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Spring gardening time promises season of bright, beautiful blooms

Illustration by Ben Hillyer

Illustration by Ben Hillyer

By Sarah Cook/The Natchez Democrat

As winter winds down and spring makes its colorful debut, local nurseries are gearing up for gardening season in the Miss-Lou.

And while soil temperatures are not yet ideal for planting, horticulturists say now is the time to prepare gardens for spring.

Tom Smith, manager of Fred’s Greenhouse and Garden in Natchez suggested planting in mid April — or whenever soil temperatures reach a consistent 60 degrees.

In the meantime, however, Smith said gardeners could prepare box flower beds and, if they haven’t already, purchase soil.

Upton’s Nursery co-manager Mike Upton recommended five flower varieties — vinca, zinnia, Angelonia, penta and petunia — for easy spring planting.

“These are the tried and true hardy flowers,” Upton said. “If someone asked me what they can easily plant and have the least trouble with, this would be the top five.”

Vinca (Periwinkle)

Resistant to drought and heat, flowers in the vinca family — known for their slender, trailing stems — are an easy, hassle-free springtime flower option, Upton said. Ideal planting time is late April through early May with soil temperatures reaching a steady 65 degrees.

“Vinca flowers are pretty self sufficient and last deep into autumn,” Smith added. “They’re pretty much indestructible, too.”

Zinnia

These flowers are best planted during April, Upton said. A member of the daisy family, zinnias boast a wide color range of bright purple, orange and yellow. Upton recommended profusion zinnia as a reliable, hardy variety.

Angelonia

Because of the Miss-Lou’s humid climate, Smith said Angelonia options grow especially well. Summer snapdragon, a tall and spiky variety that usually boasts purple blooms, is a great warm weather plant, Upton said.

“Angelonia is a fairly new plant that a lot of people are planting because they’ve tried it in the last couple of years and saw just how hardy it really is,” Upton said.

Penta

This variety can bloom all summer long and features large clusters of flowers in many colors, Upton said. And although these bushy flowers are strong and grow well in warm weather, Smith said not to wait “too deep in the season” to plant this variety.

Petunia

“Petunias are really hardy, really heat tolerant and get really big — a lot of people like them,” Upton said. Specifically, the tidal wave variety of petunia performs well in the spring and summer months, he said. Available in silver, red and pink, Upton said the tidal wave is a reliable springtime bloom.

Both Upton and Smith said signs of spring gardening are beginning to bloom throughout their nurseries in the form of box beds being assembled, seeds planted and greenhouses stocked.

“Starting in March, we’re open Monday through Saturday, but when it’s hay making time, as they say, we’ll stay open later,” said Upton, who boasts 11 greenhouses at his nursery. “A lot of people are starting to get spring fever and want to start their gardens early.”

And although a “springtime bug” may be buzzing, Smith encouraged residents to be patient and plan their gardens with the best planting times in mind.

“Just be patient — we have a few more cold weeks ahead of us before springtime gardening gets into full swing,” Smith said. “You don’t want to waste time and money by planting too early.”

The first day of spring is March 20, and both Upton and Smith said they plan to have their nurseries well stocked and ready for seasoned and amateur gardeners alike.

“With springtime tourism in Natchez, everyone wants their homes to look pretty,” Upton said. “Planting colorful flowers is an easy way to achieve that.”