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Annuals add sparkle to summer landscape

By MARY COLLISTER
Published July 13, 2007


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The showers have been hit or miss in Hillsborough County the last couple of weeks. I have received very little rain and my grass is once again that crunchy brown. I am still waiting for the summer pattern of afternoon rain.

For those who have received more rain, the drought is still not over, but the few showers received may offer hope. If you've put off summer planting but are now feeling optimistic about the arrival of summer rains, now may be the time to look ahead to periods of more rain and decide what you're going to do in your landscape.

Most of us want to add color to our summer gardens, and planting annuals is an easy way to accomplish this. To get the most from your annuals you will want to do some preparation work.

Before you purchase annuals, decide upon a site. Ask yourself these questions. How much light will the plants receive? Most annuals prefer at least some sun during the day, but many such as impatiens and wax begonias do best with partial or full shade. What other plants, if any, are in the area? What is the soil like? Is it sandy and well-drained or claylike and wet? Will you be able to supply water in this area? Once you know the conditions of the site, you can begin selecting plants.

Decide on a color scheme for the garden. Colors that clash can be separated with a transitional zone in neutral shades of white, yellow or gray. Also think about the plant's size. Many plants are now available in dwarf varieties. The plant's shape and growth habits are also important. Some plants are stiff and upright, others loose and arching, and still others are creeping or trailing. Foliage color and texture are just as important as the flower color. Some plants may be used strictly because of their foliage.

If you want healthy, long-lived annuals, take time to do some soil preparation. Add organic matter including compost, manure, peat moss or even topsoil. The addition of organic matter improves soil structure, drainage and water-holding capacity. Get in the habit of adding organic matter yearly to your garden and you'll be surprised by the improvement you will see in your soil. During a dry period, those plants planted in more fertile soil will withstand the stress better.

After spreading the amendments over the area, till the top 6 to 8 inches of soil incorporating the organic matter. This can be done by hand or, if a large area is being prepared, you may want to use an electric or gas-powered tiller. Add some granular fertilizer at the same time to get the annuals off to a good start. A good, basic 10-10-10 or 8-8-8 will work. Work the soil just enough to mix the amendments into it.

When you go to the nursery, select the healthiest seedlings. Plants with more unopened buds than flowers will last longer. Knock the seedling from the pot and look at the roots. The roots should be white and spread throughout the soil in the pot. You don't want an excessive number of roots growing through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot.

Once you get seedlings home, dig a hole just slightly larger than the root ball. Remove the moistened plant from its container and gently tease the roots to loosen them. Place the plant in the hole and fill in around the root ball with soil, firming it gently. Water the plants immediately after planting.

Water thoroughly so that the soil is deeply soaked once you get the annuals in the ground. This encourages the development of deep, drought-resistant roots. Avoid wetting the foliage and water during the morning. This will help discourage diseases.

Liquid or water-soluble fertilizers may be applied as often as every two to three weeks. Most granular fertilizers should be applied every four weeks, and fertilizers containing slow-release nitrogen can be applied less frequently, every six to eight weeks. Use a high-phosphorus fertilizer like a 5-10-5 or 15-30-15 for flowering annuals.

Weeds can become a problem by competing for available light, water, space and nutrients. Pre-emergent chemical controls are available. These must be applied before the weeds emerge. Mulch also will help keep the weed population down.

Grooming your annuals is important and results in higher quality plants with more prolific blooming. Pinching back annuals when they are young encourages lateral branching, which leads to a bushier, denser plant.

Your best protection from pests is purchasing healthy plants, planting them in a fertile soil, and meeting their other cultural requirements. A healthy, vigorous plant is the best protection against pest invasions. If you must use a fungicide or insecticide, read and carefully follow all label directions. Spray all surfaces of the plant. Avoid spraying in hot weather or when the plants or wilted from lack of water.

You might think about planting ageratum, celosia, coleus, cosmos, foxglove, impatiens, marigold, ornamental pepper, portulaca, salvia, wax begonia or vinca. Annuals are among the easiest, most trouble-free plants you can grow and will add color and sparkle to an otherwise dull landscape.

[Last modified July 12, 2007, 08:12:48]


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