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Now is time to add spring plants to garden

It's warmed up, we've had some rain, and the plants have taken off, growing in every direction! Unfortunately, so have those pesky weeds.

My almost bare front yard beds became a haven for weeds. Removing plants and raking the soil around stirred up the weed seeds and obviously brought many to the surface. The rain then gave them a great start. I went out every couple of days and hoed the seedlings down. Shortly I hope to have them under control.

The next step before planting was adding some organic material to the beds. I added some fallen oak leafs, which abound now. My neighbors were very generous with their overflow! I also bought bags of compost to mix into the soil. I added some peat to the areas where I will plant azaleas, because they like acidic soil.

I faxed a plant list to a local nursery and then picked up the plants. This saved me the time of pulling the plants from the field. When I picked up the plants, I was quite pleased.

My initial planting includes ajuga, an azalea tree, semi-dwarf red ruffle azaleas, nandina, a new variety of philodendron and plum delight fringe flower. These were all planted away from the edge of the bed because the curbing will be installed and I didn't want the new plantings disturbed. I am changing the size and shapes of the beds, so I'll finish the planting after the curbing is installed.

The ajuga or carpet bugle (Ajuga reptans) is a ground cover suited for a shady area. It doesn't get more than about 4 inches tall and has purplish-green foliage. It can live in wet, moist or dry soil and, as long as it is well drained and is suitable for sandy, loam or clay soils. When planting, make sure the crown is not covered with soil.

Rooted runner plants from established plants can be moved in spring or fall. This plant requires little maintenance. Used extensively in other areas of the country, I think it is underused here. Try this if you have a shady to partly sunny location in need of a ground cover. The purple flowers it sends up on 6-inch stems are an added bonus.

The azalea tree is a focal point by the front door. The plant is covered with buds and will shortly be awash in a profusion of pink flowers.

Nandina or heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) is an evergreen or semi-evergreen woody shrub. It's distinctive compound leaves, which have lance-shaped leaflets, are held on nonbranching stems. The entire plant has a very lacy appearance and upright form, growing 6 to 8 feet tall. The species tends to form large clumps. In spring, there are large panicles of small white flowers at the end of stems, followed by green berries that ripen to bright red and are held for many months unless devoured by birds. The wood is often bright yellow.

Nandina prefers reasonably rich soil and does not thrive in sand. Otherwise this is one of the toughest and adaptable plants you will find. I have one in my back yard that is a highly shaded area and has thrived for at least six years. It will also take the full sun.

The new variety of philodendron I planted is called Xanadu (Philodendron Xanadu). I'm not sure whether the name or the growth habit is more appealing. It likes partial sun, but it's best to avoid the afternoon sun. It's an evergreen shrub growing to about 3 feet tall and the same in width. It does need regular water with more moisture in the summer and less in the winter. I planted it near azaleas because the watering needs are the same.

Plum delight fringe flower is an evergreen perennial with purple foliage and hot pink flowers in spring and summer. It grows well in sun or shade. It is finely textured, growing about 4-feet tall with a 6-foot spread. Young shrubs have a greater spread than height and are densely branched. Flowers hang down in small clusters. It grows well in organically rich acidic soil with good drainage. It has few pests and requires no pruning except to maintain size, if desired. In less than ideal soils it benefits from fertilizing.

I saved the gardenia by the front door by shaping it and giving it a good dose of an acidic fertilizer. A quick trip to the garden center and I was ready to continue planting. I picked up two flats of yellow marigolds, a flat of dahlias, blue lily of the Nile and blue-eyed grass.

The marigolds are used as a border around the bed. They are easy to grow and come in many colors, preferring partial shade to sun. You'll keep your marigolds looking great if you pinch off wilted flowers and fertilize them every few weeks. This plant is easily started from seeds.

The dahlia (Dahlia hybrid) has always been one of my favorite flowers. It comes in almost every color imaginable and holds up well to our summer weather. Keep it evenly moist and pinch off withered flowers to keep it blooming. I bought a flat of mixed colors, many in bloom. It added instant color to the area.

Blue lily of the Nile (Agapanthus africanus) is a clump forming perennial growing to about 2-feet high and wide. The flowers are light to dark blue and appear from spring to late summer. It appreciates full sun to partial shade and regular watering.

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium atlanticum) was my impulse buy. The grass-like leaves and petite blue flowers are very appealing. The average size is 1 foot by 1 foot and it doesn't need much water once established. It looks like an ornamental grass but is actually part of the iris family. The flowers usually last just one day, but the profusion of flowers makes up for their short life. It is supposed to be prone to self-sowing.

The weather cooperated and not long after planting and fertilizing this area, it rained. The flowers of the marigolds and dahlia already add lots of color, and when the blue eyed grass and the lily of the Nile start blooming it will be beautiful.

That completes a weekend of work. After the curbing is installed I will finish with the planting and just try and enjoy it for awhile. But there won't be too long to rest, as I have ideas for the back yard also!

_ Local gardening correspondent Mary Collister of Valrico writes about how to garden successfully in Florida's climate and offers problem-solving tips for your home garden. If you have a question, mail it to: Mary Collister, Brandon Times, 426 W Brandon Blvd. Brandon, FL 33511.

A brick pattern can be added to curbing, creating an elegant effect in gardens and yards. Plant spring flowers away from the edge of the beds if you plan to install curbing later.

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