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All About Annuals

Annual flowers provide a rewarding and simple way to achieve color in a landscape. For a modest price, they can instantly enhance the beauty of your grounds. With correct conditions, many annuals can last from just after the last spring frost until the first autumn frost. Every year, you can plant different annuals and experience a charming new look with different colors, sizes, beauty and form.

You can locate annuals in a variety of different places. Often, they are planted in a bed of their own or mixed with summer bulbs and perennials. Gardeners use annual beds and borders not only to add aesthetic value, but also to highlight or camouflage areas that are bare. When bulbs fade, but before perennials are at their peak, annuals fill those empty spaces perfectly. With increased interest in cut flowers inside the home, old-fashioned cutting gardens -- comprised mostly of annuals -- are becoming more and more popular!

You can also position annuals just about anywhere you want to add color, including outdoor window boxes, containers and haning baskets.  Container planting is an effective way to bring color into your landscape.

Whether for beds, borders, cutting or containers, you can create an eye-pleasing palette of color with annuals. Enjoy!

Choosing a site

Soil requirements:
Most annuals prefer slightly acid to neutral soil with a pH of 5.5 to 7.0. To check your pH, perform a soil test or contact your local County Extension Service. You can use lime to raise pH or add sulfur to lower pH. Your annuals will perform best in nutrient-rich, well-draining soil that crumbles easily.

You can improve wet, poorly drained clay soils, and dry, sandy soils by incorporating organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, into the soil. After the first year, add more compost to the bed before planting. If you cannot work the soil, such as in a mixed border, top-dress the area with compost after setting in your annuals.

Light requirements: Most annuals perform best in full sun (6 to 8 hours); however, some prefer shade or partial shade. Make sure to provide your annuals with their required light conditions.

Location and spacing requirements: The location of your planting area depends upon the effect you want to achieve. You may want to plan the planting bed first so you can effectively create your colorful world with varying shapes and sizes. Be sure to check the a planting guide, or search for your plant online, to determine proper plant spacing when planning your annual garden.

Planting your annuals

Preparing the site: The first step to successful growing is proper soil preparation. Prepare your growing area the previous fall or just prior to planting your annuals in the spring.

Prior to planting, remove all grass, weeds, stones and other debris from the flower bed.

Incorporate organic matter into the top few inches of the soil using a spade or tiller. Adding organic matter such as peat moss, leaf mold or well-rotted garden compost improves moisture retention and drainage. Fertilize with a slow-release, all-purpose fertilizer at this time as well.

Mix well with a garden fork until uniform and then level off.

When to plant annuals

The second step to successful growing of annuals is proper planting. Remember, many annuals are not tolerant of frost (though some are). For precise information about frost dates in your area, contact your local cooperative extension service. You can plant in the ground or in containers.

Your plants will suffer much less trauma if transplanted in the evening or on an overcast day. Avoid the heat of the midday sun.

Planting your annuals in the garden bed

Prepare the soil, if you haven't done so already.

 After preparing the soil, make sure you water the area well.Ideally, your garden bed should be watered the day before planting so soil is moist but not muddy. However, if the soil is dry, add water to the hole before planting the transplant. Mark the bed with small stakes or sticks based on specified planting distances. Lightly water your plants in their containers. Moist plants are easier to remove from containers without disturbing the root ball. Carefully release your plant from its container. Gently squeeze the container and slide the plant out onto your palm. Keep the root ball intact to avoid damage. Dig a planting hole with a trowel. The hole should be slightly (about 1½ times) larger than the root ball. Set the plant in place at the same level at which it was growing in its shipping container. Carefully firm the soil around the roots. Do not compact the soil. Water the soil well and fertilize with a starter fertilizer. Keep the foliage dry during watering. Add a 2-3 inch layer of mulch to reduce weeds, conserve moisture and keep the roots cool.

Planting your annuals in containers

Select a container large enough to hold the medium and the plants. It must also have good drainage holes. Fill the new container with potting soil. Fill to about 1-2 inches from the top of the container. Lightly water your plants in their shipping containers. Moist plants are easier to remove from containers without disturbing the root ball. Place the annual at the same soil depth as it was in its original container. For a fuller effect, plant annuals closer together than you would in the ground. Fill the excess space with more potting soil. Water immediately. Allow the water to drain, and add more soil if necessary. Water daily for the first week, then as necessary. Containers tend to dry out quickly; check the soil daily and water to keep the soil moist, but not soggy. Hot sun and strong wind will dry the soil even more quickly; mulch can help keep the plant moist. Fertilize with a soluble plant food according to label directions.

Place your container in a location suitable for your annual selections. Most containerized annuals need to receive at least six hours of direct sun, good air circulation, and shelter from strong winds. For sun requirements, check with your local nursery. You will find many books on the subject, as well. Rotate the container occasionally to make sure your plants grow symmetrically.
Annual care tips

Watering: Water well after planting and then water frequently until your plants are established and new growth has started. Annuals need about one inch of water a week. Generally, deep, infrequent watering is better than frequent, light applications. Soaker hoses and drip irrigation work best. If you are using an overhead sprinkler, water as early in the day as possible so foliage will dry off before night. Make sure to water more frequently during windy, dry periods. Make sure the soil isn't soggy or overly wet.

Fertilizing Most annuals do not require high levels of fertilizer. We suggest a slow-release fertilizer to furnish adequate nutrients. Mix this in when preparing the soil. Additional fertilizer may be necessary to jump start those annuals suffering from a summer slump.

Staking Top-heavy or tall annuals may require staking. Loosely tie your plant to a sturdy stake with plant ties or old pansy hose. Avoid pinching or damaging the stem. Also, consider placing garden stakes adjacent to those plants that lean over when they mature. Stake early in the season so plants camouflage the support.

Pruning For most annuals, pinch off ("deadhead") faded flowers to prevent plants from setting seed and to encourage additional blooms.

Mulching After planting, add a 2-to 3-inch layer of mulch to reduce weeds, conserve moisture, and keep the roots cool. Organic choices include bark chips, pine needles, and shredded leaves. In the following year, you can incorporate mulch into the soil before planting. Occasionally, weeds may appear even though you applied mulch; be sure to remove weeds as soon as possible so they do not compete for water and nutrients. Remove weeds carefully (by hand, if possible), especially when the annuals are young, so you do not disturb their roots. As your annuals grow and fill in, weeding will become less time-consuming.

Reseeding: Some annuals will reseed from one year to the next. The seedlings may not be identical to the parent; they can differ in flower color and can be less vigorous. For maximum effect, replant with fresh annuals each year. For those seedlings that are desired, thin to their appropriate plant spacing when plants are small to allow them to reach their maximum potential.

Garden Clean-Up
Some gardeners prefer to remove annuals in the fall when the foliage fades and after frost has blackened the tops. You can compost your pulled annuals to reduce insect and disease problems next season. In some areas of the country, annual beds are replanted with different selections in the fall for yet another season of beautiful blooms.



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