Spruce up your garden for spring

There are few things more exciting in your home than the colorful onset of spring in the garden. Whether you are planting a container for the doorstep or putting the flowers directly into the garden, there are dozens of interesting plants you can choose from, wherever you live. Master gardener Sean Conway was invited on "Today" to share these easy tips for brightening your yard for spring.

Spring is an ideal time to give color to your garden and plant cool-season flowers or spring-blooming perennials. Too often people throw out potted plants that sit on windowsills and doorsteps after they flower. But, you can enjoy these plants year after year if you plant them in your garden when the flowering season passes. It is also an ideal way of trying different looks out and determining what you like. I do this, and if I like the way it looks in the pot, I plant the same combination into the garden.

Here are some simple rules about selecting plants that apply both to containers and the garden:

  • Select plants that like the same conditions.
  • Place sun-loving plants with other sun-loving plants.
  • Combine plants that like the same watering conditions.
  • Make sure they like similar soil conditions.
  • Make sure you are choosing the right plants for the location you have.

Sun-loving plants need six hours of direct sun a day, so pay attention to the light conditions of your garden before going to the nursery. Impulse buys that don’t meet your situation rarely thrive.

Make sure the flowers you buy for the garden look good together. A plant with tall strappy leaves and big flowers can look great with a lower growing, small-flowered plant. Offset the big leaves and flowers of a hydrangea with a plant that trails to the ground like ivy.

Determine when to plant. Hardy perennials can be set out before the last frost date in your area and will settle in nicely in the cool weather. Annuals and other heat-loving plants like tomatoes and dahlias should be planted after the ground has warmed up.

Lastly, think about when these plants will bloom and look their best. Sometimes it is best to dedicate an area of the garden to a season when it will peak. I do this with containers as well. You can even create an area where you literally swap plants to continue providing color throughout the season.

Wondering where to begin? Check out these seasonal favorites
Two great perennials for the garden are variegated iris and purple campanula, also known as bellflower, and they make a great combination in a container as well. The iris will produce lovely bluish purple flowers in the late spring and the campanula has purple bell-shaped flowers. Both will do well in a sunny spot.

Another sun-loving combination are perennials like basket of gold (aurinia saxatilis) and spiderwort (tradescantia).  They work well in the garden or in a container with hardy variegated English ivy. I also added the white flowers of annual nemesia and some osteospermum for seasonal color. After this container blooms, I move the basket of gold and spiderwort into a sunny area of the garden and enjoy their flowers again next year.

Spring-blooming perennials such as black violas or pansies are also wonderful in a container or in the garden. Once they fade, I plant them in my garden border, where they will bloom again next season.

Quick tips for plating potted plants

  • Always choose a container with drainage for your plants.
  • Use a good potting soil mix. Some come with time-release fertilizer already added.
  • Set your plants in with enough room to grow and with their crowns meeting the top of the soil line.
  • Water well — plants in containers need regular watering and should be watered daily in hot periods of the season.