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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Embrace Annuals For a Happier Life

If you want to boost your confidence as a gardener, embrace annuals!

Botanically, annuals complete their lifecycle in one growing season. They sprout from seed, grow like mad, flower as much as they can to produce seeds, and then die off, usually with the first hard frost. Sometimes we also grow tender perennials as annuals because they will also flower the first year from seed and are killed off by the first freeze.

But it’s not that important to know if a plant is botanically an annual versus a tender perennial. As long as they flower that first season, we can usually treat them as annuals.

Many are easy to grow from seed and require very little care. And because they die out in the fall, if we don’t like them, they are gone so we don’t have to grow them again the next year. We can start all over in the spring embracing other annuals!

Here are five annuals I embrace every year and grow from seed:

Marigolds

I try to grow a few different varieties of marigolds, Tagetes sp., every year, direct sowing them in a raised bed in the vegetable garden along with other annual flowers like zinnias and sunflowers.

This year I’m growing. ‘Kilamanjaro’, pictured above. It’s a white marigold that seems to be a bit slow in blooming. I also sent some seeds of this variety to MSS at Zanthan Gardens in Austin, Texas so she could also grow them and we could compare notes. I haven’t heard how or if they are blooming for her and suspect that both the marigolds and MSS are suffering in the extreme drought in that area of the country.

Sunflowers

I’m growing two kinds of sunflowers, Helianthus annuus, this year.

The ‘Earthwalker’ sunflowers from Pinetree Garden Seeds are nearly eight feet tall and are currently blooming in all shades of rust and orange and maroon. Just think, two months ago, these were just seeds in the ground.
I wasn’t sure if I liked the “fall” colors of ‘Earthwalker’ in the middle of summer, but they’ve “grown” on me, so I’ll probably get them again next year.

My other sunflowers, ‘Elves Blend’ from Botanical Interests, are just about one foot tall, as they are supposed to be, but none of them are flowering yet.
And that’s probably my fault. I decided to move them two weeks ago when they were really too big to move. But I did it anyway because I wanted to plant my new daylilies where they were growing and the move set them back a bit.

One of the secrets to successfully embracing many annuals is to sow them where you want them to grow and don’t plan on transplanting them.

Zinnias

I almost always sow the zinnias where I want them to grow, generally in a raised bed in the vegetable garden.
And I also thin out the seedlings to give the zinnias room to grow. Don’t be tempted to skip thinning out the seedlings. If you do, you’ll just end up with a bunch of spindly over-crowded plants that won't bloom to their fullest potential.

Zinnias come in all sizes, from sprawlers like the star zinnias, Zinnia angustifolia, to my tall zinnias with names like ‘Lavender Queen’, ‘Envy’, and ‘Lilac Time’.

Sweet Alyssum

Of course, not transplanting doesn’t hold true for all flowers sown from seed. I’m also growing Sweet Alyssum, Lobularia maritima ‘Oriental Nights’, also from Botanical Interests. I actually started them inside about four weeks before I planted them out in various containers as a filler plant.
Red and purple look, um, interesting together, don't they?

Sweet Peas

Another favorite annual flower is sweet peas, Lathyrus odoratus. This year, I grew two varieties from Botanical Interests – ‘Fairytale Blend’ and ‘High Scent’. Both grew wonderfully and bloomed as well as any sweet peas I’ve grown. Part of that may be due to the weather we had this spring, but much of it has to do with choosing good varieties. I also soaked the seeds overnight and planted them out in the garden with the garden peas on March 17th. Sweet peas like it cool, so once we had a little heat wave at the end of June, they were done, and I pulled them out on July 3rd.

Now some gardeners wouldn’t embrace a flower like this, one that is done mid-summer when other flowers are just getting going, but have they smelled those sweet peas?

*****

I encourage all to embrace annuals, to grow some from seed for a happier life, at least in the garden. It will not only boost your confidence as a gardener, but also give you blooms all summer right up to the first hard freeze. What more could you ask for?

*****

If you’d like to find out more about the best and worst of annuals that other gardeners are growing and writing about this summer, visit Mr. McGregor’s Daughter to join in her annual flowers meme.

17 comments:

EAL said...

I really do love sweat peas. But they just won't work for me!

EAL said...

Ha ha. Sweet peas!!

Rose said...

Carol, I'm working on my own review of annuals, so it's interesting to see what others like to plant. Your sunflower is gorgeous, and 8 feet tall--wow! I didn't get around to planting any marigolds this year, and I don't know why. Must make a note of that for next year. But I did plant some zinnias, too; they're definitely a must-have in my garden.

I would never wear red with purple--unless someone invited me to join the Red Hat society--but it is a really dramatic combination in the garden--I like it!

I'll have to come back later to catch up on a few posts...it's been a crazy week so far here.

Caroline said...

I've had little luck with sweet peas, and despite a fabulous zinnia crop last summer, only a few reseeded this year. Next summer, I'll have to try sunflowers (the cardinals will be so happy!) and I'll consider planting marigolds (not my favorite flower) as companion plants to the veggies.

selina said...

i love sunflowers! where do you plant your sunflowers? i've heard they wreak havoc on the dirt & it's hard to get things to grow there afterwards.

i planted some from seed once. not many came up & then the deer ate them.

selina said...

i always have a variety of marigolds in my garden.

zinnias are pretty but i've never planted any.

Sue said...

I enjoyed reading about your annuals. I tried sweet peas this year, and have noticed the plants are starting to look like my peas did when they were finished, and I had to pull them out. They are still blooming though. I'm glad to know that it's not just here that they fade this time of the summer.

I am still filling holes with annuals. I'll have to check out the meme.

Ryan said...

A really nice review of annuals!

My approach to annuals is to plant for benefical insects (attractors or nectar rich) and for colour. I also companion plant with annuals. Very versatile and useful plants that are often easily transplanted or grown in situ (hardy annuals).

Great post!

Ryan

Darla said...

My garden would not be complete without annuals!!

Lisa at Greenbow said...

I love having marigolds during fall. Their yellow, gold and rusty colors just scream fall to me.

I like the red and purple together. The colors compliment each other.

Carolyn gail said...

What would the garden be like without annuals to fill in for the gaps when perennials are not in bloom ?

Self-sowing sweet alyssum, dianthus and coleus are some of my favorite annuals. I have a sentimental attachment to Four o'clocks, an annual that was abundant in my childhood.

You have a good selection, Carol. I love the new, improved varieties of zinnias and their bold colors.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

Thanks for joining in! I love those Sunflowers, but they definitely aren't for pot culture. I'm also guilty of moving annuals, but I usually move them when they are tiny seedlings, at which point they move much easier. The only Zinnia Envy I have this year is looking at the photos of everybody's Zinnias. Yours are so floriferous and such a great color.

Gail said...

Love your annual choices Carol...Zinnia and alyssum are two of my favorites and for some reason neither came up this year! gail

Cindy, My Corner of Katy said...

I share your fondness for zinnias! Even with funky foliage, they make me smile. The butterflies love them, too. Alyssum is happier as a cool season annual for us. Those that I haven't yanked yet are looking pretty dismal.

I direct sowed sunflower seeds but I fear the birds may have gotten them. Oh, well.

Vickie said...

Thank you for the seed sites! I love annuals in my containers and this year we spread wildflower seeds in the front berm and in the rock mulch area (for lack of a better term) next to the house in the back garden. My favorites are California poppies and sunflowers. The sunflowers are growing in the vegetable garden from the huge 'rogue' sunflower that decided it liked our garden last year. We let it go and the birds and squirrels were happy with our decision. The leftover seeds are now smaller versions of that big rogue plant. Our other annuals that come back each year are the cosmos that jumped from our neighbor's garden. I have to thin those out pretty rigorously or they'll take over. Marigolds keep coming back too from seeds that jumped from the same neighbor. I love those.

Vickie said...

OH, I forgot my snapdragons! I adore this one! It keeps coming back every year and I'm not sure I remember planting the seeds or the plants in my containers in the last few years. They all pop up in the rock mulch area in front of the house and in all colors of the rainbow.

lenna gonya said...

I am definately a garden geek. Love the blog.