I grow perennials for their leaf texture, shape, multi-year dependability, long-term economy, and, yes, in many cases for their flowers.
But almost the only reason I grow annuals is for their flowers. Whether I choose bright bursts of yellows, oranges, and reds, or the cool sophistication of pinks, blues, and whites, I know I can rely on these one-year wonders to perk up any spot in which I plant them.
Sometimes, I even throw the color wheel to the wind and combine all those colors we’re told should never be together. The effect is magnificent.
Although I love to see big drifts of annuals, I go to a park or public garden to see their extravagant a display. I can’t afford to buy that many and I can’t afford the time or the labor to plant that many. But there are ways to benefit from their color without uprooting the piggy bank.
Try planting them among your perennials to fill in bare spots and to provide color between bloom times. When I first started gardening with perennials, I thought mixing annuals with them was close to sacrilege. These days, I think it just makes sense.
Try planting annuals in groups of pots artistically arranged on your steps or on a corner of your deck. Flowerpots of different sizes, shapes, and colors can spice up the grouping. Make sure you include trailing plants and plants of different heights to add extra interest.
One of my favorite ways to use annuals is in window boxes. And you don’t have to mount them under windows. Try them along a railing or the outside edge of a deck. Line a patio to create an outdoor room.
Don’t overlook the unusual to supply you with your planting containers. I have a friend who plants annuals in an old pair of Bean boots. And, while my intent is not to encourage the type of garden art that may be considered, how shall I say it, tacky (and you all know what I mean) the right accent piece can express your individuality and put a smile on your visitors’ faces.
Now, I realize we may never see another sunny day here in the state of Maine, but, if we do, it is time to plant your annuals. If you haven’t started seeds indoors, you’ll probably be buying pots and flats of plants from a nursery or garden center.
These flats won’t all be of equal quality. Although I look for bargains, I will only compromise so much to save a buck. Why waste time planting something that is too weak or spindly to live? And, though I have been known to dig through a nursery’s dumpster to retrieve their rejects, even then I was discriminating – I didn’t take them all.
When choosing your annuals, look for green, healthy leaves. Don’t be satisfied with yellowed or spotted ones. This is much more important than selecting a plant that is actually in bloom. Make sure the soil is reasonably moist and the plants do not appear wilted. Some flowers do not recover if allowed to dry out. Check for a good root system and make sure the plant is bug-free.
As you plant your new friends, be sure to use a good potting soil in your containers. If they’re going directly in your flowerbeds, dig in some compost or composted manure.
Since annuals do all their growing in one season, most will put on a better show when well fertilized. I use a slow release product when planting and supplement periodically (meaning when I think of it) with a liquid fertilizer when watering.
After planting, if you can bear to be ruthless, many gardeners advise you to pinch off the flowers to promote branching and to encourage better rooting of the new transplants. I rarely follow this advice because I enjoy the immediate color the flowering annuals provide. But, don’t hesitate to pinch throughout the season. Most flowers need deadheading for them to continue blooming and to prevent them from getting leggy. You’ll be doing them, and yourself, a favor.
Until next week, wishing you (and me) sunny days and warm, gardening weather.