By: Tony Sampaio Food and water are vital to our well-being, but so is beauty. Annual flowers, grown from seeds or plants, add a touch of art to any yard and garden. Annuals grow from seed to flower and usually back to seed in one season, but they give us the longest amount of color the whole growing season.
How to start your garden:
Take time to plan. Sketch out your garden. Include the size, shape, and location. Look at the spot. Is the area sunny, shady, or a little bit of both? Watch it during the day to see how much or when the sun hits this spot. (Impatiens, coleus, dusty miller, pansies, and begonias are a few annuals that do well in shade. Petunias, zinnias, and marigolds, are a few varieties that grow best in full sun.)
Choose the right flowers:
Before you decide which flowers you might like, do your homework. Look in seed catalogs, garden books, and the Internet for information on the growing conditions needed for various varieties. Flower shows, greenhouses, and garden centers also offer a wealth of knowledge you may be able to tap.
Do you want the flowers to accent your house colors, or attract hummingbirds and butterflies, or are you interested in a theme such as red, white, and blue?
Know your growing season:
Keep in mind the length of your growing season and the last frost dates. Learn as much as you can before you plant the seeds or transplants.
Once you learn which types of flowers will grow in your location and decide which ones you’d like to plant, you can start designing the bed. Start small rather than large at first especially if you’re a beginner. You’ll need to outline the shape of your flower garden. A good way to do this is to use a garden hose. Then edge the area with a spade so you can see the borders. Till the inside area with a tiller or a digging fork until the soil is all mixed up and there are no weeds or large rocks. Mix the soil with organic material such as compost or manure. You may want to test the pH of your soil. This will reveal its acidity and alkalinity. Most annuals do well in a level of 6.5. You can buy a tester and do this yourself, or you can take a sample to an extension service in your community.
General Rules For Planting:
• Keep tall plants in the back, medium in the middle, and short in the front.
• Plant as directed on labels, taking note of spacing. Don’t plant annuals too close together or they may become crowded and not grow.
• Keep it simple. • Water, weed, and feed your garden throughout the season.
• Pinch off the deadheads (flowers that are past their beauty). This will encourage more blooming.
•Use your imagination.
Another benefit of annuals is that they make great cut flowers for fresh bouquets throughout the season. Some good picks for cut flowers are: Asters, celosias, cosmoses, dahlias, gomphrenas, blue salvias, snapdragons, sunflowers, and zinnias.
You may want to plant from seeds or transplants, but for first timers buy already started plants. Best picks for easy growing annuals from seeds are cosmos, sunflowers, and zinnias.
Then, take the time to stop and enjoy your flowers.
-Tony Sampaio, greenhouse owner and teacher of horticulture, from New Jersey