Tips for Buying and Using Annuals

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Tips for Buying and Using Annuals

There is an unlimited selection of annual and perennial plants that can be used to provide just about every color under the rainbow for your garden.

Annuals are the most popular choice for adding a bold punch of color to a flowerbed or border because they perform all season long. They are readily available from garden centers to grocery stores and drug stores and many are easy to grow from seed.

Annuals Defined
Plants that complete their entire life cycle during one growing season are referred to as “annuals”. So, they go from seed to plant to flower, and then to seed again and finally die, all in usually just a matter of months. Classic examples of annuals include pansies, petunias and marigolds.

Using Annuals
For the money, you get a lot of color bang for your buck with annuals. There are plants for nearly every season and plenty of colors from which to choose. Annuals are readily available and easy to care for. Annuals are not excessively demanding, especially when given their ideal growing situations. Depending on the plant, they can vary from moist well-drained soil to near desert conditions. Some routine care for annuals includes the following:

Fertilizing
For a nutrient boost, you can add a slow release fertilizer into the soil at the time of planting. Be sure to use the appropriate amounts as specified on the package label for season long feeding. You can also apply a liquid fertilizer to your plants. These products are generally faster acting, but you will need to feed your plants more often throughout the season.

Deadheading is a term that applies to removing the spent flowers to promote new flowering. Deadheading simply requires that you remove spent blooms every few days by plucking them off the stems. It is not necessary to deadhead every annual but in many cases can lead to a healthier bushier plant. For annuals like pansies and marigolds, this extra step will reward you with season long blooms.

Tips for Buying Annuals
Fortunately for me, many happy gardeners buy up all the annuals in full bloom, the ones with the most blooms currently on display. I on the other hand, use these flowers as a guide, but proceed to purchase the plants that have yet to bloom, or are just starting to bud. These are the plants that will look great a few weeks from now in my garden, when the others may have already fizzled out. It takes a lot of energy to put out flower buds. I prefer that energy to go into making a bigger stronger root system first, rather than trying to spread plant resources in too many directions.

For the same reasons, unless I need color impact today, I’ll opt for disbudding (removing all the current flowers and buds) an annual in full bloom.

Next, I check for pest damage. The last thing I want to do is bring more home! Be sure to look all around the plants, especially under the leaves where most pests like to hide. Look for signs of discolored leaves, ones that look like they’ve been chewed on, or have holes. These plants are likely hosts for any number of pests. Bring these plants home, and you’ve just unwittingly invited a whole host of other problems.

As I inspect the leaves, I’m also looking for disease problems. Again a discolored, or spotted leaf is a good sign of problems. It may be that the plant has simply had too little or too much water, or light. However, disease symptoms can show the same signs. Assuming I have a choice of which plants I’m buying, and I usually do, the plants that show stress don’t come home with me. Although it may be a very correctable problem, why take the chance when choices abound.

The next inspection point comes with the general form of the plant. Is it short and stocky or full looking? Or, is it tall and leggy, kind of gangly? I want the compact plant.

Lastly, how do the roots look? They should be firm and white, not brown and mushy. Are they fully developed, without being root bound? Root bound plants can become stunted, and without some help from you at planting time, may never break the cycle. The plant will simply languish at best.

This sounds like a tough regime for little annuals to pass the test, and I admit, most of these problems are correctable with some knowledge. But I say, if you’re spending good money, then being a bit more selective at the point of purchase will pay big dividends in your garden, later on.