Here at Penn Hills Lawn & Garden the arrival of annuals marks the beginning of our favorite time of year. Annuals are plants that survive for one growing season and can often add instant color and beauty to your landscape and your containers. To see examples of these annuals, click here for photos and descriptions from our friends at Better Homes & Gardens.
Maintaining flowering annuals involves five simple tasks:
Deadheading keeps plants looking tidy and prolongs the bloom period. Start deadheading as soon as you see the flowers fade and the petals begin to fall. Remove part of the stem as well as the faded flower, so that you’re sure to get the seed pod, too. With some flowers, such as petunias, you can pull off the petal part and think you’ve done the job, but the seed pod remains. Use your fingers to pinch off flowers with fleshy stems. Use pruners for stiffer or more stubborn flowers.
Stake early! By staking early when you set out transplants or after seedlings reach a few inches tall, you can direct the stems to grow upward right from the start and tie them at intervals along the stake as they grow. Tie stems to slender bamboo sticks, wooden stakes, or even straight and sturdy woody branches that you saved from your pruning chores. For light plants with sturdy stems, such as cosmos and cornflower, you can use twine or twist ties. For large-flowered plants, such as sunflowers, use plastic garden tape or strips of fabric.
3. Pinching and Pruning
Pinch plants when they’re young — before they develop long stems. Remove the tip growth by pinching above a set of leaves. To promote good overall shape, pinch both upright and side stems. When you have a mass of plants in the bed, pinch back the tallest ones so that they don’t shoot up past their neighbors. Good candidates for pinching include petunias, snapdragons, impatiens, chrysanthemums, marguerites, and geraniums.
Pruning is the process of cutting back plants to keep them within the boundaries that you’ve set and to promote bushier growth. Annuals rarely need the heavy-duty pruning that perennials and shrubs demand. Trim rangy, floppy, or sprawling stems as often as necessary to keep them under control. Make cuts just above a set of leaves or side shoot to promote both bushiness and new buds.
Mulch is simply a soil cover. Mulching an annual garden cuts down on the amount of water needed and helps control weeds. The soil is cooled and protected by the application of a top layer of some type of material. As long as the material is attractive, you’ll have a neat-looking garden, to boot. A layer of mulch also helps hide drip irrigation tubes. Your mulching schedule really depends on the type of annuals you grow and when you plant them.
Watering may be one of the trickiest aspects of growing annual flowers. Like many plants, flowering annuals need consistent moisture in the soil to grow and bloom beautifully. Annuals aren’t very forgiving if they don’t get the water they want, when they want it.
If you let some of these finicky plants dry out, they’ll stop growing and quit blooming for good. (Drowning your plants has that same effect.) If they don’t die, most under- or overwatered annuals at least shut down for a while. For a more permanent plant, a temporary halt in growth may not be the end of the world. But with annuals, fast, consistent growth is critical. If the plant stalls, you may lose a good part, if not all, of the blooming season.
The amount of water that annuals need to stay healthy and full of blooms depends on a number of factors:
If you live in an area where rainfall is regular and reliable watering isn’t a constant chore, except during prolonged dry spells or periods of drought. In drier areas, you must water almost every day. You have to water container-grown annuals even more frequently than your plants in the ground. In fact, daily watering of annuals in containers is essential in almost all climates during certain times of the year.
Out-of-the-ordinary weather can wreak havoc on your plants. Adjust your watering as follows:
Water less: Cooler temperatures, cloudy or overcast conditions, low wind, high humidity, and rain
Water more: Warmer temperatures, bright sunshine, high wind, low humidity, and no rain
Soil type affects how often a garden needs water. Luckily, when you grow annuals, you can amend the soil with organic matter. Adding organic matter, such as compost or leaf hummus helps sandy soils to retain moisture and helps break up clay soils to improve aeration and drainage.
In general, shady gardens need less water than those planted in direct sunlight. By blocking the sun’s heat, shade cuts down on the amount of water that evaporates from the soil. However, in places where trees are responsible for casting the shadow, the tree roots may be greedily hogging all the water.
• Type of annuals you’re using: Some annuals can get by on less water than others. Amend your soil and group plants according to their water needs. If you garden in containers you have much more control because you can move the pots around if your plants begin to complain about their present location.
The water needs of your annuals vary with the weather and the seasons, and you must make adjustments accordingly. Here are two easy ways to tell when your plants need water:
• When an annual starts to dry out, the leaves get droopy and wilt. The plant may also lose its bright green color and start to look a little drab. Your goal is to water before a plant reaches that point, but the plant will tell you when it needs water more often.
• Most annuals need water when the top two to three inches of soil are dry, so take a small trowel or shovel and dig around a bit. If the top of the soil is dry, you need to water.