It’s that time of year again. The trees are full of leaves. The sun is shining. And everywhere you go, the flowers are out blooming. Your neighbors have beautiful gardens featuring flowers of every shape, color and size. Even your local shopping centers probably have flowers planted along the walkways.
Are you wondering how your neighbors get their gardens to look so gorgeous? They must spend hours and hours every day working on them, right?
Not necessarily. You can have a beautiful garden without sacrificing hours of your time. All it takes is sunshine, water and a little bit of knowledge.
Some Basic Plant Lingo
Let’s get the basics established first. If you’re going to become a gardener, the best place to start is with one of the most basic distinctions between different types of flowers. Essentially, every plant falls into one of two categories: annuals and perennials. For the purposes of this guide, we’re going to be focusing on annuals.
Annuals are flowers that only last for one growing season. You plant them in the spring or summer and they flower and look gorgeous. But once autumn rolls around and the temperatures start dropping at night, they die off and they don’t come back the next year.
The advantages here are that because they are so temporary, they’re generally less expensive than perennials. Not only that, but they give you a huge level of flexibility. They die off every year, which means next year your garden can look entirely different. The level of commitment here is minimal. If you don’t like what you plant, it’ll be gone in a few months anyway.
Not only this, but annuals are generally very low-maintenance flowers. This makes them great choices for beginning gardeners, children or even just gardeners who don’t have a ton of free time to spend on a garden.
Perennials are different. These flowers and plants come back every year, provided they’ve been cared for correctly. Most of them are dormant for the winter months, and they may even look dead. But their roots are strong and they stay alive in the ground. When spring comes and the temperatures start to rise, they’ll begin to bud again.
There are advantages here, too. With perennials, your garden is an investment. Every year you can add new plants, and you get to watch it grow every year as your old plants get bigger. Perennials can create a garden to last a lifetime.
Of course, the distinctions aren’t quite this black and white. Some perennials need to be brought in as houseplants for the winter. Some annuals defy the odds and survive the winter. These tend to be the exceptions rather than the rule, however, and the distinction still works well to understand the difference.
Planning Your Garden
Before you begin to plant, you need to spend a little bit of time in the planning stage. How big will your garden be? Are you planting in the ground or filling a window box? What kind of flowers do you want to fill it with? Which ones will look nice together? Will it get a full day of sun or only half a day’s worth? All of these are important questions to begin asking yourself.
To get you started on your planning journey, here are some of the most common types of annuals. This is only a starter guide, however. There are so many more than are on this list. Discovering them is half the fun.
- Petunias: Petunias are one of the easiest flowers to grow. They spread like wildfire and come in every color of the rainbow. Water them regularly and place them in full sun. Deadheading them regularly will keep them looking fresh and help new blossoms grow, but these plants will keep growing even without this extra help. Don’t worry, we’ll go over deadheading later.
- Impatiens: Impatiens are a very popular choice among annuals. They come in a wide variety of colors and require very little care and tending. Unlike many annuals, they tend to prefer shady conditions over direct sunlight. Be careful not to overwater them, and deadhead them regularly to encourage the growth of new blossoms.
- Marigolds: With their distinctive yellow, gold and orange coloring, marigolds are a great choice to bring a little sunshine to any garden. They’re especially nice if you’re looking for color that will last a little later into the summer. Although they aren’t the most fragrant of flowers, this makes them great for planting in vegetable gardens. Their unique scent helps repel pests that would otherwise want to invade a vegetable garden.
- Geraniums: Geraniums also come in a wide variety of colors, and their large, bright blossoms usually attract plenty of butterflies and bees. They normally do well in conditions that range from partial shade to full sun. These are another great choice because of their low-maintenance nature. Just be careful not to overwater them, as they don’t do well in heavy, water-logged soil.
- Begonias: Begonias come in a wide range of varieties and colors. They generally have small flowers and dark, waxy leaves. They’re great for planting in an area that will be getting a fair amount of shade. These do not require a lot of work. Simply water them regularly and watch them take off.
- Pansies: These bright, colorful little flowers are sometimes known as “monkey faces” due to the patterns in their blossoms that look like funny little faces. They come in almost every color imaginable and thrive in full sunlight. Simply water them and deadhead them regularly, and they will begin spreading out.
- Alyssum: These are tiny blossoms that look a bit like stars. They grow very low to the soil and spread rapidly, making them ideal for use as a decorative groundcover. They come in a variety of colors but are commonly seen in whites, blues and purples. Plant them in full sun and water them regularly to allow them to really spread out.
There are many, many more to choose from, but these are some of the most popular annuals that should be available at almost any garden center, greenhouse or nursery.
Keep in mind factors like sunlight and space. Pick flowers that don’t require as much sunlight, and try to place them back in a shady corner. And make sure sun-loving plants are placed right in full sun. Be aware of which plants have a reputation for spreading out like crazy, and make sure they have room to grow.
Feel free to mix and match the flowers from this list. Use this list as a starting point to discover other varieties. Plant some tall flowers next to some short ones. Plant some purple flowers with some white ones, and some blue ones with some yellow. Try different color combinations. Use your imagination. The garden planning process is all about being creative and having fun.
Seeds or Plants?
So you’ve got your garden laid out, but you’re still faced with the crucial question. Is it better to start your annuals from seeds, or should you buy the little six-packs of already-growing plants from the garden center?
The short answer is there is no best way to plant annuals. There’s no way that’s definitively better. The long answer is that your method of planting really depends on what works for your schedule and what your expectations for the spring are.
Starting from seed is generally more cost-effective. A packet of seeds might cost two or three dollars and grow into multiple flats worth of flowers. In addition, there’s often greater variety to be had from seeds than there is from a six-pack of flowers, as most greenhouses only stock the most popular varieties in six-packs.
On the other hand, many people prefer to have the first part of the work done for them and would rather just buy a flat of seedlings that have already sprouted and begun to flower. This is definitely the easier route, as it saves you the bother of trying to figure out when and how to plant annuals from seeds.
If you’re planting annuals late in the season, it might be prudent to choose the seedlings. The seeds will take time to germinate and grow. By the time they begin to blossom, the season may be almost done. Seeds work best as an option when they are planted early in growing season.
Still can’t decide which way you want to start your garden? Let’s review both ways.
Starting From Seed
Starting from seed can be an overwhelming process at first, but don’t worry. Planting annuals is actually a lot easier than it seems.
As a general rule of thumb, annuals can be broken down into three main categories, all of which have their own rules for planting. Let’s break down these three main categories now and go over some tips for planting different annuals.
These are pretty tough annuals. That means they can be planted in your garden outside as soon the soil is unfrozen enough to be worked. Plant them where you want them to grow in your garden, typically at a depth that’s roughly twice the length of the seed’s diameter.
Some hardy annuals can even be planted the previous fall. If you’re doing this, you’ll want to plant the seeds deeper than you would in the spring, and spread a little mulch over the soil to protect against the frost. The advantage of fall seeding is that these flowers will bloom much earlier in the spring.
These flowers are not quite as tough as the hardy annuals, but they can still take a bit of cold. Plant these in your outdoor garden after temperatures are consistently above 25 degrees at night and the threat of a hard frost is past.
These are a little more delicate, and they definitely can’t withstand as much cold. Only plant these seeds after all danger of any frost is past. A frost will most likely cause detrimental damage to these delicate little seeds.
When planning your garden, check what type of annuals you have and decide when is best to plant them.
Starting From Plants
This process is so easy, it’s almost difficult to do wrong. Whether you’re a master gardener or a beginner, you’ll be able to do this with no difficulty at all.
First, it’s a good idea to lay all your plants out, still in their pots, around the garden to get an idea of where you want them before you even begin digging.
Using a trowel, dig a hole just large enough to cradle the plant’s root system, while the stems, leaves and blossoms remain above ground. If you’re planting multiple annuals, be sure you leave enough space between the holes as you dig them.
Carefully remove your baby plant from its pot or plastic packaging. Never pull on the stems to yank the plant out. Instead, turn the packaging upside down, cupping the plant gently in your hand to catch it. Squeeze gently on the plastic package to loosen the dirt. The plant should slip right out into your hands.
Place the plant into the hole you just dug and gently scoop the loose dirt back in around it to fill up the hole and cover the roots. Pat the dirt firmly into place so your plant is standing sturdily upright.
Whenever you’re done planting, always give your garden a good watering. This helps the plants begin to take root right away. Make sure to soak the soil thoroughly. If you’re going to mulch, now is the time to do that. It’s not a necessary step, but it does help prevent weeds from growing, and it helps the soil retain water just a little bit better.
If you’re wondering how to plant annuals in a pot, the process is almost exactly the same. Set the plant loosely in an empty pot, holding the top of the plant gently in your hand to keep it steady. Scoop dirt in around it until the pot is full and the plant’s roots are covered. Water it well to help the roots grow in their new home.
Basic Flower Care
One of the great benefits of choosing annuals is that they don’t need a lot of care. They’re generally very good at taking care of themselves. There are, however, a few basic things you can do to keep them looking their best and staying healthy.
- Watering: This is the easy one. If it rains frequently, you don’t even have to do a thing. But if rain isn’t coming regularly, you’ll have to step in to give your plants a drink.
You can usually tell if a garden needs water just by looking at it. Are the leaves are curling up or drooping? Are the blossoms closing and wilting? Even if the leaves are a less vibrant green than they should be, or if the soil looks dull and pale, it needs to be watered.
If you still aren’t sure after looking at your plant, you can also feel the soil. If it’s dry, hot and crumbly, it needs to be watered. Healthy soil should feel moist, dark and cool.
It is possible to overwater, however. You definitely don’t want to drown your plants in water. If you water your annuals every day, this will generally be enough. If the soil still feels damp when you go to water, then it’s probably all right to skip a watering. However, if it’s a particularly hot day or a very dry spell, check your garden multiple times a day for the telltale signs it needs more water.
- Weeding: If you’ve planted mulch around your flower beds, you’re in luck. You probably won’t have to do much weeding. The mulch helps discourage weeds from growing up and choking out your annuals.
If you do need to weed, however, be careful to only pull out the weeds and not your flowers. As you’re weeding, make sure to pull the weed out by the root, or it will be back again before you know it. You can use a special weeding tool to do this if you like, or you can just use your hands.
- Deadheading: This is a fancy term for pulling the dead blossoms off a plant. Just pluck these off with your hands, and your flower will look much better. Deadheading also helps promote new growth by pushing out new blossoms to replace the old ones.
By following these tips for planting annuals, you’ll soon be well on your way to having your own beautiful annuals garden that’ll last all summer long.
And even once colder temperatures come in the fall and your annuals begin to die off, there’s no need to mourn your garden. The fall and winter months are the perfect time to begin planning next year’s garden and figuring out how you can make it even brighter and more beautiful than last year’s. Maybe you liked your annual garden so much, you want to try some perennials next time.
As you’re in this planning process, why not try buying some of your seeds or garden supplies online and have them shipped directly to you? With online retailers such as Garden Goods Direct, ordering seeds online is easier and more convenient than ever.
So get busy planning. Your perfect annual garden is waiting.