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Planting Annuals

Since Mother’s Day has passed, it’s safe to start planting your annuals any time now until Memorial Day.  Planting annuals after Memorial Day is okay, too; but just know that they will take more attention and care to survive, specifically watering and protection from cooler weather.

As the name suggests, annuals are plants that bloom pretty much all summer but won’t come back next year.

Most garden centers have annuals available right now. Some enable you to order your plants online and pick them up curbside, so you can maintain social distancing.

Some annuals come from the garden centers in pots, while others come in flats.  Plants that are in flats have very little soil, a small root ball, and are usually pot bound.  If you’re not going to plant annuals from flats for a day or two, make sure you keep them watered; and put them in a shady spot until you’re ready to put them in the ground.

Annuals have come from their nice, warm, cozy greenhouse; so they won’t tolerate weather that is too cool.  Some annuals can tolerate a little cooler weather while others just love warmth.

Annuals are the most fun to plant because they come in a wonderful variety of dazzling colors. You can choose annuals based on other characteristics such as tall, medium, short, or climbing.  You can have a great time choosing various color combinations.

Plant annuals on a cloudy day.  This prevents them from stressing out while they’re settling into their new homes. You can also consider planting in the early evening, which will give the plants overnight to settle in before getting hit with sun the next day.

As with all planting, plan your design first.  Arrange the plants in their pots in the in-ground bed in the design you want. When planting in a container or window box, place the plants in their pots on top of the soil in the container. When designing, keep the mature plant size in mind.  Give the plants enough room to spread, grow taller, and spill over (in the case of a container).

In general, annuals prefer well-drained soil with a pH between 6.3 and 6.7. Mixing a good quantity of peat moss or compost into your soil will help to build up the soil’s organic matter and allow the plants’ roots to spread quickly and get off to a good start.

Let’s Get Started

Dig a hole just big enough to gently contain the root ball.

Lightly water your annual (whether in a pot or a flat) before popping it into the hole.

Slip the plant out of its pot by gently squeezing the pot. Then flip the pot over into your hand while cradling the stem with your fingers. The plant should slip right out.  If it doesn’t, give the pot a gentle whack on the bottom with a trowel.

Never pull the plant out of the pot to avoid breaking the stems.

Before placing your annuals in the planting hole, gently break apart the root mass; this encourages roots to spread quickly into the surrounding soil. Fertilize at planting time with an organic or slow-release fertilizer.

Drop the plant into the hole, firming the soil around the plant with your fingers.

Water the plant to settle to soil.

Easy Annuals to Plant and Maintain

Petunias are some of the most popular annuals to grow.  They come in a staggering selection of colors. 

Petunias require full sun 6-8 hours a day, and they are hot and dry hardy. You should allow the soil to dry out completely in between watering.

Apply a slow release fertilizer at the time of planting. Throughout the season use a liquid fertilizer every week.  Petunias need to be deadheaded when the blooms begin to fade. To deadhead petunias, you can pinch them off under the blooms with your thumb and forefinger; or you can snip the blooms off before the next set of leaves.  Deadheading sends energy from the dead bloom back into the plant so the plant stays full and lush. 

Aphids and grey mold are two enemies of petunias.

Supertunias are hybrid petunias that don’t need deadheading and will bloom beautifully all summer long.

Impatiens, also very popular, come in a variety of colors. They need regular watering; not too much or too little.  When they want water, they will let you know on no uncertain terms. Real drama queens, they will look as though they’re on their last legs; but give them a little water and they snap right back.

Generally, impatiens like shade (but will tolerate a little sun) and a little moisture. Like petunias, their enemies are aphids and gray mold plus downy mildew.

Impatiens do not need to be deadheaded. They self-clean their spent blooms and will bloom profusely all season long.

A cousin of impatiens, New Guinea Impatiens, come in a variety of colors with beautiful dark green foliage. They thrive in shade and do not like sun.  They don’t like sitting in water, and they wilt dramatically.

You can also use slow release fertilizer when planting New Guinea impatiens and once again halfway through summer. Periodically use a water-soluble fertilizer on your New Guinea impatiens.

They are a great disease-resistant plant, but like their cousins they are susceptible to downy mildew.

Geraniums are a go-to plant to bring color into your garden. They are easy to grow and love the sun, but they also do well with some partial shade. There are 63 varieties of geraniums with a wide range of choices in shapes, sizes, height, fragrances, and foliage. Some Geraniums are trailing, some are upright; some have single blooms while others have double.

Well-draining soil is best for geraniumsthey don’t like roots sitting in water, and soggy soil could lead to a sick plant.

When digging holes for geraniums, double the diameter of the plastic pot the geranium came in. For example, if the geranium comes in a 6” pot, the diameter of the hole should be 12”.

When planting your geranium, do not break the root ball as you do with other annuals.

To let your plant grow healthy and strong, remove dead flowers and any unsightly foliage after the geranium has bloomed. 

Except for mealy bugs, most insects don’t bother with geraniums.  Heavy rain is probably a geranium’s worst enemy. Then there’s those pesky deer and rascally rabbits.  If they’re hungry enough, they will eat geraniums.

Geraniums pair beautifully with other sun-loving plants such as zinnias, coreopsis, marigolds, gerbera daisies, and lantana. Like the geranium, these flower varieties grow best in well-draining soil.

Well, there you have it, general information on planting annuals and some easy-to-grow varieties to get you started.

For more information see the excellent article:

So, go out and get your hands dirty, and Happy Planting.