By Steve Smith Sunnyside Nursery
I had a customer tell me one time many years ago that “annuals are the gateway drug to gardening.” I never thought about it before but it is so true. Most of us got started in gardening through planting a few summer flowers either in pots or in mom’s or grandma’s garden. Unlike trees and shrubs that take several years to mature or even perennials that when planted by seed usually don’t bloom until the second season, annuals are the epitome of instant gratification, which is just what a young person needs to keep him interested (and get him addicted).
Annuals give us a huge bang for our buck despite the fact that we toss them out at the end of the season. While most perennials only bloom for 5-6 weeks, annuals bloom nonstop all summer long until finally either the frost or our neglect do them in.
There have been lots of improvements to annuals in recent years. Traditionally, all annuals were grown from seed and by their nature, they went back to seed by the end of the season, which meant they finished their life cycle and died, sometimes before we wanted them to. To delay this eventual situation gardeners would faithfully go out and remove spent flowers before they set seed, a procedure called “deadheading.” This is still the case with many annuals such as cosmos and daisies and zinnias, but thankfully breeders have come up with plants now that are “self-cleaning,” which is a fancy way of saying they simply don’t set seed and therefore the old flowers just fall off and the plant keeps on blooming and we don’t have to do the nasty chore of deadheading.
There is one catch, however, to this “self-cleaning” phenomenon. Because these plants don’t set seed they have to be propagated by cuttings, which is a more expensive process than sowing seed and therefore we have to pay more for the finished product at the garden center. But trust me, it is well worth the extra expense.
Supertunias, Laguna Lobelia and Snow Crystals Alyssum are just three of the many new introductions that are sold under the Proven Winners (PW) label that will outperform seed grown pak annuals, hands down. There are other brands on the market as well, so keep an eye out for them and be sure and ask your nursery professional about them. And remember that regardless of the types of annuals you plant, you need to feed the heck out of them if you want to get that over-the-top look. Hype them up with the junk food of fertilizers, Miracle-Gro and Osmocote and enjoy them ‘cause you’re just going to toss them at the end of the season.
On the bug front I have two alerts for you. My good friend Fred Rowe of Snohomish kindly informed me that the Columbine Sawfly has been munching his columbine down to the stems. This is a little caterpillar-like worm that will defoliate your columbine repeatedly throughout the summer if you don’t control him. I have had mine stripped no less than three times in one summer (which ironically didn’t kill the plant). Also, I am noticing beetles on my Coreopsis and now is the time to kill them as they are doing their little piggy back thing, which means there will be lots of baby beetles very soon. This beetle looks like the loveable ladybug, but instead of being dark red with black spots it is a dull orange with black stripes. Fortunately it seems to only attack Coreopsis.
Until next week, keep gardening and planting like a fool. If you have questions go to my website at sunnysidenursery.net and email me. I like pictures too!