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Successfully growing annual flowers in your landscape

Art of Homegrown Happiness

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Photos: Lance Ellis |

Planting your front yard with beautiful flowers does more than just make it look nice, it can also improve the property value, reduce weeds, attract beneficial insects, and brings a great deal of beauty to the neighborhood and pride to the gardener.

Just as in vegetable gardening, the flowers you plant in the landscape are trying to complete their life cycles in one season and have similar cultural growing needs to vegetable seedlings. Prepare your soil by adding 2 to 4 inches of compost every other year, and till it deeply into the soil. Instead of every other year, you can apply 1 to 2 inches of compost annually.

Tilling should be done once, or maybe twice a year at most, and helps loosen the soil, allowing seedling roots and transplants the ability to penetrate the ground. If not tilled or loosened properly, plants will struggle and die, rather than flourishing. Annual flowers need nutrients in the soil to help them develop a strong root system, produce blossoms, and have an overall healthy plant.

In regards to ultimate goals, they differ from vegetables. You don’t necessarily want annual flowers to go to seed or produce fruit. To have healthy plants with plenty of blossoms, you need sufficient nutrients available to them. The three major nutrients: Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium, are needed in correct amounts to achieve these goals. Micronutrients are also needed, but in such small amounts that homeowners rarely need to be concerned about adding them. Generally adding compost every other year provides sufficient nutrients all season long. To determine if your soil is lacking in one of the three major nutrients you can have it tested, and then apply a fertilizer to compensate for any shortfalls.

When purchasing plants from nurseries, select the healthiest plants possible, and avoid any clearance plants or wilting, struggling plant material. It may be tempting to save a couple pennies, and resurrect a plant from the brink of death, but you are only buying yourself headaches, and possibly a disease that will spread to the rest of your garden. Choose plants that are not in bloom (or just beginning to blossom), and do not have an overgrown and tightly packed root system. Fully bloomed plants in cell packs are often over mature and may look nice, but after transplanting, often will not vigorously root out and develop into large beautiful plants in your landscape. Younger, and less root bound plants will grow into better plants, as their roots have not become over root bound, and have not yet started to go to the reproductive stage of flowering.

Simple flower bed preparation starts with killing off any perennial weeds such as quack grass. It is critical that you use an appropriate herbicide which is labeled for that location and type of weed. There will be a wait period between when you spray a weedy area, and then come back in to replant into that same soil, and this will depend on the label of the chemical you are using. Although the active ingredients may be similar or the same, the label directions may be different, so read it thoroughly prior to spraying so you know when it will be safe to replant.

Make sure that you choose the right herbicide at the time of purchase and avoid any product that has extended weed control as that will kill off plants for at least one year after application. Once the weeds are dead, add compost, and till the soil till softened and well mixed. If perennial weeds are not an issue, but rather weeds growing from seeds are an issue, then you could try this method instead.

Add your compost, till the soil, and then water it and let it set for a couple weeks and try to get the best crop of weeds to grow up that you can. Once the weeds are about a half inch to one inch tall, you could spray them with a glyphosate weed killer (Roundup is a brand name for this chemical, for example), and then wait the required time to plant in your transplants. Do not re-till the soil after spraying these weeds as it brings more weed seeds to the surface.

Plant your transplants or direct seed, depending on the variety of flower you are growing. After transplanting, sprinkle a layer of “Soil Pep” around the plants about 2 inches deep. Soil pep is finely shredded, and slightly composted bark that prevents weeds from coming up and helps to keep the soil moist, and is sold at most nurseries. If direct sowing flower seed, wait until the plants are at least a few inches tall before applying a “light” half inch layer of soil pep around them.

Watering annual flowers should be done more often at the beginning of the season as they don’t have a fully established root system. Deeper and more infrequent watering can be done toward the end of the season. Monitor your plants weekly throughout the season to prevent a disease or insect problem from taking hold and ruining a beautiful flower bed.

Once again, read and follow the directions exactly on any herbicide, prior to use, and make sure you apply it as the label indicates. Enjoy your flowers!