When we think of a summer flower garden, beds of colorful, blooming annuals often come to mind. These seasonal beauties can be the stars of an attractive summer landscape.
Annuals generally are easy to grow, and they bloom quickly and prolifically. However, annuals are by no means fool-proof. Here’s how to make your annuals truly shine:
One of the most important factors in growing annuals is keeping them properly watered. Georgia’s summer rainfall can be unreliable, so be prepared to apply supplemental water as needed. As a general rule of thumb, annuals require 1-1.5 inches of water per week. More may be needed in times of extreme heat. Some annuals are more drought-tolerant than others, so learn about what you’re growing, and tailor watering to the needs of the specific plant.
Overhead watering can encourage fungal diseases, especially if foliage remains damp overnight; therefore, a soaker hose or drip irrigation is preferred. Water from this method will seep directly into the soil and not wet the leaves or flowers. If you water from a handheld wand, keep the nozzle close to the soil surface. Water thoroughly, with an even distribution over the garden. Deep, slow watering will encourage deep, healthy roots.
If you are growing annuals in containers, reduce the chore of watering by using light-colored pots that are made of non-porous material, such as plastic, resin or glazed pottery. It also helps to place a large saucer under each pot to hold water that can be absorbed by the plant as needed. If container-grown annuals are drying out too quickly, move them into more shade as the heat of summer progresses.
2. Mulching and Weeding
Adding a layer of mulch to your annual beds will provide several benefits. It will help the soil retain moisture, keep the soil cooler and aid in preventing weeds. Organic mulches, such as pine straw, bark chips or shredded, dry leaves add nutrients to the soil as they break down. Do not use fresh grass clippings; this material can deplete nitrogen in the soil.Even with a layer of mulch, some weeds are sure to pop up, competing with annuals for water and nutrients. Check for weeds frequently, so you can pull them while they are young. To avoid harming shallow roots, don’t disturb the soil any more than necessary.
Adequate nutrition helps ensure the best performance. Usually, a general, balanced, all-purpose fertilizer, such as 8-8-8 or 10-10-10, is sufficient. However, for optimum results, get a soil test early in the season from the Cherokee County Extension, and follow the test’s recommendations. Slow-release fertilizers often are preferred, since they are long-lasting and reduce the chance of fertilizer burn.Keep in mind that, if you are gardening in containers, fertilizers are more likely to leach out of the planting medium. Therefore, you might need to feed plants more frequently.
4. Pinching, Pruning and Deadheading
Occasional pinching or pruning can encourages new growth, more branching, prolific blooms and a nicely proportioned shape. Sometimes, annuals in a mixed bed or container grow at different rates. If this happens, you can prune back the plant that is getting leggy or out of hand.Deadheading, or removing old flowers, is another form of pruning. It encourages reblooming and keeps the plant from spending its energy on seed production. However, if you want to save seeds for next year, allow some blooms to mature and form seeds, so you can collect them when ripe.
Note: Some modern varieties are bred to be sterile, so they won’t produce seeds. With these, deadheading is not necessary.
– Mary Tucker is a North Carolina native who has lived in Cherokee County for more than 25 years. She is a Lifetime Master Gardener whose special interest is gardening with native plants.