Gardening Articles: Flowers :: Annuals
Easy Annuals for Summer Color (page 3 of 4)
by Susan Littlefield
Growing Annual Flowers
One of the best things about annuals is that most are easy to grow. And planting seeds outside where they are to grow is simplest of all. It's a great way to start seeds of quick growing plants and those that don't take well to transplanting. It's also a good way to fill in with color around spring flowering bulbs and perennials that become dormant as spring turns into summer.
To get your garden bed ready for planting, clear away any plant debris and mulch from the previous growing season, mix in a few handfuls of a complete fertilizer and an inch or two of compost, then rake the bed smooth. Scatter small seeds lightly over the area or place larger seeds individually, then cover with soil to the depth recommended on the seed packet. Keep the seedbed moist, but not soggy, until seedlings emerge. When young plants are a couple of inches tall, thin to the recommended spacing.
Starting Seeds Early Indoors
For earlier bloom, many annuals are candidates for starting seeds easily indoors. Start with purchased pasteurized growing mix that has been lightly moistened. Fill small pots or shallow flats with the mix, then sow seeds at the recommended depth. Cover the pots or flats with plastic to keep humidity high, but remove it as soon as you see any seeds sprouting. Bottom heat from heat mats will speed germination of many seeds. Grow seedlings on under fluorescent lights or in a sunny window. Once outside temperatures begin to warm, harden off your seedlings before setting them outside by gradually getting them accustomed to outdoor temperatures and light intensities.
Taking Care of Annuals in the Garden
Annuals are a good choice for gardeners interested in low-maintenance gardening. Get them off to a good start and you'll spend more time enjoying their colorful blossoms than doing garden chores. Mix in an organic or slow-release fertilizer at planting time, then give your plants a boost with a soluble fertilizer once or twice during the growing season. Keep weeds at bay with an organic mulch.
Probably the most important chore to keep up with is deadheading, or removing the spent flowers before they can set seeds. This will keep your annual producing new flowers all season long. If you let the plants set seeds, they think their work is done. But if you want your plants to self-sow, let some flowers go to seed toward the end of the season. And, as mentioned, let some of your sunflowers set seeds to feed the birds.
The End of the Season
Frost will bring an end to your annual garden, but don't pull up your plants. Cut them off at their bases, leaving the root system in the soil to decompose and add organic matter to the soil. Then spend the winter thinking of new ways to use annuals for color in your garden next year.