Color wheel can be useful tool for gardeners

Published 2:24 pm Saturday, March 17, 2018

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Kristi Hendricks

Thinking about adding a new flowerbed to your landscape or reconditioning a garden that isn’t keeping up with the times? This is the perfect time of year to plan for such a change to beds and borders when most plant life outside is still dormant. This article is first in a 4-part series focusing on plant selection.

Virginia Cooperative Extension outlines four basic factors to consider when choosing plants for a 4-season, mixed perennial border: line, mass, dependability and color (article 426-202). We’ll address the first three in future articles. Today, let’s talk color and the color wheel of primary school. The wheel is one of the home gardener’s best tactical resources to plan for using color for effect and four season interest.

For starters, the wheel is based on three primary colors: red, yellow and blue. From a mix of these come all other colors. Secondary colors are green, orange and purple. By mixing equal amounts of a primary and a secondary color, tertiary colors are formed.

Choosing flowering plants in complementary colors adds eye-catching contrast to the landscape. Notice how even a single flower of purple-yellow pansies catches the attention. Using blue salvia with orange butterfly weed has this same shocking effect or consider the contrast of red camellia blossoms positioned on rich, deep green foliage.

Warm colors range red through chartreuse. Flowers of this color draw attention and appear closer. Bright colors also accentuate areas for highlighting such as a water feature, birdfeeder, lawn art or a front entrance. Flowers with these hues add a festive feeling placed next to a patio or deck where friends, family and neighbors will gather. Try red petunias, orange marigolds or yellow zinnias.

The cool colors are green through violet. Plants with flowers or foliage of these colors will have a calming, tranquil impact even in the worst heat of summer or close urban environment. These colors appear further away in the landscape. Cool-colored flowers create a sense of sanctuary and are best paired with soft music and quiet tête-à-têtes. Try blue hydrangeas, purple shamrock or homestead verbena to begin creating such an atmosphere.

Neutral colors work with both warm and cool colors, tying hues together or transitioning garden areas from one color to the next. Repeating colors throughout the garden (color echoes) unifies the design even when using different plant species. Always be aware of a plant’s sun or shade requirements before planting.

As you plan to build more color into your garden, remember to clean dirt, sap and rust from tools before sharpening for the coming season. February is the month to prune crepe myrtles. And clean out bird boxes as bluebirds are scoping nesting sites.

KRISTI HENDRICKS is a member of the Western Tidewater Master Gardeners. Contact her at