Gardeners love to show off.
Meandering along winding paths filled with perennials of all shapes and sizes is most often what you will find when you visit the home of nearly any seasoned gardener.
But believe it or not, there are gardeners out there who don't want beds filled with perennials.
Gardening with annuals can be easy and rewarding, as demonstrated by the annual garden at the Research and Development Gardens at the Trumbull County Agriculture and Family Resource Center in Cortland. Annuals can be used on their own to brighten up any landscape, or can be mingled among perennials to bring added color and fill in areas when nothing else seems to be blooming.
"I might put a few perennials in my garden, but that doesn't mean I've made friends with them," said Joan Travers, one half of the husband and wife team who were first place winners in the 2008 Tribune Chronicle and Trumbull County Master Gardener amateur garden contest. (Read more about the Travers' gardens and our second-place winner in the Aug. 27 issue of the Tribune Chronicle).
Travers, who loves gardening without the back breaking work included with the nearly constant moving and dividing overgrown perennials every few years, prefers instant gratification with her gardens. Plant it all at once at the beginning of the season, take care of weeds and water throughout the summer and start again next year, is the motto of annual flower growers.
And there are obviously many annual growers around as is evident of the hundreds of trays of these remarkable plants sold each spring at garden centers, home stores, parking lots and driveway retailers. Annuals are, after all, fast-growing, colorful, easy to grow and practically maintenance free.
What's Blooming Now?
Calendula, also commonly called pot marigold, is an annual herb that is used to make soothing balms and scented candles. Grown easily from seed, calendula was the International Herb Association's 2008 Herb of the Year. At one point in history, the flower petals were used to color butter, cheese and some soups. If grown without chemicals, the petals are edible and can be used in salads and other recipes. Discard the bitter center disk of the flower, however.
Weed of the Week
Although Hairy Galinsoga has been a Weed of the Week in the past, it bears repeating. This annual weed that propagates from seeds that can lay dormant in the soil for several years, is a common pest of vegetable growers. Seemingly growing and producing flowers overnight, the plant has shallow roots and pulls up easily, but even after clearing out an entire garden bed, in a few days, new seedlings appear that grow quickly to compete with other plants for nutrients and water.
Travers admits that she sometimes lets a perennial into her gardens, proving that there are not just perennial or annual growers. Most gardeners use both to enhance their garden beds, but for a lot of people out there, it's annuals or nothing, and for good reason.
Annuals are quick growing and provide instant color. They are inexpensive. Often the cost of one perennial is equal to an entire tray of annuals. And while there is no guarantee the perennial will survive its first winter, there is no worry with annuals because they aren't meant to survive. Annuals grow, flower, set seed and die, all within one growing season.
Some plants that are perennials in other parts of the country are treated as annuals here in northeast Ohio due to their inability to survive our winters. These plants are not true annuals, but because they are easily grown and equally inexpensive, it is easier to buy them new each spring. Other plants, called biennials, grow foliage the first season and flower and set seed the second year before dying when frost hits in late September. Still other annuals and biennials seem to act like perennials, such as hollyhock and malva (marshmallow) because they look as though they are returning each spring, when in reality, they are growing from seeds that dropped from plants the previous year.
While most annuals prefer four to six hours of sun each day, some will grow equally as well in shade, including wax, or fibrous rooted, begonia; impatiens and coleus.
In late summer, begin preparing your garden bed for next year's annual plantings. You can cultivate the soil by tilling in fresh compost and fertilizer or you can take the easy route and simply mark off your garden area, cover the site with several inches of compost and at least four layers of newspaper. Wet down the papers to keep them from flying away and mulch heavily with composted leaves or grass clippings. By next spring, the newspapers and mulch will have decomposed into the soil creating a new garden bed free of weeds and no hard work or tilling of precious topsoil was involved.
Be sure that your site drains well after a heavy rain and there is no standing water in the area or the plants will suffer. In early spring as soon as the soil can be worked, plant half-hardy annuals. Half-hardy annuals, such as pansies, allysum, dianthus and Artemisia 'Dusty Miller,' can handle a light frost in late spring. Once all danger of frost has past, usually mid- to late May in Trumbull County, the rest of your chosen plants can go into the garden. You may like petunias, salvia, ageratum, sunflowers, borage, stock, annual black-eyed Susan vine, climbing cardinal flower and a host of others that are both fragrant and brilliant.
Most annuals are grown from seeds; however, some take a long time get going, such as lobelia and petunias. These are often started indoors as early as February, so gardeners without greenhouses or a lot of windows with bright sunlight prefer to buy the plants from garden centers.
Of course, if you prefer instant gratification, you can start other annual seeds indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost date to ensure they are well on their way to blooming by the time you put them in the ground. Or you can simply buy healthy plants locally.
Because annuals grow quickly and flower profusely all season, feeding an all-purpose fertilizer once a month will keep them healthy. However, if you have amended your soil with plenty of nutritious compost and the plants are growing well, there may not be a need for fertilizer at all.
Deadhead plants throughout the season to keep them looking attractive and to prevent them from going to seed, however, some plants are "self-cleaning" and don't seem to mind if they aren't deadheaded. These include vinca, begonia and many new varieties of petunia.
For more information on growing annuals, contact The Ohio State University Extension Trumbull County Master Gardener hotline at 330-637-3908 or e-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Evanoff is a Master Gardener with The Ohio State University Extension of Trumbull County. She can be reached at email@example.com.