Colorful Waterwise Spring Flowers

By Gary Jones Winter’s all but over and yes, we’ve had some rain. But that doesn’t mean we can go back to our old ways. Low-water plants are here to stay, and there are many that will provide a lot of color all spring. Most water-thrifty plants are perenn

Fri March 25, 2016 1:23pm

Geranium Caliope

Winter’s all but over and yes, we’ve had some rain. But that doesn’t mean we can go back to our old ways. Low-water plants are here to stay, and there are many that will provide a lot of color all spring.
Most water-thrifty plants are perennials rather than annuals, but not all. Generally, perennial plants bloom for a while (some much longer than others), rest for a while, and then return the following year to repeat their flower show. Annuals, on the other hand, bloom for a several months or more and are finished, and then need to be pulled up and replaced.
Some annuals are much more drought-tolerant if they are sown from seed in place. Some of the best ones for this are cosmos, portulaca, alyssum, and four-o’clocks. All will provide bright color well into summer.
Seeding annuals directly in the ground is very easy to do. Prepare your soil by removing any weeds, adding amendments and a starter fertilizer. Simply broadcast the seed over the area, sprinkling by hand. Keep the soil moist and with warm spring weather, within ten day or less you’ll have little seedlings sprouting.
Don’t thin them — these annuals don’t need it. And don’t transplant them — they’ll lose their waterwise quality. Just enjoy them in place. It will be a colorful show.
There’s a wide variety of low-water perennials for bright spring color. Plant them as soon as they’re available in nurseries. The following are some of the most colorful:
Geraniums, both zonals and ivies are low-care and bloom almost year round. Colors include fire-engine red, pinks of many shades, white and magenta.
Many types of salvia are go-to waterwise plants. Flowers aren’t as showy as annuals, but there are many of them over a long period.
Linum has dainty flowers on wispy stems and it a wonderful companion plant for perennials and shrubs with large, showy flowers.
Becoming like tough shrubs over time, lantanas will bloom from spring into fall. If they become woody or a bit ragged (not often) just cut them back quite hard and they’ll leaf out and resume their blooming.
Yarrows put on quite a spring show with their flat-topped flowers in chrome yellow, soft pastels, red and terracotta. Give them full sun in order to do their best.
Jupiter’s beard, or Centranthus, blooms all spring and is another wonderful companion plant for roses and other large bloomers. It will re-seed nicely.
Our native Santa Barbara daisy is a charming groundcover for sun or light shade. Its small bright white daisy flowers appear non-stop and complement all other flowers.
Another native, California poppy, is typically grown as an annual. Look for unique ruffled ones in pastel colors in six-packs.
Euphorbias, with their clusters of odd, chartreuse flowers on leafy stems are a wonderful complement to spring flowers in all colors.
Out of favor for a while, euryops daisy is making a comeback due to its indestructibility, bright green foliage and strong yellow flowers.
Buckwheat, or Eriogonum, is a California native the forms mounds of foliage with oddly-branched flowers in pink, yellow and white.
Teucrium azureum has striking, silvery-white and green leaves and stems with wonderful bright blue flowers.
Many of these spring flowers, if cut back lightly after their first bloom, will repeat bloom during the summer or fall. Remember that plants need a full year after planting to become their waterwise best. Be sure to water as needed for the first year or so.
Gary Jones is chief horticulturist at Armstrong Garden Centers. Email him your drought and gardening questions to growingdialogue@armstronggarden.com.