TOPEKA, Kan. – Many U.S. moms will get a greeting card this Mother’s Day. More than 60 percent of them will also get flowers – and perhaps another gift, as well, according to a poll commissioned last month by the National Retail Federation.
Cut flowers will be popular, particularly for gifts sent from a distance. But, Mother’s Day weekend usually marks the year’s peak for container plant sales – annual flowers in pots, flats and hanging baskets; foliage plants; and herbaceous perennials, said Jamie Hancock, K-State Research and Extension horticulturist.
The timing is near-perfect for living plants across much of the United States, Hancock added.
While annuals such as violas and pansies can handle some cool weather, most transplants simply won’t grow until the soil is warm enough, she explained. Even with this year’s early warm periods, planting in April did little more than give gardeners a jump start on getting things into the ground.
“That’s not the same as getting ahead of the game in flower production,” Hancock said. “You get to weed, water and cover the plants every time the temperature drops at night. But, you’re just keeping the plants alive, not helping them grow.
“I’ve planted early, and I’ve planted later, when the soil was warmer. Almost every time, those I waited to plant outgrew the ones I put out earlier – plus required less labor.”
She advises gift givers to survey their mom’s yard, to 1) note areas that could use a splash of color; 2) determine if the likely area is in full shade, part-shade or full sun; and 3) get a mental picture of the area’s current color choices and plant heights.
“Light requirements make a big difference when selecting plants. A shade plant will not grow well in full sun and vice versa,” Hancock said. “You can be a lot more creative, though, on color selection.”
White and even yellow flower choices tend to be “safe,” she said. Another option is to go along with Mom’s obvious favorites – pink, lavender and white, for example, or red, purple and gold.
“Don’t be thrown if you can’t immediately identify what your mom prefers,” Hancock said. “She may like everything – a sort of cottage garden approach – so would welcome any color. Or, she may be fairly subtle, seeming to have all kinds of colors, but actually being monochromatic – for example, including light pink to dark red, which are all various shades of the same color.”
For adventurous gift givers – and moms – remembering her favorites and choosing from the opposite side of the color wheel can add excitement, she said. An orange flower will add real punch to a bed of blues. Chartreuse (yellow-green) is a great contrast for red. Purple with yellow makes both colors vibrant.
“Don’t forget we’ve also got foliage plants that will add color without flowers,” the horticulturist added. “Coleus plants can give you all kinds of color options. Sweet potato vines are plants that gracefully drape, plus provide color choices. Dusty miller always has grayish-silver foliage, but that can be an attractive addition that also stands out at night.”
In general, Hancock said, gardeners tend to prefer tall plants toward the back of planting beds and short ones for the front. That can be another consideration for shoppers, although an interesting variation is to plant combinations of heights in groups.
“If the plants aren’t enough … well, also you’ve got a number of thoughtful additions,” she said. “Gardeners’ hands get lots of repetitive use, so good gardening gloves or an ergonomic hand tool can be a welcomed idea. If you’ve bought a big geranium, you also could select an attractive pot plus good-quality potting soil. If you’ve bought plants for her garden, you could add anything from a soil improvement to a bag of mulch.”
Hancock said the following are other possibilities that can go with garden transplants:
* Osmocote plant food may have made slow-release (time-release) garden fertilizer popular. But, now most major brands have something available on the garden-center shelf, so you can select the brand you know/trust.
* Many gardeners buy less peat moss than they’d like to use. It can be a bit pricey, but is a great soil amendment.
* Another “extra” moms may skip is a pre-emergence herbicide to sprinkle on after the new transplant’s soil has settled. Read the label to see which weeds a product will control and how long its protection will last. Preen, for example, can keep a variety of weeds from emerging for 6-8 weeks. Hi-Yield Turf and Ornamental Weed and Grass Stopper (Dimension) provides season-long control.
“You’ll need to hear between the lines to see if Mom would appreciate your help in getting those plants settled into place,” Hancock warned. “Some moms find getting your hands dirty together is the height of family togetherness. Some moms would prefer pondering the possibilities and planting your gift on their own. And, some moms mean exactly what they say – no more, no less – when they tell you your gift could use a couple of days to adjust, to reduce the risk of transplant shock.”