KEEPING ANNUAL PLANTS LOOKING THEIR BEST ALL SUMMER LONG
Every spring its a mad rush to the garden center for all those beautiful flowers, from pansies in the spring, to geraniums and petunias in the summer and finally to mums in the fall, annuals offer entire seasons of color and happiness. But all that color comes with some dedication and just a bit of hard work.
Lets look at what makes an annual tick and keep ticking...They are called annuals because they grow, bloom and go to seed in one year. They don't return next season, though a few awesome annuals may self seed and their next generation will serve you in the future.
First plants need water! But too much of a good thing is not always great. Plants like Geraniums, Lantana, Begonia and Vinca have a strong will to survive and will blossom and prosper during the hottest, growling days of summer. However in spring when we have rain daily and lots of cloudy skies, they truly suffer from too much water. It is best to move them to an area protected from the rain and manage the watering yourself. Geraniums will suffer with yellowing leaves that get brown spots (Bacterial leaf blight), will quit blooming and will looks stunted. Once this happens, its a slow battle to bring them back to their expected beauty. Lantana will simply stop blooming and remain small. Begonias will rot at the soil line and once this happen its game over. Vinca becomes very susceptible to fungal disease when exposed to an increase in water.
Other plants beg to be watered and it becomes a challenge to keep up with their demands. Coleus and Petunias are particularly thirsty. To help with the chore of keeping them hydrated, consider adding some Soil Moist to their pot when you first pot them up. This chore-saver is made up of the same particles found in baby's diapers. When the little beads come into contact with water, they expand and hold water, then they slowly feed the water back out into the soil as the soil dries, helping the plant retain water longer.
Many annuals need water every day, especially if they are in the sun. Don't wait for your annuals to wilt before you water. Instead, look for signs such as loss of gloss on leaves — or simply stick your finger into the soil. Avoid getting water on the leaves, this set up a perfect environment of diseases to get a start.
Keeping watering to a easy task makes gardening fun. Having to drag a hose all over the yard to water your plants takes away all the joy. Drip irrigation and soaker hoses make watering easier. Grouping plants and containers based on watering needs helps as well.
The next consideration is placement in the yard, on the porch and in the garden. Not all annuals are sunlovers. For that super sunny space try Lantana, Marigolds, Angelonia, Calibrachoa, Petunias, Sunpatiens, Geraniums, Gomphrena, Salvia, Gerber Daisies, Gazania, Torenia, Zinnia and Dalhia. All these annuals love the sun and need about 6 to 8 hours of sun to bloom and remain gorgeous all season.
If you are sun challenged and have trees that shade your garden, you are limited to what you are able to grow. Plan on plants that offer cool colors. Caladium, Hypoestes, Rex Begonias and Coleus are great choices offering a wide selection of leaf colors. For flowers, Begonia, Impatians, Fuchsia, Lobelia, Alyssum and Bacopa. Planting these flowers in the sun will be a heartbreak for you and sure death for them.
To create all those gorgeous flowers and keep them coming, its vital you feed your annuals. The best results for lots of flowers is by using a high phosphorus fertilizer. My feed of choice for beaucoup blossoms is Miracle Gro Bloom Buster. This water soluble fertilizer has a 10-52-10 breakdown, which means 10 parts nitrogen (greens up plants), 52 parts phosphate (which makes great roots and lots of flowers) and 10 parts potassium (which improves stress and overall good health). That huge boost of phosphorus is what delivers the abundance of blooms. Some plants like Calibrachoa are heavy feeders and need their fertilizer fix weekly. If you elect to use the water soluble route, plan to make this a weekly project.
If you are like me and are super busy, where even watering daily is a major chore, consider what I like to call the "Lazy Lady" fertilizer, Osmocote, Smart Release Flower and Vegetable Plant Food. This fertilizer is an even breakdown of food with an analysis of 14-14-14. It is a slow release bead that breaks down when the plant needs the nutrients through water and heat. Osmocote is sprinkled on the soil and works for up to 4 months, providing your plants with the food they need to stay sharp and beautiful.
Not all fertilizers work for annuals. Avoid using a high nitrogen feed. This will promote lots of green leaves but not flowers. Miracle Gro All Purpose Plant Food is NOT FOR ANNUALS. The chemical analysis breakdown is 24-8-16. Perfect for houseplants but not for flowers.
Another concern regarding fertilizer is the sale of potting mixes with fertilizer added. The problem with these soils is they are pre-mixed with a high nitrogen fertilizer even before you plant your flowers. So immediately your plants will take off, grow big and prosper, but at the expense of those very blooms you want. Look for mixes without added fertilizers.
The next thing of upmost importance in proper care of your annuals is maintenance. Some plants grow like crazy and need a regular haircut, kinda like you do. Trimming will keep them shaped nicely and will encourage bushiness and an abundant of flowers. Coleus, alternanthera and Hypoestes benefit from tipping, that's snipping off the growing lateral branch to encourage side growth which makes the plant bushier and much more attractive.
Remember, annuals have one job and one job only to do - bloom and make seeds. Once they complete the cycle, its game over. So what we need to do as gardeners is to "cheat the plants" into making more flowers by cutting off the old blooms before they can go to seeds. This is called "deadheading". To deadhead a plant means removing the dead or dying flowers from it before they produce seed. Besides making the plants look neater, it forces them to produce more flowers so that it can make seeds and reproduce.
Deadheading is an important task to keep up with in the garden throughout the growing season. Most flowers lose their attraction as they fade, spoiling the overall appearance of a garden or individual plants. As flowers shed their petals and begin to form seed heads, energy is focused into the development of the seeds, rather than the flowers. Regular deadheading, however, channels the energy into the flowers, resulting in healthier plants and continual blooms. Snapping or cutting dead flower heads can enhance the flowering performance of many perennials. If you’re like most gardeners, deadheading may feel like a tedious, never-ending garden chore, but the new blooms spawned from this task can make the extra effort well worth it.
Deadheading flowers is very simple. As plants fade out of bloom, pinch or cut off the flower stem below the spent flower and just above the first set of full, healthy leaves. Repeat with all the dead flowers on the plant.
Get in the habit of deadheading early and often. If you spend at least a short time in the garden each day, your deadheading task will be much easier. Start early, around late spring, while there are only a few plants with faded flowers. Repeat the process every couple of days and the chore of deadheading flowers will lessen each time. However, if you choose to wait until later in the season, like early fall, the dreaded task of deadheading will be rightfully overwhelming. Nothing is more rewarding to a gardener than watching the garden come to life with beautiful blooms, and by practicing the task of deadheading throughout the season, nature will bless you with a second wave of blooms to enjoy even more.