published Saturday, April 18th, 2009

Exercise your flower power with annuals

by Kathy Gilbert
Audio clip

Joe Schild

A properly planted annual bed appears, at first, a bit sparse.

“It looks like a hair transplant,” joked Hamilton County horticultural extension agent Tom Stebbins.

Annuals — plants that are born, live and die in one year’s season — provide flower power in any garden. They create beauty quickly while filling in bare spots.

How to plant an annual bed

1. Does a handful of soil feel sticky? If so, don’t dig until soil is moderately moist but not soggy. You can destroy soil texture by digging wet soil.

2. Know your sun and moisture conditions before you buy, said Susan Seago, co-owner of Fine View Garden Center in Summerville, Ga. Some plants, such as marigolds and zinnias, love full to partial sun. Others, such as impatiens (new sun-loving varieties aside), need afternoon shade. Unless your soil is loaded with organic matter, impatiens will need regular watering. Others, such as sunflower, often can take longer periods of dry weather.

3. Think about growing annuals from seed. “It is so easy,” said Louann Smith, an avid gardener and a partner with the Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz law firm. Zinnias, cleome, cosmos and sunflowers grow quickly in flats or peat pots, she said. Poppies, larkspur and bachelor buttons reseed in the garden. “Buy some peat pellets and a package of seeds, and just follow the directions. In seven to 10 days, you’ll have 64 little seedlings in your flat. It’s like a miracle,” Ms. Smith said.

4. Place annuals out after frost danger has passed. In North Georgia and the Tennessee Valley, you’re usually safe after April 20, Ms. Seago said. Mountain residents may need to wait until after May 1, depending on elevation. Notice whether your garden faces north or south, has wind protection or lies in a frost pocket in making the call.

5. Before planting, add 3 to 4 inches of organic matter such as peat, compost, leaves, grass clippings and manure into the top 6 to 8 inches of soil. Fertilize with a general-purpose fertilizer following package directions.

6. Don’t worry about colors. “This is your artistic flair,” Mr. Stebbins said. “Some people will tell you certain colors go with other colors. I think that’s perfectly up to you — just be creative.”

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