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A Guide to Planting Annuals

What is an annual? It is a plant that lives its entire life cycle from seed to flower to seed again in one growing season. Everything dies after the season is complete, except the seed to revive the plant during the next growing season. Annuals are the big flashes of color that last all season long, which is usually until the first sign of frost. That being said, how do you plant and take care of this plant variety in your garden?

Take note of your planting zone. This will help you to determine when the last frost is past. If you plant your annuals too early, you will loose them to that late frost. We use a greenhouse to get seeds started, but you can use the kitchen window to do the same if your garden isn’t big. The list of annuals is numerous, but a beginner can start with plants like pansies, petunias, marigolds, and geraniums.

Prepare the soil before planting. In colder zones with freezing temperatures, you will have to be consider soil prep in order to break ground. Using raised beds is a great way to get the soil going a little sooner if drainage is a problem. The structure of soil type can be changed by adding organic matter, such as well-rotted manure or garden compost. Spread two to three inches of the organic matter over the soil and till. Add a well-balanced fertilizer at this time. Most annuals enjoy a pH of 5.5 to 7.0, a little on the acidic side. Your local home and garden center can help with zoning and fertilizing questions, as well as brands and types to use for the plants you choose.

Seeds can be started indoors to get a jump start on spring. Others, you can sow directly in the soil. Annuals are shallow-rooted plants. They’re perfect for the beginning gardener and for hanging pot arrangements. Start your seeds in small containers and transplant into prepared soil later or sow seeds directly into your flower bed. Allow for adequate spacing for growth as plants mature. Don’t plant seedlings deeper than they were in the containers, about 6”. Keep in mind those areas of your garden that may get more water or light and make sure you plant accordingly. Firm the soil lightly around the plants and water thoroughly with a light mist. Plants will go through transplant shock, so plant during cooler times of the day. Evenings are a good time.

Seedlings can also be purchased. Check for healthy plants; do not purchase spindly plants or those that are insect infested. If your plants came from a greenhouse, they will need to be hardened-off, that is, take them outside for longer periods of time each day until they are use to being outside. This will help with some of the transplant shock.

Feed and water your plants regularly during the growing season and keep those weeds under control. Watch your garden grow with blooms that will amaze you in color and variety. If you want them to keep blooming all the way up to that first frost, do what is called deadheading. Remove the spent blossoms as they die, this will encourage the plant to keep flowering in order to produce the needed seeds to continue next year. If you want to save seeds for next year, leave the withered blossoms on plants and they will “volunteer” next spring.

Good planting to you and enjoy your annuals!

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