Have you ever look out your window to see a green lawn and some green shrubs, and find yourself wishing you could have all the flowers and colors that professionals have?
Annuals may be your answer.
Annuals are flowers that go to seed and die in a one year life cycle. Some annuals are hardier than others and can withstand the cold and possibly survive the frost while others simply die off to be replanted next year. One great thing about annuals is they die year after year, so you won’t have to worry about removing deep roots when you want to plant something else. Annuals add color to empty spots in your garden by filling those brown ground spots between your green bushes. You can put them in a window box, line them up your walkway, or make a wonderful color bed.
It’s important to plant annuals after the last frost date and to find the appropriate amount of light for your flowers. Your last frost date can be found on your local weather informational page online. As for light requirements, it is important to understand the shade-to-sun ratio requirements. If your annual calls for full shade, this means plant your flowers in an area that gets less than three hours of sunlight each day. Also note that shade does not mean complete darkness, instead it refers to filtered sunlight. Half shade or half sun can be used interchangeably and means about three to four hours of sunlight, preferably in the morning or early afternoon. Full sun refers to six hours or more of direct sunlight throughout the day.
Good soil preparation gives annuals a greater chance of growing to their full potential. Breaking up the ground and tilling over the spot you want to plant in will help loosen the soil to allow roots to spread quickly and get a healthy start. Also adding a bit of fresh top soil to the planting area will promote good root growth. When planting the annuals, which can be from a flat or six-pack, it’s important to break up the bottom of the root mass, which could be potbound. By doing this, it stimulates the plant to promote root growth.
Due to annuals having a one-year life cycle, they don’t need to be regularly fertilized like your other perennials do. Fertilizing after planting gives your plants a good head start for the growing season. Fertilizing also promotes lots of foliage. But since you are growing annuals for the flowers, this isn’t necessary. The best fertilizer to choose would be one with the following characteristics: slow-release, water-soluble, organic and granulated. The only exception to this type of fertilizing, would be for container gardening. Since most of the fertilizer in container gardening is lost when it leaches out the bottom, fertilizing every couple of weeks is recommended.
Caring for your established annuals is simple. Dead heading is one element most people don’t think about. Dead heading annuals when the flowers begin to die makes the plant stop producing a seed for that flower and prolongs its seasonal life. It keeps them producing more flowers all season long.
How much water annuals need is the trickiest element. It depends on many aspects such as soil type, plant’s personal preference and your climate. If your soil holds moisture for long periods of time, watering less often is recommended. If your soil dries out quickly, watering more often would be advised. Grouping plants that have similar water requirements is recommended. Container gardening requires more water than ground planting due to the drying out of the soil in the pot. If you place a plant in full sun, the ground will dry out faster than your shade covered plants. Shade tends to be cooler allowing the ground to hold moisture. If it rains often in your climate, less hand watering is needed as well.
In summary, planting annuals is merely selecting the proper light, preparing the soil, fertilizing, dead heading and watering appropriately. Mastering these simple skills for gardening with annuals with help you have the beautiful, colorful garden much like the professionals do. Happy planting!
Kimberly Perreira is a Master Gardener with the University of California Cooperative Extension office in Fairfield. If you have gardening questions, call the Master Gardener’s office at 784-1322.