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Garden tips: Plan pops of color before winter

From pansies to coneflowers, lettuce or chives, your yard can be productive through the year

It's not too late to punch up the color in your yard before the rains come.

I made a trip over to Santa Cruz to one of my favorite nurseries and went through the annuals to see what would grow over the hill here on the Midpeninsula. Finding this good a selection is the challenge.

Once you have chosen what you like, you can find more details online or in a garden book. There's always more to learn and having a big selection of plants to choose from really helps with good garden design.

First up are pansies, marigolds, salvias and petunias, which provide color and can be planted in beds or containers. In beds, add compost and dig it in at least eight inches. In containers, use all new potting mix. Also add fertilizer when planting.

Sweet alyssum (a small white flower) and deep blue or white lobelia are great border plants. A six-pack goes a long way if you space the plants 6-10 inches apart.

Snapdragons and amaranth grow taller than the previously listed plants, so use them behind the smaller plants or use them as center plantings in containers.

Santolina and artemisia take less care and water than the bedding plants above. They are larger plants, so give them more space.

Phlox, which look great in arrangements, mimula and yarrow (a very low maintenance flower) can be tucked into existing plantings.

Lantana make good full-sun border plantings. Often considered annuals, yarrow and lantana will last several years in the same beds.

Fiberous begonia provide flowers and leafy "show," especially the red-leafed varieties. Aquilegia is the stunning columbine flower. Delphinium and digitalis (common foxglove) grow tall and are usually planted in spring, but there's no reason not to plant them now. If the rains don't knock them down you might just get some cut flowers from them.

Speaking of cut flowers, dianthus, cosmos, zinnias and cupia are other options. These, as well as impatiens and coneflowers are all considered summer bedding plants with impatiens especially considered shade-loving plants. Grow them anyway.

Geraniums, ornamental grass varieties and Vinca minor (variegated ) all are good solid background plants providing some color but mostly texture variations and interesting space fillers.

Vegetables are not only a food source but give a sense of purpose in a garden. You cannot eat many of the flowering plants you grow and don't eat tomato plants (they are poisonous) but to go into your garden and come back to the kitchen with a fresh salad gives a special quality to life not often found often. Lettuce, Swiss chard, basil, peas, tomatoes, kale, parsley and chives as well as strawberries and onions all make for a quality kitchen garden and if you can find them in the local nursery or even big box store.

Jack McKinnon is a garden coach who worked for Sunset Magazine for more than a decade. He can be reached at 650-455-0687 or check out his website jackthegardencoach.com.

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