Annual Plants

An Introduction to Annuals

Annuals provide gardeners with an inexpensive way to add variety and long lasting color to the landscape. Though they will bloom all season long, annuals sprout from seed, flower, set seed and die within one growing season and need to be replanted each year, at least here in New England. What can be considered and annual here in Massachusetts may actually be a perennial in Florida so the term annual is somewhat relative.

Most annuals cannot tolerate freezing temperatures so they should be planted after the last spring frost; here in Massachusetts it's usually safe to plant in early may. Be aware of your local conditions before you plant as well of the needs of the plant. Few annuals will thrive in the shade. Most prefer between 6 and 8 hours of sun each day, there are a few annuals, however, such as impatiens and begonias, which will tolerate some light shade. When choosing your site, avoid areas which remain water logged after summer showers.

With their impressive displays of color, annuals are able stand on their own as bedding plants. They can also add color to the herb garden or fill in thin spots and gaps in the perennial bed where they can be used to compliment other flowers.

Preparing Soils for Planting Annuals

Proper site preparation is essential. To prepare the ground for planting turn over the soil to the depth of about 1' and add compost and peat moss. Basically, you'll want to prepare the planting area the same way you would a perennial bed. Add compost and other organic matter to increase water retention in sandy soils. For clay soils, add compost and sand to improve drainage. To promote deep root growth water thoroughly. Let the soil dry out before watering again. Soaker hoses work well in annual beds since they slowly soak the soil while keeping the flowers and leaves dry. Nutrient rich soil will help annuals get established quickly which is critical in areas with short growing seasons. When planting, add to the soil a slow release fertilizer so the plants are fed through the entire season.

Deadheading Annual Plants

Once the annuals begin to flower deadheading becomes very important. This the process in which the past blooms are pruned or pinched off of the plant. Deadheading prevents annuals from putting all of its energy into producing seed heads; rather, the energy put forth will go into producing more flowers. Along with deadheading, be sure to cultivate the garden soil throughout the season, this will loosen compacted soil and allow moisture and nutrients to reach the plant's deepest roots.

Light mulch, such as buckwheat hulls, will help reduce the growth of weeds in the garden and help the soil retain its moisture. Be sure to remove any weeds that do appear as annuals do not like competition for water and nutrients. Annuals can also be in competition with other garden plants. If the flowers are to be grown along the edges of the lawn, make sure that you edge the garden bed often with a garden spade. This will help keep the grass roots from growing beneath the garden and robbing the annuals of nutrients and moisture. If your planting beds are cut into the lawn, they should be at least 3 ft. wide; this will give the plants enough room to flourish.

When spring arrives, head out to the greenhouse, pick out some annuals and plant them as soon as the weather permits. Annuals tend to be a bit more labor intensive than perennials but the payoff, non stop colorful blooms from spring through autumn, makes it worth it.

By: TJ Hallinan

About the Author:

TJ Hallinan is a landscape designer and builder in Massachusetts. Visit his garden resource website for all kind of helpful information.

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