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'Dark Side of the Moon,' and 'Bit of Honey;' among new, colorful perennial varieties to plant this spring

Perennial flowers like astilbe have blooms called, "panicles," which come in several shades of pink. These along with many other perennial varieties can add a multitude of color and texture to your flower gardens.
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Perennial flowers like this astilbe come in several colors. These blooms called, "panicles," are a lavender hue, while another astilbe variety has black-colored leaves with purple flowers. Perennial varieties can add a multitude of color and contrast to your flower gardens.

It's no mistake that gardening catalogs and websites feature the newest, brightly-colored and unusual perennial plants in the coldest, darkest months. So, start perusing now to see what catches your eye and make a list of some new perennials to try come spring!

Some perennials (those are the kinds of plants that grow in spring and summer, die back in fall, overwinter, then grow back again the following spring) like astilbe, dianthus and helopsis make great choices for our growing zone. These plants are hardy to Zone 4 and should do well in all parts of Vermont, except for more mountainous areas.

These plants are beautiful to look at, not to mention their blooms attract helpful pollinators.

It's almost pruning time for some shrubs and trees! Learn which trees and shrubs you can prune now for more fruits and flowers this spring

And there are several varieties of each type that can pack a colorful punch in your gardens and borders.

Astilbe is a shade plant with dark green leaves and usually grows white, pink or red flowers. But a variety called Dark Side of the Moon that grows two or three feet tall has black-colored leaves and purple flowers.

Dianthus or Sweet William has silvery blue foliage and spiky flowers that resemble little carnations. One variety is part of the Fruit Punch series, called Funky Fuschia. This dianthus variety boasts double blooms that make great cut flowers.

Heliopsis grow to about three feet tall and look like small sunflowers. One variety that grows to just two feet tall and will fit in a small space is called Bit of Honey, with variegated yellow and green leaves. This one adds contrast to your gardens even when its not in bloom.

Sedum is a mounding plant that is perfect for hot, dry spaces in your garden or landscape. A series with red stems and green leaves called, Rockin' Round, has a variety with yellow flowers called, Bright Idea.

One Russian sage variety, called, Perovskia Bluesette grows to only one to two feet tall, and would work well in the garden or in a container. Most Russian sages grow three or four feet tall and then flop over, making this compact one a nice alternative.

Q: I enjoyed your National Gardening Association talk about Epsom salts. What are your thoughts on fertilizing orchids with a weak Epsom salt solution? - Brad, in Kansas City, MO

A: Orchids do like magnesium, and Epsom salts are magnesium sulfate. This does help orchids grow and flower better.

Just be cautious. Start by looking at the ingredients on the fertilizer that you're using for your orchids. If it already contains magnesium, hold off on the Epsom salts.

If you don't see any magnesium in the fertilizer's ingredient list, go ahead and try it at a very low level. Start with a teaspoon of Epsom salts in a gallon of water and use that maybe three times a year as the orchid is starting to get growing and sending up a flower stock.

One way to track progress is to use the solution on one orchid and not on another and see if there are any differences.

All Things Gardening is powered by you, the listener! Send your gardening questions and conundrums and Charlie may answer them in upcoming episodes.

You can also leave a voicemail with your gardening question by calling Vermont Public at 1-800-639-2192.

Hear All Things Gardening during Weekend Edition with Vermont Public host Mary Williams Engisch, Sunday mornings at 9:35.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch by tweeting us @vermontpublic. We've closed our comments. Read about ways to get in touch here.

Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.