By Jamie Sloan, Account Manager
Once upon time, another lifetime ago, I worked for a retail nursery and assisted many perplexed and overwhelmed customers who would wander the endless rows of diverse colorful annual selections. Slight anxiety and complete uncertainty riddled the faces of even the most avid gardeners. Then there were other customers who would enter the store and know exactly what and how many plants they desired. Upon further questioning, I would typically find that the latter group knew what they wanted after many seasons of trial and error. Much time and money was spent before perfecting the desired color, texture, and scale of their plantings. This blog is to assist in demystifying the process of annual selection and planting for gardeners and homeowners. The ultimate goal is to ensure the success of a beautiful thriving garden.
There are a few variables to consider before going out and purchasing the first thing that may catch your eye. You can start by observing the lighting in the areas where you want to add some color splash. Next, get to know the condition of the soil in these areas. Is it compacted? Is it clay or loam? Will it need amending? Climate is another factor. Is the annual bedding area on a windy slope or under the eaves of the house? Keep in mind that identical plants may perform differently in relation to the climate in which they are planted. It is important to note any discrepancies. Another question to ask is how are the planting areas going to be watered? I would like to add that while overhead watering is convenient, it is also a great way to introduce more weeds, fungus and pests to your environment. Your plants also take a beating and a considerable amount of water can be wasted. From personal experience, drip systems and soaker hoses are much more effective and ideal for garden plant needs.
Now on to the fun stuff—color, color, color! Where do we begin? A great place to start is to write a list of favorite varieties and color schemes. You can draw inspiration from artwork or existing designs around your area. Keep in mind that balance is key for a great garden display. Next, you can start thinning your list by comparing the cultural needs of each plant. This is a great way to start grouping different varieties as well. Height differences are also important and effective in maintaining the aforementioned desire for balance. Taller varieties can be strategically placed for a nice dramatic effect in your landscape. Some people choose taller growing plants to disguise unsightly retaining walls or irrigation risers. The good news is you have many options.
When it comes time to purchase annuals, choose plants that have vibrant leaf color and are more stocky than leggy. Be careful of introducing pests into your landscape. Gently shake the plants and notice if any bugs or insects fly or fall off. Also, check under the leaves and along the stems for pests, larvae or eggs. Aphids are notorious for traveling from nurseries to garden beds. Finally, check the roots and notice if the plants are heavily matted or root-bound. You want strong roots that aren’t cramped.
Now it’s time to plant your garden. Make sure to read and follow the spacing requirements for each variety. It’s a good idea to remove any dead or damaged parts of the plant before planting. Pinch or score the root ball of each plant to encourage the roots to grow deep. Personally, I like to add a little organic fertilizer and water to each hole before placing the plants. Once each plant is in the ground I like to step back on occasion and look at the progress before proceeding. This way I can make any necessary changes or movements as I go.
Annuals provide seasonal color and interest to any garden and work well in perennial beds. The choices and varieties are endless, but if you begin with a list of favorites and compare that list to the cultural needs for your bedding areas, you’ll soon see the birth of a new garden vision. Knowledge is power, and the more you know the more flower power you’ll have.