer questions. The tour runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information and to register, visit or call 619-660-0614, ext. 10.

First The Beatles, Now Foxgloves
All the rage at the 2014 Chelsea Flower Show, a foxglove that was named Best New Plant at England’s premier gardening show is making a splash on this side of the pond. ‘Illumination Flame’ foxglove is a perennial, unlike the familiar garden foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), a biennial usually treated as an annual here and one of the hybrid’s parents. The other parent is Canary Island foxglove (D. canariensis), which made ‘Illumination Flame’ evergreen and helped color its unusual flowers with sunset shades of pink, purple, coral and gold. Plant it in full sun or light shade and provide moderate water. It grows to 2 feet-plus tall and wide. Look for it and newer rosy cultivars — ‘Raspberry’ and ‘Berry Canary’ — in area nurseries. 

Bye, Bye Bulbs
Popular spring bulbs wind down now, after heralding the season with cheerful flowers. Treat some, like tulips and hyacinths, as annuals; pull and discard them when their bloom ends. Many others — like daffodils, freesias, watsonias and baboon flowers (Babiana) — will return next year. T o keep them vigorous and encourage them to naturalize or multiply, cut off spent flower stalks but leave the foliage, which will continue to provide nutrients to replenish the bulbs. A light feeding helps this process. Remove leaves only when they turn yellow or brown. If they become unsightly, they can be braided or tied together and tucked out of sight.

The Inside Scoop
Living walls are a top trend, especially for eco-minded restaurants and businesses that want to refresh environments with greenery. The Manual of Interior Plantscaping (Timber Press, 2015) is a comprehensive guide for successful design, installation and maintenance for anyone considering one of these installations. Especially helpful is author Kathy Fediw’s list of 60 plants suited for indoor use.

Merger and Acquisition
San Diego Botanic Garden revamped its annual mid-March events into a weekend Spring Planting Jubilee featuring everything from trees to seedlings, garden art and expert advice. The March 19-20 celebration replaces the Spring Plant Sale, Tomatomania and Herb Fest of previous years. As in the past, specialty growers from around the county will gather at the Encinitas public garden; but this year they will be joined by vendors of garden implements and accents. Seedlings for tomatoes and other warm-season edibles and annuals, grown locally by Coastal Roots Farm, also will be featured. A KidZone with a petting zoo and pony rides will entertain youngsters while parents shop or listen to educational talks presented on an outdoor stage. Rounding out the weekend is an orchid show and sale. All are free with a membership or paid admission. For details, visit

And don’t forget to:

• Shop for heirloom and hybrid tomatoes at the Water Conservation Garden’s second annual Tomatomania sale March 12-13 on the campus of Cuyamaca College. Details are at 

• Replace declining winter-blooming annuals with their spring and summer counterparts, including colorful coleus, cosmos, verbena, zinnias, marigolds, petunias, vinca and celosia.

• Prune frost damage from trees and shrubs once the danger of freezing temperatures passes. 

•  Control powdery mildew on roses and other susceptible plants. Remove leaves with telltale white, circular patches; and spray plants with water early in the day.

Save the date for the annual Master Gardener Seminar with classes presented by local gardening experts. Generally held this month, the 2016 program has been moved to June 4. Details are at

•  Pick fragrant sweet peas regularly, as they begin to bloom, to keep them producing flowers.

Attend the Spring Home/Garden Show, March 4-6, at Del Mar Fairgrounds to view display gardens by some of the area’s top landscape designers. For details on the 31st annual event, visit 

Pull weeds, bait for snails and slugs, and clean up debris where pests may have wintered. 

Categories: Garden Guide, Gardening