Gardening with Annuals

Weiland-Karen-150x150by Karen Weiland, Advanced Master Gardener

An annual plant can be described as that which completes its life cycle in one growing season.  There are some annuals that may seem like they are perennials in that they drop a large number of seeds in the fall, the seeds overwinter in the soil and new plants emerge in the spring around the area that was planted the previous year.   Some examples are petunia, cleome and snapdragon. annuals

Using annuals in your landscape beds can help bring color to a shady spot or liven up a hot, sunny area.  It is important to choose the right plant for the right location.  A few plants that will grow well in heavy shade would be impatiens, coleus, begonia and fuchsia.   Dusty miller, dianthus, red salvia, pansy and alyssum will tolerate light shade.  Do you have a hot, dry area you would like to add some color to?  Give strawflower, petunia, gazania or ornamental pepper a try.  I like to add some zinnias and marigolds to my landscape beds.  Not only do they provide a splash of color, they also provide me with cut flowers for my home.

Do not be in a hurry to put them out as most annuals prefer a warm soil and a rather stable temperature.  However, if you do choose to plant early, keep in mind that you never know when Mother Nature is going to throw in a cold night and you will then need to cover those tender annuals to protect them.  I have had a few years where I came just short of snatching the sheets from my beds to try to cover all my newly planted annuals.  Oh surely, I thought, it is near enough to the supposed cut -off date of May 15 that I can set those plants out without fear of frost killing them.  NOT!  I was not the picture of happiness out there in the cold, dark night covering my plants.

When planting annuals in a bed, soil preparation is important.  Work in materials such as peat, compost, leaves and aged manure to help improve conditions such as soil texture and drainage.

Root SystemAnnuals are termed “bedding plants” and may be sold in cell packs or in individual pots, it just depends on their size. Before planting, water the plants thoroughly.  To take the plant from the pot spread your fingers across the top of the pot, turn it upside down, gently tap the bottom of the pot and lift the pot off the roots.  To take a plant out of a cell pack spread your fingers across the top of the pack, turn it upside down and then I like to push the bottom of a cell in which will release the plant.  If the roots are very compacted it is a good idea to loosen them a bit.  You may run across seedlings with a very dense mat of roots at the very bottom.  I pinch/pull those roots off completely.  This encourages better rooting after being planted.  If you are using a plant grown in a peat pot, remove the top portion of the pot that will be sticking out of the ground.  If it is left on, it can act as a wick and dry out the roots around the interior of the pot. It is also recommended to remove the bottom of the peat pot to allow for better drainage and rooting.

I like to use a root starter or starter fertilizer product in the water that I use to moisten the soil around my annuals after planting.  It just gives them a nice boost.  Using a mulch around annuals will help to conserve moisture as well as retard weed growth and keep the soil cool during the heat of the summer months.  Deep, infrequent watering during the growing season is recommended over light, frequent watering.  The former encourages a deep root system and water early in the day so that the leaves have a chance to dry before evening sets in.

As always, Happy Gardening!!

More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at  The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.