Timing is Everything

What to plant in spring and how to keep it all healthy

In the spring, avid and beginner gardeners alike get their hands dirty as they plant favorite shrubs, flowers, vegetables and herbs. Chase Mullin with Mullin Landscape Associates shares some of the shrubs and flowers he uses to brighten his clients’ landscapes and offers a few hints on the care of these sturdy and beautiful plants.


While certainly not new, pentas were once considered primarily a greenhouse plant until the past few years when growers started offering them as a summer annual. They are a fabulous choice if you want bold color that survives even the hottest summer day.

Tiny flowers form showy clusters above the bright green leaves and pentas bloom abundantly. The nectar-rich flowers grow over a long blooming season in red, pink and purple.

“Pentas are very hardy and tend to be drought tolerant,” says Mullin. “They can be used in the garden in mass plantings or as spots of color in the garden. As an added bonus, these plants will attract butterflies to your garden.”

Pentas also thrive in containers or tubs, and they look cheerful in the ground. You can plant pentas alongside other butterfly annuals, such as cornflowers, zinnias and marigolds. Once established, they have good heat and drought tolerance


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Flower color

Red, pink, purple

Encore Azaleas

Louisianan Robert “Buddy” Lee developed Encore azaleas in Louisiana in the 1980s. They are the most sun tolerant azaleas around and should receive four to six hours of direct sun daily with some afternoon shade. They prefer acidic soil with plenty of organic matter. Mullin suggests for optimum results that it is important to clean up azalea beds in the spring, apply a specific azalea fertilizer and then make sure to mulch.

“Encore azaleas are bred to bloom,” says Mullin. “They are a proven winner and provide almost year-round color. And, the foliage is attractive too. There are a lot to choose from, as there are more than 30 varieties.

The Encores can be divided into three groups: small, medium and large. The small variety’s mature size is approximately three feet wide and three feet high. These azaleas are suitable for foundation plantings and containers. The medium-sized Encores are in the four-foot size range. They can be used as low hedges and low backdrops for smaller plants. The large five-foot Encores are suitable for accent plants and background shrubs in large beds.


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Flower color



Hardy Caladiums provide vibrant colors all season long and need only good soil, occasional watering and fertilizer to thrive. While they don’t present glorious blooms, their colorful leaves provide color and texture all summer long.

“We use caladiums a lot because they come in a plethora of colors,” says Mullin. “I especially like to use one called Carolyn Wharton. They can range from light salmon-pink to dark ruby-red.  Caladiums appeal to the garden artist in all of us.”

Many caladiums love shady areas and some caladiums will tolerate full sun. If planted in full sun they will require more watering. The bulbs should be planted in the landscape in the spring after the last frost. Caladium bulbs have a rather smooth bottom side and knobby top. Though they will grow no matter which way you orient them, planting with the topside up will provide you with the shortest sprouting time.


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Flower color

Salmon pink, ruby red

Camellia Sasanqua

Camellia Sasanqua has been cultivated in its native Japan since the 14th century and in the American South for nearly 200 years. It may not have the large blooms of the Camellia Japonica, but it’s a functional plant for your garden because it is so manageable.

“They are a great plant even when not in bloom,” says Mullin. “Their leaves are a beautiful green. We use a lot of them because of their consistency and they do really well in our climate.”

Sasanquas are versatile. Dwarf types can be used as foundation plantings and low borders. They can be clipped into hedges, used for tall screens, or pruned into tree form. They are especially enchanting when used as an espaliered plant, a technique used to train plants to grow flat against a vertical surface.

Some exude a pleasant tea scent. Colors range from cherry red to fairest white. Individual flowers live a short time but new flowers quickly replace them.


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Flower color

Cherry red, white

Drift Roses

A cross between full-size groundcover roses and miniature roses, drift roses are repeat-bloomers, disease resistant and virtually maintenance-free.

“Drift roses are a relatively new category of roses called landscape roses,” Mullin says. “We tend to use them as a groundcover as well as a permanent display of color. They need very little maintenance and have a persistent bloom that lasts almost all year-round. Also, they were selected as a Louisiana Super Plant.”

These roses are fast growers and benefit from fertilization. The recommended feeding is right after the late winter pruning and then every six weeks or so during the growing season with a rose food or an organic plant food.

One interesting variety, and there are lots to choose from, is the Popcorn Drift Rose. It has a pastel bloom and a sweet fragrance. It produces tight creamy yellow buds that open light yellow color and then gently fade into a creamy white with faint yellow accents.



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Flower color

Yellow, creamy white

Fruit Trees

Fruit trees make a welcome addition to many landscapes. Being aware of your soil type is key to a bountiful harvest. Most fruit trees need well-drained soil and a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight.

“We often plant fruit trees in containers,” says Mullin. “They work well in the small yards that we have in New Orleans and can be used in planters around swimming pools and on patios. They tend to thrive in the right container and can be very ornamental.”

You can pot most any dwarf or semi-dwarf fruit tree, so long as you keep moving it up to larger pots as it grows. In the case of your container, it’s best to go with a quality pot. Remember, drain holes are critical to the tree’s health. Also, some fruit trees need two different varieties of trees planted relatively close together in order to ensure pollination. So be sure to do your research or ask the nursery to make sure you have fruit to pick in the fall.



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