In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
June, 2010
Regional Report

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Trailing fuchsias are some of my favorite plants. They bloom from June through September and are happiest when they receive a only a few hours of direct morning sun.

An Annual Affair

I love experimenting with annuals. Since they only stay in the garden for one season, it's easy to pull them out and try something new if I don't like the effect I've created. I try all kinds of combinations and always look for exotic plants or annuals I've never grown before. Some are winners and some are more trouble than they are worth. But you never know until you give them a try.

Planting Designs for Annuals
I think annuals are most effective when planted in combination. I use masses of beautiful flowers interspersed with plants with brightly colored foliage. You can make a bed more formal by planting in solid blocks of flower color, separated by rows of ornamental grasses or low growing boxwoods

There are so many different annuals to choose from that, with careful selection, you can create a particular color scheme or simply go for a full-blown riot of color including varying heights and leaf textures in your flower bed. Most annuals flower at the same time, and over an extended season, so you can choose colors that contrast or complement each other. For instance, a dark, vivid color like the bluish-purple flowers of lobelia might combine well with the white flower mounds of alyssum. Both plants are similar in growth habit— low, mounding, and normally used for edging beds. And in our cool-summer climate lobelia will tolerate full sunshine.

Adding annuals to perennial beds can strengthen the effect of the entire bed, providing a continuity of color even when the perennials are not in bloom. I think annuals are great for creating splashes of color and linking different parts of the garden together. They can even help carry a particular color theme through the garden during the entire growing season.

Planting Out
In general, annuals prefer soil with a pH around 6.0 - 6.5. They appreciate loose, well draining soil so I dig a good quantity of peat moss or compost into the bed prior to planting. Building up the soil's organic matter allows the plants' roots to spread quickly and get off to a good start.

When you remove the plants from their cells or containers, gently break apart the root mass. This encourages roots to spread quickly into the surrounding soil. Fertilize at planting time with an organic or slow-release fertilizer. Be sure to space plants according to their mature sizes to prevent overcrowding later in the season.

Ongoing Care
I think most annuals can be coaxed into flowering all season long, until frost puts an end to their display. To keep them flowering and looking their best, some routine maintenance is required, but it's relatively minor.

Deadheading is the most important task, and it involves pinching off old flowers just as they begin to fade. The reason for doing this is simple. Annuals live to flower quickly, produce seed, and die. As long as you keep deadheading blossoms, the plants will continue to produce flowers; once you stop, the plants will slow or stop flowering and put their energy into maturing seeds. Pinching off spent blooms is quick and easy, and it ensures season-long bloom.

If you fertilized at planting time, you shouldn't have to fertilize annuals again during the season. With annuals, the flowers are the main focus, and overfertilizing can lead to lush foliage at the expense of bloom. An exception to this rule is container-grown plants, which usually need to be fertilized every few weeks to maintain a colorful show.

Annuals have shallow root systems so they'll require regular watering. I avoid overhead watering whenever possible. It can stain some types of flowers, petunias especially, and make them look unattractive. Overhead watering can also invite fungal diseases. For best results, use a soaker hose or other drip irrigation system, or direct your watering can right at soil level.

Annuals are such reliable and rewarding plants! Their quick growth can almost instantly transform a drab spot into a summer party place. Best of all, when you run out of room in your garden, annuals adapt wonderfully well to containers and hanging baskets.


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