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Growing Annuals for Colour

The fastest way to lift a garden is to add a splash of colour with flowering annuals.  These are fast growing plants that complete their life cycle in one year but flower for months on end.   Many gardeners use these like an artist uses colour.  They can complement the existing plantings, add colour to an otherwise dull corner or their colours blended to become a stunning feature all of their own.

Flowering annuals are often mass planted for real impact.  In colour drifts through garden beds these help to direct the eye to other areas of the garden, highlighting the colours in other shrubbery and lining the paths to move the visitor from one feature to another.  In containers, flowering annuals can be mixed in colour, shades and even variety to really show the garden owners personality.  The fact is that two or three annuals in a garden may look pretty but masses of flowering colour in full bloom is absolutely breath-taking.

Flowering annuals are a terrific way to cover the blemishes in a garden for family events such as Christmas or Easter as they will bloom quickly after planting and will last for many months.  And, they have the added bonus of acting as a “living mulch” keeping the weeds down and the moisture in the soil of the garden bed.

Some annuals are able to be direct sown into the garden bed by simply scattering them over soil prepared with some blended manure and then watered in but there are others that need to be started off in trays first.  Seed packets are full of information on the requirements of each seed variety.

Germinating seed in trays is quite easy and within about four weeks the seedlings will be big enough to plant out into the garden.  Start with a flat tray with holes in the base, often referred to as a seed tray.  These are sometimes available with a plastic cover over the top to create a humid environment but this same result can be achieved by bending wire over the top and then covering with a tent of clear plastic.

Fill the tray with a good quality seed raising mix which is different to potting mix as it drains more freely and contains only a tiny amount of nutrients (too much nutrients can burn the roots as they emerge from the seed).  Use a watering can to water the tray which will firm it down slightly and even it out as well.  In the case of smaller seed, sprinkle it evenly over the top of the soil and simply cover lightly with a little more seed raising mix to a depth of about twice the thickness of the seed.  If using larger seed, use the end of a pencil to make small holes for the seed to drop into and then gently cover over – again, the depth should be about twice the thickness of the seed.

Water the seed tray with a weak solution of seaweed extract using a spray bottle so as not to wash the seed away.  Place the plastic cover over the top but keep the seed tray in a lightly shaded area so that the seedlings don’t cook from too much heat.  Check the seedlings every day to ensure that the soil doesn’t dry out but also be careful not to keep it too wet causing the seeds to rot.  Once the seeds have germinated and the seedlings are about 2cm tall, remove the plastic cover and water again with seaweed extract.  Gradually harden the seedlings by moving them into more sunlight until they are ready to plant out at about 10cm tall.

Seedlings are inexpensive and very easy to grow and there is a massive range of varieties and colours available.  Seedlings are perfect for those that are a bit more patient or have more time available before they need their garden to sparkle.

Although it might be tempting to choose the tallest and more mature seedlings at the shop, look for the shorter, stockier ones which will soon take off as soon as they hit the garden bed.  When bringing seedlings home it’s a good idea to make up a weak solution of seaweed extract in a shallow tray and sit the punnet in it for a few hours.  This helps the seedlings deal with the transplant shock and ensures that their roots are well prepared for their new home.  After planting consider whether snail pellets or cut up plastic bottles around the seedlings may be needed to protect them until they establish.

For instant colour for special events or simply to spruce up a garden quickly, advanced seedlings and “potted colour” are terrific.  These are sold in small pots or “six packs” and since they are often already in flower, it is easier to choose the exact shade that will suit the garden.  To select a healthy plant, look for those that have plenty of buds coming on so that they will open soon after they are planted in your garden.  And, to ensure that the plant isn’t pot-bound, give the pot a squeeze and turn it over to look at the holes underneath.  A few roots poking out is a good thing but a mass of roots and a tight pot means that the plant may be pot bound and will have difficulty establishing itself once it is planted in the garden.

When planting potted colour, dig the top over with a garden fork mixing through some organic matter such as blended manure and add a complete fertiliser to get the roots off to a good start.  Adding some wetting agent will help the soil retain moisture through summer and water the soil just before planting.  Dig the holes for the plants about twice the size of the pot and place the plant in so that the top of the root ball is the same as the top of the soil in the garden bed.  Firm the soil back around gently and once all are planted, water with a seaweed extract which will encourage the roots to establish quickly.  A sprinkle of controlled release fertiliser over the garden bed will ensure that these heavy feeders get the nutrients that they need for a few months.

Planting potted colour and seedlings into pots and containers is really simple.  It all comes down to choosing a decent size container with plenty of room for the plant to send its roots into (at least 20cm deep) and using a premium potting mix which contains soil wetter and slow release fertiliser.

To start, place a square of shade cloth over the drainage holes at the bottom to stop the soil from dropping out and fill the pot with the soil.  Position the plants and then fill with more of the soil finishing at about 4cm from the top of the container.  Water with seaweed extract to encourage the roots to establish quickly and then stand back and wait for the plants to take off and bloom into colour.

Potted colour and seedlings growing in containers will benefit from a fortnightly application of liquid fertiliser especially designed for flowering plants and ensure that the soil doesn’t dry out by using drippers on the reticulation or regular hand watering.

Flowering annuals have one job in the garden – to dazzle!  And this is all about their flowers which will continue to form and die off allowing new flowers to form again.  To prolong flowering for as long as possible it’s important to dead-head the old flowers every few weeks.

Flowering annuals are very heavy feeders and although the soil might have been prepared with lots of compost when they were planted, fortnightly applications of liquid fertiliser will ensure that the plant has the energy to keep on blooming.  A stunted plant will almost always be the result of too little fertiliser.  Use a fertiliser designed specifically for flowering plants.

Flowering annuals can be attractive to aphids, thrip and caterpillars.  Visit the Better Pets and Gardens website to download a copy of our “Garden Pests” fact sheet to find out what to do.

The feeder roots of annuals are actually very close to the surface of the soil and so if the garden bed dries out, the plants begin to suffer very quickly.  It is important to ensure that the bed has been mulched and has also had a wetting agent added to help it hold the water.  During summer, annuals will need daily watering but this very much depends on the plants chosen and the conditions that they are grown in.

Ageratum, Allysum, Bedding begonia, Calendula, Coleus, Polyanthus, Cineraria, Violas, Foxgloves, Impatiens, Lobelia, Nasturtium, Virginia stock, Wallflower, Primula, Pansies.

Plant in spring.
Amaranthus, Aster, Balsam, Bedding begonia, Carnation, Portulaca, Salvia, Sunflower, Celosia, Dahlia, Dianthus, Gerbera, Gypsophila, Petunia, Phlox, Zinnia, Verbena.

Plant in summer & autumn.
Allysum,  Calendula, Chrysanthemum, Cineraria, Delphinium, French marigold, Forget-me-nots, Gypsophila, Lobelia, Foxgloves, Dianthus, Nasturtium, Nemesia, Pansy, Polyanthus, Poppy, Statice, Sweet William, Viola, Stock, Sweet pea, Wallflower, Primula, Linaria.

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