Annuals and perennials spice the landscape with their colorful flowers and foliage. Beds of color provide brilliant accents against backgrounds of permanent plantings, soften man-made lines, and provide graceful transitions from one outdoor area to another. Flowers can be used to catch the eye, accent a view, frame a door, or just draw attention to their own blooms.
Annual plants are practical in that they are versatile, sturdy, and inexpensive. They quickly yield color for a long season.
Perennial plants return year after year. They fit into many landscapes and can be used in borders, as accents, or as strong focal points. The foliage of many perennials is attractive during nonflowering seasons as well.
Annual Flowering Plants
No other group of flowering plants provides as much color as quickly and economically as annuals. Annual plants sprout from seed, flower, set seed, and die within one season. Many flowers, vegetables, and herbs are planted every year as annuals.
Most annuals are planted in spring and are killed by frost in the fall. However, some, including pansies, are tolerant of our winters and are best planted in the fall for color throughout the winter. These are usually killed by the heat of early summer.
Some annuals reseed themselves, yielding several years of pleasure with minimal care. Annuals come in a variety of colors, heights, and textures, and their uses are almost unlimited. Unbeatable in masses of solid or mixed colors, annuals are also very effective in small groups or used to soften lines and accent borders.
Many annuals, especially compact varieties, are well suited for containers. Large annuals may be used as specimen or accent plants along the back of a flower or shrub border. Some annuals are vines that may be grown on fences, arbors, porch rails, or trellises.
Annuals are inexpensive, especially when grown from seed. However, they do require soil preparation, fertilization, irrigation, weeding, and pest control. Most are native to semiarid regions of the world and require full sunshine to survive.
Species such as impatiens are native to dark woodland floors and flourish in shady sites, such as covered patios, narrow courtyards, or heavily wooded sites.
Annual gardens are easily established in the smallest and most restrictive of spaces as well as the harsh conditions of a large suburban garden. Their relatively shallow root systems require only a modest amount of soil. Gardeners with sizable yards quickly learn the trick of planting one or two easy-to-grow beds of massed annuals to decorate patios, walks, or pools. Apartment dwellers can achieve a splash of color with a few well-placed pots, wash tubs, or planter boxes of annuals. Annuals that need full sun, such as periwinkle and marigold, grow and flower best when they receive at least 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight each day. Woodland species perform best under partial to heavy shade.
Soil preparation is the most crucial step in success with annuals. Roots of annuals have to penetrate soils quickly, anchor plants, and absorb water and nutrients in one season, often under adverse conditions. Most Mississippi soils can be improved with cultivation and the addition of other ingredients. Soil that is ready for cultivation holds its shape when squeezed, but crumbles easily.
The first step in preparing a bed for annual plants is to remove any unwanted plants with a hoe and rake or with a nonselective contact herbicide. After weeds have been removed or killed, dig the soil a shovel’s depth; deeper soil preparation is normally not necessary. To prevent resprouting, remove grass and weed roots while turning the soil. Break clods and lumps into smaller pieces.
Add 3 to 4 inches of organic material, such as composted leaf and yard litter, pine bark, peat moss, or composted manure. Then add an inch or two of sharp sand if the soil is heavy. Rake the prepared bed smooth when finished.
Seed or Transplants
As with vegetables, there are advantages to setting out some plants as transplants and others from seed. Sowing seed directly into the garden soil is a time-honored ritual that rewards a little work and patience with great returns. The extra time involved is offset by savings in initial cost. Also, you can get more variety at less expense from seed than from transplants.
Many species of annual flowers have improved varieties, with increased heat tolerance, disease resistance, and other improvements. Instead of relying on the same tried and true varieties each year. Ordering seed through the mail has a peculiar excitement all its own, and the catalogs themselves are a wealth of information on planting and caring for unusual plants. Annual flowers, whether grown from seed or transplants, are all handled the same in the garden. Summer annuals are planted in the early spring. Winter annuals are planted early enough in the fall to allow time for toughening up before frost.
Set plants shallow, with the top of the roots just under the surface of the soil. If transplants are grown in pots made of compressed peat moss, crumble the top edge of the peat pot away from the plant so that it will not act as a wick pulling water away from the roots. Pinching off small flowers on brand-new transplants will promote fast new growth and more flowers sooner. As the flowers begin to fade, remove them before seeds are formed.
Irrigation, Mulches, Fertilizers, and Weed Control
Mississippi summers are typically dry for weeks. To promote deep root growth, water thoroughly and deeply, then let soils get nearly dry before soaking again. Gently water annuals, using the fine spray setting of an adjustable nozzle or a breaker specially designed for watering. Soaker or sprinkler hoses are more convenient than hand watering because they provide a gentle flow of water that seeps into the soil. Trickle or drip irrigation kits conserve water, and are best used frequently to keep soil moist. Soakers and drip systems also help keep foliage dry, which can reduce the spread of leaf diseases. Decorative mulches such as pine straw, shredded bark, composted leaves, or other porous materials that allow air and water exchange help to conserve water and keep the soil cooler. Mulches also prevent many weed seed from sprouting but can hinder reseeding annuals for the same reason.
Annual plants often require extra doses of fertilizer during the growing season. Water-soluble fertilizers give fast, but temporary, effects. Slow-release fertilizers are the most expensive; however, they provide the appropriate amount of fertilizer to the plants throughout the growing season with little effort and waste, which makes them more economical and environmentally safe. Most annuals benefit from an all-purpose fertilizer. Remember that fertilizers, like salt, go a long way; a little is a lot better than too much.
Few things can dampen enthusiasm faster than weeds. To reduce the need for hand-pulling or chopping weeds, there are herbicides that prevent weed seed germination and others that eliminate existing weeds on contact. Some may be used to control grasses without harming flowers. There are precautions and guidelines on the uses of herbicides. Mulches shade weed seeds and prevent their germination, thereby eliminating or reducing the need for hand or chemical weed control.
Pest and Disease Control
Choose insect and disease resistant varieties when possible. Keep the garden clean, neat, and weed-free, and be alert for early signs of trouble to reduce the need for pesticides. To prevent the spread of leaf diseases, water in the morning or early enough in the evening so foliage has time to dry before dark. Soapy water or insecticidal soap will control many insect pests. Read all label directions before buying or using any pesticide, and follow all precautions.