Gardening Help FAQs

Here are answers to some of the most common questions we receive about garden plants. You will find concise information on general gardening techniques as well as plant selection and care. For detailed information on specific plant pests and problems refer to our Common Garden Pests and Problems page.

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Horticulture Questions and Answers

What are some good spring bedding plants for this area?

When you think of spring, visions of crocus, daffodils and tulips flash before your eyes. Included in this vernal display should be pansies, toadflax, stocks, pot marigolds and dusty miller. These plants make wonderful additions to spring beds after the bulb show is over.

The number one cool season annual for the St. Louis area is the pansy. We are of course all familiar with the widely planted traditional ones normally with "large faces" and in a multitude of colors. Less well known, though, are the charming "Johnny- jump-ups" and, though these produce smaller flowers, this is more than compensated for by their floriferous character and a higher tolerance to cold, heat and humidity resulting in an extension of the flowering season. Another advantage is their reduced size making them ideal subjects for the intimate locations often encountered within the surrounds of a smaller home. Some recommended cultivars of these floral gems include; Viola 'Prince John'--a pure golden yellow, Viola 'Helen Mount'--tricolor flowers of purple, yellow and lavender, Viola 'King Henry'--bicolor flowers of violet and light blue with small gold eyes, Viola cornuta 'Blue Perfection'--clear medium blue, 'White Perfection'--creamy white, 'Scottish Yellow'--golden yellow.

At the Missouri Botanical Garden, one of our yearly spring practices is to plant the traditional pansies between the emerging rows of autumn planted tulips. Their leaves and flowers combine to make an attractive ground cover for their more formal companions. In addition to extending the flowering season, the pansies also break up the monotony of the single one level of tulip flowers. Dependable "large face" pansies for use in formal and informal settings include Pansy 'Crystal Bowl Series'--crystal clear colors, Pansy 'Springtime Series', and Pansy 'Universal Series'--flowers slightly smaller, but very floriferous. All of these pansies come in single and mixed colors. Plant outside from the middle of March onwards.

Another good spring bedding choice is Linaria maroccana 'Fairy Lights Mixed'. The flowers are reminiscent of miniature snapdragons. Its uncomplimentary common name of toadflax may account for it being commonly overlooked. It is seldom grown in St. Louis. This is a real shame because when the plants are in flower, they have the beauty of a fragmented rainbow. They grow approximately 10 inches high, and should be planted about 3 inches apart in a sunny sheltered location.

Pot marigolds (Calendula) and stocks (Matthiola incana) are also seldom grown locally. Once again this is our loss as they are two dependable cool season annuals. Pot marigolds come in yellows and oranges. Some good cultivars include; 'Bon-Bon Series'--dwarf yellow and orange and 'Gitana Series'--lemon yellow approximately 12 inches high. A recent introduction to the stocks is the 'Midget Series'. They grow approximately 10 inches high and come in red, rose, violet, white and mixed. The flowers have a enchanting spicy scent and were much prized by the Victorians.

Pot marigolds, stocks and toadflax are not as tolerant of colder spring temperatures and should not be planted prior to the second week in April. All three prefer a sunny location.

Many gardeners grow dusty miller as a traditional summer annual, but an innovative approach is to use it as a cool season annual interplanting it between pansies and calendulas. It's silver-grey foliage complements a wide range of colors. As a bonus, when it is time to remove your early spring annuals, leave the dusty miller in place and plant around them with summer annuals.