Caring for Your Annuals

Improving Your Success with Annuals

Annual Plant Care TipWith their long lasting blooms, wide variety of flower colorations, and ease of production, annuals provide gardeners a season long supply of color. Annuals are versatile and can be used to add color to flower beds and borders, used in container plantings and hanging baskets, mixed with vegetables, perennials, shrubs, and trees, or to fill empty spaces in the garden until slower plants grow and mature.

Our selection of annuals represents some of the best genetics in the industry and are known for their desirable characteristics and garden performance. There are a number of factors to consider and procedures to follow that will enhance the success and performance of your new annual. We have compiled some brief summaries that will improve the performance of your new plants below.

Upon Arrival

Upon receiving your new annuals, it is important to open the shipping box(es) immediately. Carefully remove all packing materials and containerized plants from the carton(s). Do NOT keep the plants in the shipping boxes as this will reduce plant quality and may lead to diseases or death.

If the potting mix is dry upon arrival, apply water to the containers until the root zone is thoroughly moist. When possible, plant your new annuals within 1-3 days after they have been received. If it is not possible to plant them within this time period, keep them in an area that provides some degree of shelter from the natural elements (sun, wind, rain, etc…) until they can be planted.

Choosing the Right Annuals for Your Location

There are several factors to consider when deciding which annuals are right for your landscape. The most important consideration is the environment that you will be planting them in. Several environmental factors that may affect the performance of annuals include the amount of sunlight (full sun, partial shade, shade) the site receives, the moisture characteristics of the site (wet or dry), and the temperatures these plants are going to be exposed to during the growing season.

Each type of annual performs best when it is planted in its preferred environment. Planting annuals in locations with inadequate conditions will greatly reduce their appearance and garden performance. For example, planting an annual with a heavy shade requirement in a location that has full sun will reduce the vigor and appearance of the plant compared to the same annual planted in shady location.

For improved success, choose varieties that are known to perform well in the type of area you desire to plant them in. When planted in a suitable environment, annuals will provide you with a season long supply of color and enjoyment.

The Numerous Uses of Annuals

There are numerous ways annuals can be used in the garden and around the home. They are most commonly used to add color and brighten up flower beds in landscapes. There's a place for annuals in nearly any situation, from incorporating them in the vegetable garden to mixing them in landscapes filled primarily with perennials and shrubs, to planting them under trees and immature landscapes. Additionally, annuals are commonly used to liven up your outdoor living areas in patio containers, combination pots, hanging baskets, and window boxes.

Soil Preparation & Annual Planting

In general, most annuals prefer being planted in sites with well drained soil.  Drainage in poor soils can be improved by adding organic matter like, compost, leaves, peat moss, or aged manure. It's always a good idea to mix in some organic matter into the flower beds at the beginning of each growing season. Organic matter helps soil to hold the proper ratio of air, water, and nutrients which result in healthy, strong plants.

Most annuals are considered warm season plants and require warm air and soil temperatures for them to thrive. Cold temperatures will significantly slow down their development and exposure to frost will likely injure the tender leaves, and even kill the young plants. Unless the new plantings can be protected from cold temperatures and frost, it is best wait until after the last average frost date in your area to plant most annuals.

It is always best to plant your annuals when the weather is calm, cool, and overcast. Hot, direct sun and windy conditions may cause excessive stress on newly planted annuals and may cause them to wilt, dry out, and possibly die under severe conditions. Otherwise, plant them in the early morning or in the evening (not during the heat of the day) to reduce stress from the direct midday sun.

Water the containers thoroughly before planting. Dig a hole slightly wider and deeper than the size of the container you are planting. Carefully remove the annual from the container by holding one hand over the top of the pot and turn the container upside down. Gently tap the bottom of the pot to loosen the root zone from the container and gently pull the pot away. If the container does not easily come off, it may be necessary to squeeze the container until the plant comes out of the pot.

Next, place the plant in the hole so the top of the root ball is at the same level as the top of the hole. It may be necessary to remove the plant and place a little soil back in the bottom of the planting hole and retry aligning the top of the hole with the top of the root ball. Many annuals do not tolerate being planted too deeply and may not perform well or even die when planted improperly. Once the plants are at the proper height, fill in the planting hole with soil, gently packing the soil around the roots and base of the plant, being careful to not overly pack or compact the soil around the new planting.

After planting, it is important to water them well. For the first couple of weeks or so, it is important to keep the soil moist, but not soaking wet. Keep in mind that many new plantings do not perform well or even die because they are either over- or under-watered.

Annual Aftercare

Most annuals are easy to grow and require relatively little maintenance to keep them looking great. After planting, the primary activities include feeding, watering, mulching, and deadheading.

Most annuals perform best when grown in fertile soils. Mulching the flower beds with compost each year often supplies an ample supply of nutrients. In beds covered with bark mulches or those with infertile soils, it is recommended to fertilize once or twice per year with a general purpose fertilizer. When applied at planting, slow release sources of nitrogen can often supply adequate nutrients for the entire growing season.

Annuals with a general yellow coloration often indicate that there is a shortage of nutrients available for the roots to uptake. If the plants appear yellow, it may be beneficial to side-dress them with a granular fertilizer or make applications using liquid fertilizers. Applying too much fertilizer causes many annuals to grow too quickly and may decrease the number of flowers produced.

For optimum growth, it is recommended annuals receive approximately 1 inch of water per week either by rainfall or through irrigation systems. When providing irrigation, it is important to thoroughly soak the soil and not just wet the surface. To prevent foliar diseases, avoid applying water to the foliage and flowers. Soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems work well for this in many scenarios. If irrigation is applied using sprinklers, run them in the early morning to allow the foliage to dry quickly in the sun.

Mulches consisting of numerous organic materials, such as shredded leaves, bark chips, and compost, are commonly applied around annuals to help retain moisture in the soil, decrease the emergence of weeds, and to add organic materials to the soil as they break down. Apply a 3-inch layer of mulch around the plantings in the late spring, leaving about a one inch radius around the stem of each plant that does not have any mulch applied.

Many annuals benefit from deadheading or removing faded flowers and dead flower heads. This practice keeps the garden looking nice and encourages many annuals to continue blooming for an extended period. Removing the faded flowers allows the plant to put its energy into making new flowers rather then making seeds. Not only does this practice promote more flowers, it creates a longer blooming period.

Written by Paul Pilon: Perennial Solutions Consulting

Great New Annuals

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