Annuals, those plants that burst into bloom for one season only, are the exuberant workhorses of the gardening world. Spectacular, reliable color, and long–lasting bloom time are only two reasons why these plants are such favorites.
Between the time spring bulbs fade, and autumn days radiate the last bright garden hues, annuals glorify the garden. Many thrive in full or partial shade. Groups of them revel in dry or acid soil. Others valiantly withstand salt spray and wind beckoning to hummingbirds or butterflies. They’re a feast for the eyes in containers that move about wherever a spot of color is needed. Annual climbers can mask multitudes of unsightly walls and buildings, creating a sense of enclosure and shade during steamy summer days.
Annuals are often used to color a location where perennial blooms have passed, or to fill space while new perennials establish themselves. In hanging planters, you’ll be amazed at how quickly they fill out and blossom. Among shrubs and under trees, they can light up a drab corner and grow to a substantial size in a very short time.
The trick to handling annuals is to choose the right time to put them in the ground, and to give them the nutrients necessary to sustain a prolonged and prodigious bloom. Determine when the last frost may occur in your zone – almost every garden book supplies this information. This is about the time to plant hardy annuals.
Hardy annuals do well in bracing weather. Plants such as annual poppies, salvia, scabiosa, calendula, sweet alyssum, and snapdragons can be planted first.
Half-hardy annuals – such as bachelor buttons, china aster, chrysanthemum, cleome, larkspur, nicotiana, nigella, petunia, statice, and strawflower – can be planted any time after that last frost date, but before the soil heats up to fifty degrees.
Tender annuals – (window box-type) geraniums, impatiens, lobelia, marigolds, morning glories, nasturtium, sunflowers, and zinnia – will only respond with growth in warm soil, which may be a month after the last frost.
The difference between just planting and gardening, is that the gardener is able to encourage optimal performance from each plant, and feeding is often the key. Regular feeding with a balanced fertilizer is perfect for cultivating masses of root, leaf, and stem growth that sustain the plant. Bloom-set will occur with established growth, allowing the plants to mature quickly. This doesn’t mean that you stop feeding, for these annuals are like hungry, growing teenagers.
An understanding of what these annuals are trying to accomplish during their single-season fling will help you to achieve success in your garden. They live to produce seed, and they’ll look as gorgeous as they can until pollinators find them and seed is set. If allowed to know that they’ve accomplished their purpose, they settle back into a mode of not “trying” any more. If, however, you deadhead – take off “spent” blooms – and snip off the tips of lanky plants, you’ll thwart the seed-set phase of things. Then the plant will gussie itself up and burst out with luscious growth!