Waking up your spring garden

Story by Julie Schillings

Wichita's mild winter and the many open-window days have gardeners anxious to start working on their spring landscapes. The first few weeks of April can be unpredictable with the promise of spring being tempered by the possibility of frost. The Old Farmer's Almanac predicts a 50% likelihood of being frost-free after April 12, making the month of April an ideal time for planning and preparation.

Find inspiration.

Visit Botanica's Tulip Display through May 1st. Visitors are greeted by a dazzling display of 110,000 daffodils and 51,000 tulips artfully arranged throughout the Gardens. Take particular note of the color combinations that catch your eye.

Research and plan.

Selecting plants that thrive well in Wichita's local conditions creates a sustainable garden that will thrive year after year. Make a plan and map it out on paper. Consider working into the layout some non-living elements such as garden artwork, seating and water features.


Experts recommend having your garden's soil tested before fertilizing. Home soil test kits are available at local garden centers or the Sedgwick County Extension Education Center will send soil samples to K-State for analysis. Simple instructions for collecting a soil sample can be found on their website at www.sedgwick.ksu.edu. Results and recommendations will be returned by mail in two to three weeks.

Pansies peak early.

As one of the most popular and recognizable cool weather annuals, pansies can be planted as soon as the soil is workable. They will reward you with color until the temperatures warm up. Many pansies planted last fall have bloomed throughout the winter and will benefit from thorough deadheading and a monthly fertilizing.

Top picks from experts.

Pat McKernan, garden supervisor at Botanica for the past twenty-five years, shares a few of his favorite varieties with the home gardener. Pinnisetum Vertigo really impressed me last year, McKernan explained. It is an annual grass with dark purple foliage about one-and-a-half inches broad. It took the heat really well. McKernan recommends planting a new variegated sweet potato vine on sloped landscape beds or in containers. It gave a mature look to the new Children's Garden in only two months. With its broad leaves of yellow and green, the annual also held up well in last summer's conditions and looks stunning cascading over walls.

Denning's Greenhouse owners Jim and Becky Denning report that gardeners are extra eager to get their hands dirty after last season's early summer tempered spring gardening rituals. Jim shared his favorite new varieties for the season. Verbena Lanai Twister Pink is a stunning bi-color annual with a hot pink center surrounded by white. Another eye catcher is Calibrachoa Cherry Star. With a rich cherry flower accented by a pop of yellow in the center, this is one of the most anticipated annuals of the season. An award winning, easy to grow succulent is Kalanchoe Fantastic. Red edges blend into golden and silvery green highlights creating dramatic variegation. This plant will take the high-stress conditions, meaning high sun and low water, very well, explained Jim. Just for fun, Denning's Greenhouse carries the Ghost Pepper which gained notoriety on the Travel Channel's popular Man vs. Food show. This variety of chile is reportedly three-hundred times hotter than the average jalape'o. For gardeners looking to spice up their garden, a trip to Denning's Greenhouse may be just the answer.

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