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15 easy-to-grow plants for spring gardening

Every year brings new varieties of petunias. This year’s standout features a dark blue flower splashed with white specks. Great for containers, this sun-loving plant will bloom in late spring and early summer.
(Nancy Stone / Tribune Newspapers)

15 easy-to-grow plants for spring gardening

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If you’re the kind of gardener whose green thumb tends more toward brown, or if you simply don’t have time to feed and water plants and chase away the deer — don’t despair. New varieties of reliable flower favorites are easy to grow and yet unusual enough to make you look like a champion gardener. The best plants for busy gardeners are natives and perennials, says Gene Sumi, education coordinator for Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville. It’s hard to go wrong with old standbys like black-eyed Susans, coneflowers and perennial geraniums. These natives are accustomed to Maryland’s hot, humid summers and beneficial to bees, butterflies and birds. It also helps to pick plants that are disease-resistant, don’t require a lot of fertilizer and aren’t attractive to deer. While native plants and perennials are the easiest to tend, Carrie Engel, green house manager of Valley View Farms in Cockeysville, also recommends adding some annuals for immediate impact while you’re waiting for the perennials to grow. Petunias, celosias, bidens, begonias, vincas and lantanas are reliable winners. But reliable doesn’t have to mean boring. Every year, companies graft, clone or hybridize plants to create cultivars, or variations of the plant developed to have certain colors or dimensions. This gives gardeners a twist on standard native plants like coneflowers, which are purple in their natural state but come in cultivars of red, orange and other shades. Here are five new annuals to get you started and 10 new perennials that will bring color to your garden year after year. While there’s no such thing as a foolproof plant, these should be relatively easy to handle.
(By Liz Atwood, For The Baltimore Sun)
Annual: Petunia 'NightSky'
Every year brings new varieties of petunias. This year’s standout features a dark blue flower splashed with white specks. Great for containers, this sun-loving plant will bloom in late spring and early summer.
Every year brings new varieties of petunias. This year’s standout features a dark blue flower splashed with white specks. Great for containers, this sun-loving plant will bloom in late spring and early summer. (Nancy Stone / Tribune Newspapers)
Annual: Begonia 'Little Lava'
The National Garden Bureau has named 2016 the “Year of the Begonia.” This orange gem from Hort Couture grows 15 inches tall and prefers the sun.
The National Garden Bureau has named 2016 the “Year of the Begonia.” This orange gem from Hort Couture grows 15 inches tall and prefers the sun. (Hort Couture)
Annual: Bidens 'Beedance'
Carrie Engel, green house manager of Valley View Farms in Cockeysville, says bidens is a good flower to start the season because it prefers cool weather. The Beedance variety features red stripes on yellow flowers and is well suited to containers and window boxes.
Carrie Engel, green house manager of Valley View Farms in Cockeysville, says bidens is a good flower to start the season because it prefers cool weather. The Beedance variety features red stripes on yellow flowers and is well suited to containers and window boxes. (Sunstory)
Annual: Celosia 'Intenz' Dark Purple
Intenz is a cultivar of celosia developed by Ball Ingenuity, a subsidiary of Ball Horticultural Co. It has been out a few years, but this year the company added two new colors to the line — Lipstick and Dark Purple. Engel says the Intenz line will stand up to Maryland’s summers. “They are great for July, August when it is still hot outside,” she says. Reaching a height of 18 inches, this plant is suitable for containers or beds that get plenty of sunlight.
Intenz is a cultivar of celosia developed by Ball Ingenuity, a subsidiary of Ball Horticultural Co. It has been out a few years, but this year the company added two new colors to the line — Lipstick and Dark Purple. Engel says the Intenz line will stand up to Maryland’s summers. “They are great for July, August when it is still hot outside,” she says. Reaching a height of 18 inches, this plant is suitable for containers or beds that get plenty of sunlight. (Ball Horticulture)
Annual: Coleus 'Color Clouds -- Hottie'
This plant’s color changes as it matures. Young leaves are lime-green with magenta veins. The more mature leaves turn magenta, giving the plant a variegated look. This shade-lover grows fast and lasts until frost.
This plant’s color changes as it matures. Young leaves are lime-green with magenta veins. The more mature leaves turn magenta, giving the plant a variegated look. This shade-lover grows fast and lasts until frost. (Terra Nova Nurseries)
Perennial: Echinacea 'Butterfly -- Rainbow Marcella'
Echinaceas, more commonly known as coneflowers, are among the easiest flowers to grow in the Maryland garden. This cultivar is smaller than most echinaceas, growing to 18 inches. Its long-lasting blooms change from orange to pink with age. These plants do well in full sun and can tolerate drought once established. Echinacea ‘Butterfly — Rainbow Marcella’
Echinaceas, more commonly known as coneflowers, are among the easiest flowers to grow in the Maryland garden. This cultivar is smaller than most echinaceas, growing to 18 inches. Its long-lasting blooms change from orange to pink with age. These plants do well in full sun and can tolerate drought once established. Echinacea ‘Butterfly — Rainbow Marcella’ (Plants Nouveau)
Perennial: Coreopsis 'Lightning Bug'
This versatile plant with striking orange and yellow flowers goes well in beds or containers. Bees and butterflies love it, and deer don’t. Plant in full sun for blooms from June until September.
This versatile plant with striking orange and yellow flowers goes well in beds or containers. Bees and butterflies love it, and deer don’t. Plant in full sun for blooms from June until September. (Terra Nova Nurseries)
Perennial: Euphorbia 'Ascot Rainbow.'
Robin Swartz, a buyer for Sun Nurseries in Woodbine, describes this flower as a “rainbow of colors” that change over the season. The colors range from blush pink to red and orange.
Robin Swartz, a buyer for Sun Nurseries in Woodbine, describes this flower as a “rainbow of colors” that change over the season. The colors range from blush pink to red and orange. (Courtesy of PlantHaven / Handout photo)
Perennial: Acanthus 'Whitewater'
Bred to tolerate heat and humidity, this shade-loving plant features striking, dark green leaves with splashes of white on the margins. Its pink and white flowers bloom in midsummer.
Bred to tolerate heat and humidity, this shade-loving plant features striking, dark green leaves with splashes of white on the margins. Its pink and white flowers bloom in midsummer. (Courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries)
Perennial: Phlox paniculata 'Jeana'
This lightly scented phlox is a butterfly magnet. Reaching 5 feet in height, it resists mildew and blooms from July until October. This American native can be planted in full or part sun. Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’
This lightly scented phlox is a butterfly magnet. Reaching 5 feet in height, it resists mildew and blooms from July until October. This American native can be planted in full or part sun. Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’ (North Creek Nurseries)
Perennial: Salvia 'Ultra Violet'
Salvias are great pollinators and come in a variety of colors. This new hybrid from Ball Horticultural Co. will bloom from midsummer to early fall. The sun-loving plant tolerates heat and dry soil.
Salvias are great pollinators and come in a variety of colors. This new hybrid from Ball Horticultural Co. will bloom from midsummer to early fall. The sun-loving plant tolerates heat and dry soil. (Ball Horticultural Company)
Perennial: Heuchera 'Champagne'
The foliage of this disease-resistant plant varies from pink to gold and is well suited to garden borders and open-woodland gardens. It reaches 18 inches in height and width, and its delicate pale pink blossoms bloom in June and July.
The foliage of this disease-resistant plant varies from pink to gold and is well suited to garden borders and open-woodland gardens. It reaches 18 inches in height and width, and its delicate pale pink blossoms bloom in June and July. (Wayside Gardens)
Perennial: Geranium 'Fay Anna'
Perennial geraniums add depth to a garden, but do not overpower it, says Gene Sumi, education coordinator for Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville. This new variety from Wayside Gardens features a light lavender blossom and dark green and purple foliage. It does well in the sun or part shade, and hummingbirds love it.
Perennial geraniums add depth to a garden, but do not overpower it, says Gene Sumi, education coordinator for Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville. This new variety from Wayside Gardens features a light lavender blossom and dark green and purple foliage. It does well in the sun or part shade, and hummingbirds love it. (Courtesy of Wayside Gardens / HANDOUT)
Perennial: Baptisia 'Solar Flare'
Deer-resistant and drought-tolerant, this variety of baptista, or false indigo, features flowers that open as yellow and then become orange and purple with age. The sun-loving plant grows 2-3 feet in height and 3-4 feet in width.
Deer-resistant and drought-tolerant, this variety of baptista, or false indigo, features flowers that open as yellow and then become orange and purple with age. The sun-loving plant grows 2-3 feet in height and 3-4 feet in width. (North Creek Nurseries)
Perennial: Aralia cordata 'Sun King'
Swartz says this Japanese native offers distinctive chartreuse foliage “that is going to make your shady garden look like a tropical oasis.” This plant grows to 3 feet high and resists deer while attracting honeybees.
Swartz says this Japanese native offers distinctive chartreuse foliage “that is going to make your shady garden look like a tropical oasis.” This plant grows to 3 feet high and resists deer while attracting honeybees. (Walters Gardens)
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