Floral: Annual Rites of Spring

By+Bernie Williamson

 

Annuals

We are fortunate to live in Michiana where the changing seasons allow us to experience this Rite-of-Spring!  And this year promises to be exceptional (aren’t they all?) because, not only are the annuals we’ve come to know and love growing strong and lush in greenhouses throughout the area at this very moment, but a variety of emerging hybrids are returning as well!  According to Brett Parks, owner of Not Just A Garden Center, these include – Super Bells, Diamond Frost Euphorbia, and Picasso Petunias – all of which have evolved in recent years to deliver improved growth, higher tolerances and even more beautiful blooms!

But if you’re one for nostalgia, don’t worry, the old favorites – Begonias, Geraniums, Impatiens  – for example, remain popular, and with good reason!  They’re attractive, and with even the most basic care, they thrive beautifully – adding color and texture to your landscape or porch pots from spring through fall!

According to Parks, when it comes to hardiness, some of the most popular sun-tolerant (and in some cases sun-loving) annuals for this area are Begonias, Geraniums, and Petunias.  They come in assorted colors and offer a variety of characteristics.  For instance, “Standard Petunias” are upright and subsequently work well in planting beds, while “Wave Petunias” creep in a vine-like fashion and do very well in planters or hanging pots.  And more recent hybrids, such as “Million Bells” Petunias are actually mini-petunias that work well in planters, or as border plants and rock-garden additions.  Best of all, those who have little time for maintenance will be happy to know that these annuals are a bit more drought tolerant…so it’s less likely that you’ll pay the ultimate price (total annual annihilation) for the occasional lapse when you’re unable to water every day or multiple times a day (during particularly hot and dry weather). Parks still recommends that you check your soil daily and water as needed, because it’s that kind of attention that helps to ensure an extra-ordinary return on your investment.

Equally impressive, but requiring a little more care (and more shade) are the more drought-sensitive annuals such as -- Coleus, Impatiens, and Sweet-Potato Vine.  Fortunately, these annuals are actually excellent “indicator” plants because they’ll provide visual evidence that water is needed, by losing their turgor pressure – which is the pressure inside plant cells that keep them firm and upright.  As soon as you see them beginning to droop, (Drama Queens that they are), it’s a sure sign that water is needed!  Fortunately, they respond quickly, and will thrive as if they had never been deprived; as long as they’re not ignored for long.

Plantings

Fortunately, regardless of the annuals you choose, planting is fairly easy…but there are a few tricks of the trade that will help to ensure healthy plant growth and extended blooms.  For instance, it’s a good idea to “amend” your soil, by adding enriched composts that can retain water and provide important plant nutrients.  According to Parks, Sphagnum peat moss and mushroom compost do both, and work well with any and all annuals and soil types.

Parks also suggests that, before planting, you remove your plant from the cell tray or pot, and gently free the roots to increase exposure to the enriched soil, water and fertilizers.  

When it comes to fertilizer, those that support rooting and bloom (generally those with higher phosphate levels) are recommended.  These fertilizers are water soluble, which makes application easy.  And unlike trees and shrubs that have more specialized fertilizer requirements, annuals do very well with these basic fertilizers. It’s also less likely that you’ll over-fertilize using these products, so feel free to use them as often as you’d like.  In fact, before planting, Parks suggests that you mix a batch in a bucket and allow your plants to sit in the mixture for a few minutes before popping them into the ground.  Then surface apply the mixture to your new plantings.  

With regular waterings, at least occasional fertilizations, and a little tender-loving-care, you can expect to enjoy the beauty of your annuals from spring through fall.  And with a little extra effort, you can even extend that enjoyment into the next season.

By cutting back annuals in late fall, before the hard frost, and moving them indoors (preferably into areas that are at least 50 degrees, and receive direct winter sun) you can “winter-over” most annuals and enjoy them again next spring.   Just provide a little water when the soil is dry, and then wait…wait…wait…until it’s safe to venture outdoors once again.

For information on proper planting and care of your annuals, visit Not Just A Garden Center – 1502 S. Union, Mishawaka or visit them on the web at www.notjustagarden.com.