As the cold winds blow outside, now is an ideal time to get cozy with a warm blanket on the couch to design and choose color palettes for this year's garden.
Bold, intense colors pop from catalog pages, natives continue to rise in popularity and after the dry summer of 2012, many will be looking for heat- and drought-resistant plants.
We've done some research to help you get started for your floral and veggie gardens.
Pretty petunias, colorful coleus
Proven Winners introduces Supertunia Priscilla petunias. These beauties are drought-and heat-tolerant and with no need to deadhead they are easy to maintain. The fragrant, semidouble lavender flowers with dark purple veins attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Height: 6-10 inches with trails up to 36 inches. Their ColorBlaze Marooned coleus will bring some texture and color to the garden -- in the shade or sun -- with its burgundy-colored foliage and purple flowers blooming in mid- to late summer. In growing trials last year, this coleus was extremely heat- and sun-tolerant. It reaches a height of 24-36 inches and looks nice in a planter, too. Provenwinners.com.
White Flower Farm adds several new perennials to its extensive selection. Ground cover Phlox subulata North Hills, a creeping phlox, blooms in April and May with white flowers and purple centers. It needs full sun and prefers well-drained soil. Heucherella Redstone Falls, commonly known as Coral Bells, is a stunner, with its reddish leaves changing from a cinnamon peach to copper to an amber green. It prefers part shade, blooms white flowers in May and June and is deer-resistant. A 2013 catalog is available online or by mail at whiteflowerfarm.com.
Want more reds?
Walters Gardens unveiled new tickseed and hibiscus plants. "The new Mercury Rising is hands down one of the best new perennials for 2013. It's the first time we've ever had a red-flowered tickseed that would survive Chicago winters, and it delivers a knockout performance all season long," says Susan Martin of Walters Gardens, Inc. in Zeeland, Mich.
Butterflies and honeybees are attracted to the wine-colored petals with golden centers, which measure about 2 inches across. Height is 15 to 18 inches, with a spread of 24 to 36 inches. Bonuses: It's disease-resistant and blooms continuously without deadheading.
"If you're looking for something to really make a statement in your garden, try Midnight Marvel hibiscus. The deep wine purple foliage really sets off its huge 8- to 9-inch, gorgeous scarlet red flowers," Martin said. waltersgardens.com.
Heat no match here
Looking for a flowering plant that holds up well to heat and dry conditions? Geraniums are a great way to go. Preferring full sun and little watering, this plant will keep looking good throughout the hot summer. Shady Hill Gardens in Elburn, operating since 1974, are known nationwide as geranium specialists. They will have two new colors available for 2013, Hot Pink and Lavender Rose, to add to the popular Proven Winners Calliope series. They will also have the favorite, Dark Red, whose blooms start out as a velvety, dark red and lighten a bit as it opens. If you like petunias, you may like the new Superbells Lemon Slice by Proven Winners. The bloom is mainly yellow with white stripes. Contact them at (630) 365-5665. shadyhill.com.
Anthony Tesselaar Plants has introduced Bonfire begonias, tuberous begonias that can handle sizzling heat -- even in hanging baskets. Their Next Generation Carpet roses, described as "the first easy-care, eco-friendly ground cover roses" are designed and bred to be highly resistant to disease, heat and humidity and are predicted to do well in our region.
"Flower Carpets are easy to care for and bred to take the extreme weather conditions of Zone 5 -- such as the hot heat of the summer and extreme cold temps of the winters," says Anthony Tesselaar, co-founder and president.
"Today's modern, easy-care shrub roses such as the Flower Carpet series have quickly taken the place of fussy, hybrid teas that require too much work."
New for 2013 is Pink Splash with bright, bicolored hot pink and pale pink petals, and blooms 2 to 2½ inches in diameter. Height is 23 to 31 inches, width is 40 inches when mature. Tesselaar.com.
David Austin Roses presents six new English Rose varieties in North America.
The fragrant and robust beauties are repeat bloomers. Available by mail, orders are being taken now through spring. Fighting Temeraire is creamy apricot in color, with 12 petals up to 5 inches across with a strong lemon zest scent.
The reliable repeat bloomer grows up to 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide, or up to 8 feet as a climbing rose. England's Rose has deep pink, medium-sized, double-cluster blooms. It's super scented, a reliable and repeat bloomer, and a rain-resistant rose. It grows 4 feet tall to 3 feet wide. A free, full-color "Handbook of Roses 2013" is available upon email request, phone or email. davidaustinroses.com.
Watermelon, gerbera, wildflower, oh my
The National Garden Bureau Inc., based in Downers Grove, has designated 2013 as the Year of the watermelon, gerbera and wildflower. James H. Burdett, a former newspaper journalist and rep for a seed company, formed the organization of horticultural specialists in 1920 to educate suburbanites in backyard gardening. It became a non-profit organization after World War II. Each year NBG chooses one perennial, one flower and one vegetable to be highlighted each year based on a five-point criteria system. Two requirements on the list are "ease of growth and care" and "adaptability to climates across the U.S." Heads up though -- watermelons need up to 80 days to grow and take up a lot of space as vines can reach 20 feet long. ngb.org.
Since it's the year of the watermelon, check out the different heirloom seed melons offered by Comstock, Ferre & Co. out of Wethersfield, Conn. The company has been in the business of selling seeds for more than 200 years. A free catalog can be requested on their website. Call (860) 571-6590. comstockferre.com.
Want to keep that melon off the soil bed for even ripening and prevent rot? Melon and squash holders offered by Gardener's Supply Company are a deal with a set of six under $10. They offer many solutions, aides and tools for gardeners. Call (888) 833-1412. gardeners.com.
For your summer salsa dishes, the moderately hot (4,000 to 6,000 Scoville units) Early Jalapeno chili pepper ripens in about 80 days after transplanting.
For something sweet in the garden, there's BrazelBerries Raspberry Shortcake. The compact, thornless plant produces full-size berries, and thrives in containers as well as the garden. A plus is it doesn't require staking and they are self-pollinating. Grows to about 3 feet. White Flower is among the first to carry this plant through an arrangement with the grower. whiteflowerfarm.com.
Burpee is presenting a new high-yielding potato, which sports an artistic purple and off white-striped skin called Masquerade. The spud is, "moist ... perfect for baking, mashing and roasting." It matures in 63 days, has a height of 38 inches and a spread of 34 inches.
A Hot Potato! potato growing kit by Territorial Seed Co. is a 2013 Green Thumb Award winner by the Direct Gardening Association. The stacking tower system takes up minimal space, ideal for urban gardeners. $99.95 at territorialseed.com.
Another 2013 Green Thumb winner is Burpee's On Deck Sweet Corn. The veggie, which can be planted in a container, grows 4 to 5 feet tall and can be harvested in about two months.
Burpee calls their new SuperSauce Hybrid "the world's largest sauce tomato!" The Roma weighs in at 2 pounds and produces seedless sauce. For the organic gardener, Burpee has a page with more than 40 vegetables including broccoli, oregano, kohlrabi, eggplant, even catnip. Seed packet and/or plant offerings vary. burpee.com.
Maybe you're looking for something totally different from your gardens of the past. And although the species aren't new, you're thinking about going native. Midwest Groundcovers in St. Charles offers a line called Natural Garden Natives. Mary Ellen Biell says the movement of native planting is getting more popular each year, and she should know, as she is a customer service representative fielding lots of calls from newbie native gardeners.
The perks with natives are plenty. Once they're established in the proper site, they can be almost self-sustaining. With their deep roots, they require less watering, less care and little to no pesticides. They attract birds and butterflies, provide food sources and shelter for local wildlife, and some are deer-resistant. Popular requests are for the Wild Blue Iris (spring), purple coneflower and black-eyed Susan (summer) and asters (fall). A popular grass is Prairie Dropseed, which grows 3 to 4 feet tall.
In extreme heat and drought situations, "natives hang in there." The plants might die down, but, "they have a better chance of coming back than cultivars," Biell says.
Though the company is a wholesaler, their plants are available at many local garden centers. Wasco Nursery in St. Charles, Wheaton Nursery, Platt Hill Nursery in Carpentersville and Bloomingdale are a few local locations. Custom orders can be filled at their small Yard Shoppe, but Midwest Groundcovers recommends calling their customer service line at (847) 468-2000 and they'll direct you to the closest garden center that stocks their plants. naturalgardennatives.com.