Plant Ahead for Spring

Prepare your garden in the fall for a beautiful surprise next spring.

Photo: Ralph Anderson


Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)--This is the most common foxglove. It's a biennial and sometimes a short-lived perennial in most of the region; in the Lower and Coastal South, treat it as an annual. The flowers are 2 to 3 inches long and look like clusters of bells dangling from the sturdy stalks. Blooms vary in color from creamy white to dark pink and purple with spotted throats. Common foxglove grows 3 to 5 feet tall depending on the selection. It may need to be staked to withstand the beating of heavy rains. When possible, plant foxgloves in protected areas next to walls or fences and away from windy locations. You get a lot of bang for your buck with foxgloves. They're one of the easiest plants to grow, and they add height and charm to any garden.

Pansy and viola (Viola sp.)--These small, compact annuals provide sporadic color in the winter months and then form a carpet of blooms in the spring. Their cheery-cheeked flowers look like children's faces. Violas, also known as Johnny-jump-ups, are a compact version of pansies. Many violas will reseed freely in the garden.

Both pansies and violas come in a variety of colors ranging from white to blue, red, orange, yellow, and purple. Petals are often striped or blotched, but 'Crystal Bowl' pansies are a selection without the blotch. 'Crystal Bowl True Blue' and 'Crystal Bowl Yellow' are two reliable performers, and the yellow is also extremely fragrant. In the Upper South, plant them in the early spring; elsewhere, plant in the fall. To prolong bloom time, remove faded flowers regularly before they go to seed.

Snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus)--These are great flowers for sunny borders. They will grow 6 to 36 inches tall, depending on selection, and come in many colors including white, pink, red, yellow, and orange. Medium and tall snapdragons work well in the middle or back of a border underplanted with pansies. When planted in the fall, they bloom on and off in the winter and heavily in the spring, except in the Upper South where they may be planted in the spring for summer blooms. Or they can be grown as short-lived perennials in the Upper South. Elsewhere, snapdragons are discarded after spring and replanted in fall.

Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus)--These vigorous, old-fashioned biennials are often grown as annuals. Small plants set out in the fall garden quickly spread to form a mass of foliage. The plentiful leaves help keep the garden green throughout the winter. The following spring, dense clusters of white, pink, rose, purple, or bicolored flowers appear. The blooms look like small clouds on top of tall stems.