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Spring fever: What to plant and when?

Sam Bauman

It’s spring, despite the recent chill in the air around Carson Country. Some think of it as the best time for skiing and snowboarding; others get out tennis gear. But for gardeners, large and small, it’s time to think about the most important question of the year: What to plant?

To help folks decide, we asked the people at the Greenhouse Garden Center what are the 10 most popular plants at this time of year.

Here’s the list, not necessarily in order of popularity:

– Pasque flower

– Hardy ice plant

– Rhododendron and hardy azalea

– Red-tip photinia

– Flowering dogwood

– Flowering crab apple

– Pacific Sunset maple

– Sunburst locust

– Lilacs – French, Korean or Canadian

– Marie’s double-file viburnum

Marie’s double-file viburnum (Viburnum plicatum ‘Mariesii’) is an beautiful, deciduous flowering shrub. Marie’s is an improved, double-file viburnum with larger blooms and a graceful, horizontal branching habit. Creamy white flowers line the branches in spring. In fall, the dark green foliage turns a purple-red. It attains a height of 6 to 8 feet and a width of 8 to 10 feet. Plant in sun or shade and evenly moist soil.

Pasque flower is densely covered in spring with white silky hairs like an old man’s beard. The plant has a short stem with flowers that are cup shaped and 2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter. The flowers have five to eight pointed lavender sepals that resemble petals. Underneath the sepals, it is very silky. As the plant matures, the stem elongates to about 14 inches. The flower grows heavy and droops downward. When the very narrowly divided basal leaves first appear, they are purplish. The pasque flower is just as beautiful in seed as it is in bloom, resembling a dandelion.

Hardy ice plant (Delosperma) is a hardy ground cover that basks in the sun and heat. It blooms profusely and requires little care. This variety has single, deep rose pink flowers all summer. The attractive foliage is a succulent-looking, shiny, deep green color. Plant in the spring or summer in full sun. Keep the plants watered while they are getting established. They die back to the ground with harsher weather and emerge again in the spring.

Rhododendron are shrubs of the genus Rhododendron, which includes heathers, mountain laurels, blueberries and cranberries. Almost all of these plants require acidic soil. Rhododendron are referred to as the “king of shrubs” since they are regarded by many as the best flowering evergreen plants for the temperate landscape. They have large, shiny, leathery evergreen leaves and clusters of large pink, white or purplish flowers.

Azaleas are in the Rhododendron genus. They have large clusters of pink, red, orange, yellow, purple or white flowers. All rhododendron and azaleas will grow well in light shade. Most rhododendron will bloom more abundantly in full sun if the soil is kept moist, but sunscald and winter desiccation problems may cause foliage and bud problems. In hot climates or in windy places, partial shade is usually mandatory.

Red-tip photinia is a fast-growing, dense shrub that is evergreen and attractive all year long. They grow best in full sun and are hardy of hot, dry conditions as long as they get extra watering. Photinia belongs to the rose family (Roseaceae) and grows best in warm climates with regular watering. New growth is bright red, then turns to a dark glossy green. Photinia is a fast grower, and can form a very dense hedge, best done with regular trimming. The red-tip flowers, and may produce small, red-to-black berries in the fall. Plant them about 4 to 6 feet apart, or in multiple offset rows for screens and hedges. Plant in full sun with moist well-drained soil, trim, and fertilize.

Flowering dogwood is one of the most popular ornamental trees. Showy, early-spring flowers are the highlight, but red fruits and crimson foliage in autumn, large floral buds and checkered bark in winter and year-round, layered branching add to its appeal. Flowering dogwood strongly prefers evenly moist, well-drained, fertile, deep soils of acidic pH in partial sun. It grudgingly adapts to lesser conditions, and in urban environments, it often is sited in poor, dry, rocky, clay soils of alkaline pH in full sun. Plant seedlings, saplings or large balled and burlapped trees in deep, acidic soils with supplemental organic matter in good drainage. Keep well watered for the first two years.

Flowering crab apple, a deciduous flowering tree, is the most widely adapted of the flowering trees. It has a spreading growth habit from 20-25 feet tall and 20-30 feet wide. This tree flowers in early spring with white to pinkish-white or bicolored pink and white flowers that are 1 1/2 inches across in clusters of five to seven. Leaves are green, ovate, to 2 inches long and tooth edged. The fruit is red or yellow and stays on the tree until winter. Flowering crabapple prefers well-drained, fertile soil with full sun, but can tolerate light shade. The growth rate is moderate and responds well to fertilizing. Best adapted to colder regions, where it can receive its full chilling requirement for flowering. Best used in medium to large gardens and planted singly

Pacific Sunset maple is a beautiful tree that grows to 30 feet tall. It spreads to 25 feet with dark green, smooth, very glossy foliage. Its fall colors are yellow-orange to bright red. The color changes earlier than some other maples. The branch structure is finer and more spreading than other maples. This tree grows well in the dry, mountain desert climate of Carson County.

Sunburst locust was developed for the color of its leaves, and is especially effective when contrasted with dark green plants. The wild form of honey locust is very spiny, but cultivated varieties such as this one have been selected for lack of thorns. The deciduous tree grows to 35 to 70 feet tall. The leaves divide into many small, oval leaflets with a fern-like appearance. The leaves are normally green, but the Sunburst cultivar has light yellow leaves.

Lilacs are loved for their beautiful spring flowers and heady perfume. There are more than 1,000 varieties. They come in several colors, the most popular being lilac and purple. White and pink are also popular. Lilacs vary widely in size from the small 4- to 8-foot varieties to types that can grow up to 30 feet. Lilacs have a strong scent that carries for quite a distance.

Sam Bauman is entertainment editor for the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at sbauman@nevadaappeal.com or at 881-1236.