February 22, 2018 – Published in Design & Decor Spring 2018 issue
The most colourful time of the year
Words Victoria Galea
It is spring and everywhere seems greener and vibrant with flowers blooming in a kaleidoscope of colours as all the bulbs so carefully planted months ago have sprouted in flurry of beauty.
This is a great time for garden-lovers also in view of the warmer months ahead. Those who are new to horticulture will discover that many beautiful flowering plants adapt comfortably to our hot season. It is possible to extend the flowering season into the summer and beyond. Actually, the choice is immense. Whether yours is a windowsill, a balcony, a courtyard or a porch, the many flowering plants available will instantly bring some freshness with an explosion of colour. And, if you plan ahead, with a little effort you will enjoy many months of flowering joy. So let us look at some of the best plants available at this colourful time of the year.
Lobelias are such elegant and easy flowers to grow. Flowering over several months it delights us with hundreds of tiny, brilliant blooms on a background of various shades of green and purple leaves. These are compact plants rarely grow more than 10-15cm producing vivid flowers in white and various shades of intense violet, blues and pinks. They are outstanding on their own in hanging pots but look great as a backdrop to tall flowers in contrasting colours. Spectacular in containers, hanging baskets, window boxes or in borders, this is the perfect flower for easy growing especially as it enjoys full sun.
Sowing: If you are starting from seed indoors simply sprinkle the tiny seeds on top of moist soil. Place them in a warm, well-lit area and water carefully. The seedlings should pop up after a week or two.
Plants are widely available in spring and many opt to buy them directly from a garden-centre and re-pot in their preferred choice of container or directly into the soil.
Requirements: Full or partial sun. Liquid fertilizer can also be given once every four to six weeks to keep it flowering throughout the sunny months.
Care: Lobelias requires little maintenance once established. Remember to water frequently during hot, dry spells. If they become straggly pinch back to stems to ensure rigorous regrowth of blooms.
Many people look at the dainty flowers of the pansy and think that they are too fragile to cultivate. They are so wrong. Pansies are hardy plants with varieties that colour every season. Their pretty, cheery ‘faces’ bring such joy to any garden that it is a real pity to ignore them! The flowers vary from small to giant with colours in every shade of purple, violet, orange, yellow and black. Every season brings with it new, colourful combinations that are hard to resist.
Pansies are compact, bushy plants usually growing no higher than 20cm. They come in an absolutely wide range of colours and are excellent as borders or groundcover and can be so charming grouped in a pot. If you are yearning for instant colour this should be one of your first choices.
Planting: Seeds are sown in winter for spring and summer flowering, and in summer for winter flowering but germination can be tricky so most gardeners prefer to purchase seedlings. The garden-centres have a very wide choice at this time of the year. Always select compact, not leggy, plants with dark green foliage and plenty of closed buds.
Requirements: Pansies are not very fussy. Plant in direct light moist, well-drained soil, but they prefer cool air so partial shade will ensure plants that last much longer.
Care: Pansies need regular watering so do not let them dry out. but avoid drowning them. As soon as they start to droop, check the soil and water thoroughly if it is dry. Deadhead the flowers as soon as they fade to ensure prolonged blooming. Slow-release fertiliser will give them an extra boost.
Also known as Pinks, the dianthus belong to the carnation family and usually have a delicious fragrance. It is an easy plant to cultivate and you can see these attractive flowering plants mostly beautifully grouped as a focal point on lawns and in border displays and in window boxes.
At an average 15-20cm, the dianthus is a rather small plant with blue/grey foliage will never overpower the space it occupies. The pretty flowers usually come in mixed shades of red, pink and white and bloom from late winter through to autumn.
Planting: The Dianthus is another plant that finds an ideal location in Malta. It is a sun-loving flower, easily propagated by division, tip cuttings or layering while seed is easily available at most garden centres. Sowing is usually done indoors in winter with seedlings transplanted outside in early spring. Nursery-bought plants can be placed directly into the garden.
Requirements: Plant in rich, fast-draining soil in full sun or partial shade ensuring that wherever they are situated they will enjoy at least 6 hours of sun. Water them when dry only at the base of the plant to keep the foliage dry.
Care: Feed weekly for best results. Pinch off flowers that have wilted to encourage new growth. You may need to stake out the taller varieties. Over-watering may result in yellowing leaves. If this happens, stop watering intensely and just ensure that the soil does not dry out. Straggly plants should be cut back after flowering.
The Petunia is one of the most popular and prolific of the spring/summer flowers. They bloom profusely for many months and the large trumpet-shaped flowers come in many rich colours including purple, red, pink and white. There are many varieties and some actually include striped blooms!
Their hardiness makes this plant ideal for the hot weather and their big flowers are a delight to see whether they are cascading from containers or in the garden border. Some varieties also have fragrance.
Planting: The seed of the petunia needs light so it should be simply sprinkled above the moist soil and placed in a warm area to germinate. Plant outdoors when the weather has warmed somewhat. Petunias can be grown from cuttings too. For instant gratification, plugs and potted plants are easily available at most good garden centres.
Requirements: This plant loves the sun but it will tolerate partial shade in the very hot months. Feed monthly and make sure that the soil is well drained.
Care: Petunias will flower throughout the summer. It does not appreciate over-watering. However, do not let it go dry for long periods. Most varieties will benefit from deadheading or pruning to ensure more flowers will continue to bloom. Make sure to check with your garden-centre when purchasing your plants. Sometimes extreme heat may cause the plants to stop flowering. It will resume when the temperature drops. Pruning a straggly plant will refresh it.
Tagetes are probably the easiest flower to grow. Better known by their popular name, Marigolds give cheerful pleasure to everyone who grows them. Their rich, warm colours in every shade of gold, orange and yellow and are available in a myriad of bi-coloured varieties. They bring bold colour wherever they are. Blooming for months on end from spring throughout summer and into autumn, the tagetes are very easy flowers to grow. There are many varieties: from small, dwarf plants to tall, bushy ones; from single, pale varieties to double, flaming orange blooms. Not only do these vivacious flowers fill our garden spaces with vibrant colour but they let off a subtle scent which actually repels insects and wards off parasites like whiteflies. In fact, tagetes are often mixed with other plants to act as a natural bug repellent in gardens.
Planting: Tagetes thrive in the hot, Maltese summer, as they need full sunshine. They can be grown in practically any well-drained soil.
Seeds germinate very easily and can be sown directly into the soil. They will sprout within days in warm weather and are ready to bloom in 8 weeks.If you buy plugs or seedlings prepare the soil and transplant them a few inches apart depending on the variety. Water thoroughly after planting.
Requirements: Tagetes need and love full sun. They are very low maintenance and are nearly indestructible adapting to most conditions. However, they do not enjoy water logged locations or shade.
Care: Do not fertilise during growth as this will stimulate the foliage not the flowers.
Water at the base of the plant and do not wet the flowers. Allow soil to dry out between watering but do water in high temperatures. Most tagetes do not require deadheading but some varieties bloom more profusely when the faded flowers are cut.
There was a time when most Maltese households had at least one potted geranium while gardens used to overflow with the bushier varieties. The love for geraniums seemed to die out with the onslaught of various other plants made available. However, these remain an excellent choice for the hot months offering velvety soft, fragrant leaves and vibrant clusters of flowers. They are now many types available and grow well in containers or gardens, inside and in hanging baskets, as long as they have a lot of light.
Geraniums bring with them the extra bonus of being beneficial because they deter some very common and destructive pests. This makes them an ideal companion for plants like roses.
Planting: Geraniums are easy to maintain, tough, and very prolific. Most root easily from stem cuttings. Geraniums are not fussy but they need well-drained soil. Potted plants can be transplanted directly into the soil or container of choice, ensuring that they are placed in at least the same depth as their original pot.
Requirements: Make sure your plants have 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight. Low light or too much or too little water will turn the leaves yellow. Regularise the watering and move the geraniums to a brighter place.
Care: Encourage year-round blooming by deadheading spent flowers. Stimulate bushiness by pinching off straggly stems. Do not use a saucer beneath your pot and make sure potted plants have drainage holes to avoid root rot. Water thoroughly but allow soil to dry between watering. Potted plants may need frequent watering in hot weather. Water much less during winter, but do not let the roots dry out.
Do not fertilize in winter.
Contact Louis Micallef at Green Supplier Ltd, Flower & Plants Growers, Mdawra Road, Burmarrad. Enquiries: 2157 1428