It's time to get ready for the battle of the season: Perennials versus annuals. Get into your respective corners and prepare to defend your favorites.
Whether you are punching up your yard with colorful annuals or knocking out deadheading and end of season frost damage with perennials, there is no shortage of opinion when it comes to the age-old disagreement over which is better.
''I hate deadheading,'' was one complaint I heard when a friend was confronted with the question of planting annuals this season. ''They are just too time consuming and take too much work.''
I find that defining work in the garden is in the eye of the beholder. After all, isn't work the point of gardening? But there are many people who can't bring themselves to pull a weed or pluck a faded flower blossom from a tired stem. This doesn't mean they don't love colorful flowers and neatly trimmed shrubs. It simply means they don't want to be the ones doing the plucking and trimming.
But too many people think planting perennials means beautiful flowers with no work, and that's simply not the case. The first year for perennials is usually the ''welcome to the family,'' period. Your new little plant, which is always smaller than you expect once it's placed in the garden, sits there quietly, looking around to peruse its new home. By the second year, the little plant feels a little more comfortable with its ranking among the other plants and stands a little taller and wider. By the third year that little plant has become so cocky that it sometimes attempts to take over the entire garden, pushing other plants out of its way.
To show who the real boss is in the garden, you have to either dig it up and split it into smaller plants or keep pulling out wayward stems trying to crawl out of the borders you've assigned.
Let's look at the pros and cons.
l Come back year after year, for awhile at least.
l Are usually low maintenance
l Grow quickly by the third year to fill out a large space
l Are more expensive than annuals
l Some varieties bloom well into fall
l Even if blooms are gone, foliage is often interesting
l Eventually need divided after a few years or sometimes don't come back at all
l May need some deadheading and pruning
l May spread rampantly and try to take over the garden, depending on the plant
l Usually only blooms once a season, or if more often, subsequent blooms are sparse
l Eventually grows tired, looks ragged or dies in the center
l Are less expensive than perennials
l Bloom all season and are more colorful
l Are great for filling in those bare patches during blooming down times with perennials
l Easier to use for creating scenes, such as patriotic red, white and blue gardens
l Gives instant gratification, often blooming immediately after planting
l Sometimes reseeds for amazing flowers next year
l Are less complicated. You don't need to worry about zones, climate conditions or genus and species. Just plant it.
l In most cases, must be purchased and planted each year
l Spent flowers need deadheaded often, sometimes daily
l Need regular watering to keep from wilting
l May need regular fertilizing to keep strong enough for blooming
l Die at the end of the season, usually with the first heavy frost
It looks to be a dead heat between perennials and annuals, so admitting to liking both shouldn't be embarrassing. You shouldn't feel guilty either. Just because you call it your ''perennial garden,'' doesn't mean you can't add an annual or two here and there. Here are a few favorites:
Impatiens are popular in border gardens that don't get full sun all day long. They are fast growers that fill out to large mounds of color by August with that color can be anything you want including white, pink and lavender.
Coleus are planted for vibrant leaf color. It does flower, but the blooms are so insignificant that most growers cut them off so they don't detract from the leaves. Coleus can be small or large and range from shades of lime green to deepest maroon. Variegated forms are the most popular. Leaves can also be slightly serrated or deeply ruffled. This is a plant for every taste and should be planted in light shade. A tender perennial that is treated as an annual here; you can bring it inside for the winter or take cuttings to start next year's plants.
Marigolds are heat lovers that like bright sun and lots of it. They aren't the most fragrant flower often off-putting for those with delicate olefactory senses, but if nothing else, they are reliable bloomers. They are most popular in shades of maroon, brown or yellow, but a new variety with a lime-green blossom is catching on too. Seeds of heirloom plants are easy to collect and store over the winter.
Red geraniums are a classic. Also a tender perennial, we can take cuttings at the end of the season to grow inside all winter and save on the cost of replacing the plants the next year. But if low maintenance is what you want, you can toss it once the frost hits and start fresh in the spring.
It doesn't have to be all or nothing. Enjoy what nature has to offer, even if the pleasure is only temporary.
Evanoff is a Master Gardener with The Ohio State University Extension of Trumbull County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.