An annual plant can be described as that which completes its life cycle in one growing season. There are some annuals that may seem like they are perennials in that they drop a large number of seeds in the fall, the seeds overwinter in the soil, and new plants emerge in the spring around the area that was planted the previous year. Some examples are petunia, cleome, and snapdragon.
Do not be in a hurry to put them out as most annuals prefer a warm soil and a rather stable temperature. Of course, you never know when Mother Nature is going to throw in a cold night and you will then need to cover those tender annuals to protect them. I came just short of snatching the sheets from my beds to try to cover all my newly planted annuals recently. Oh surely, I thought, it is near enough to the supposed cutoff date of May 15 that I can set those plants out without fear of frost killing them. NOT! So there I was, arriving home from Indianapolis on the evening of Mother’s Day, 9:30 at night, trying to get everything covered. It seemed like everything had a flower bud on it and I was trying to save it. I will tell you I was not the picture of happiness.
When planting annuals in a bed, soil preparation is important. Work in materials such as peat, compost, leaves and manure to help improve soil texture and drainage.
Annuals are termed “bedding plants” and may be sold in cell packs or in individual pots, depending on their size. Before planting, water the plants thoroughly. To take the plant from the pot, spread your fingers across the top of the pot, turn it upside down, gently tap the bottom of the pot, and lift the pot off the roots. To take a plant out of a cell pack, spread your fingers across the top of the pack, turn it upside down and then push the bottom of a cell to release the plant. If the roots are very compacted, it is a good idea to loosen them a bit. This encourages better rooting after being planted. If you are using a plant grown in a peat pot, remove the top portion of the pot that will be sticking out of the ground. If it is left on, it can act as a wick and dry out the roots around the interior of the pot. It is also recommended to remove the bottom of the peat pot to allow for better drainage and rooting.
I like to use a root starter or starter fertilizer product in the water that I use to moisten the soil around my annuals after planting. It just gives them a nice boost. Using a mulch around annuals will help to conserve moisture as well as retard weed growth. Deep, infrequent watering during the growing season is recommended over light, frequent watering. The former encourages a deep root system and water early in the day so that the leaves have a chance to dry before evening sets in.
As always, Happy Gardening!
The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange County.