Now is the time to plant annuals

  • Mon Apr 30th, 2012 10:43pm
  • News

By Steve Smith, Sunnyside Nursery

May for the northwest is the time for us gardeners to get into gear when it comes to planting annuals. Up to this point there was always the risk of a late frost and frankly, the soils were still too cold to plant most annuals. But that all changes in May.

Just like veggies that have a cool season and a warm season, there are also cool and warm season annuals. Snapdragons, calendulas, stocks, pansies and many other annuals can be planted as early as March and even tolerate a light frost. Petunias, lobelia, alyssum and geraniums will also put up with cold soils. In fact, most of the annuals we plant in our gardens will survive a wet and cold spring and despite some pouting eventually grow and flourish.

There are also annuals that need to have their roots in warmer soil then we usually have even in the month of May. For instance, if you try to plant zinnias this month you will most likely be throwing your money away. Lantana, salvia, sunflowers, portulaca and amaranth are examples of annuals that need more warmth. And even though you might find these plants for sale that doesn’t necessarily mean you should plant them. One of my many mantras is “Save room for the June stuff” and by that I mean that there are plants that need to be planted when the soils get warmer if you really want them to thrive. So don’t blow your whole budget this month on annuals. Save some for June.

Now, as for growing successful annuals, it is important to use a good potting soil (assuming you are planting into a container). Don’t cheap out on the dirt, it’s the most important part of the process. Some potting soils are peat moss based and even have extra moisture retention chemicals added. While these may be fine for hot dry climates I think they retain far too much moisture for our region. It’s far better to use a potting soil that drains faster and plan on watering more often. The other ingredient in a good quality soil is microorganisms. These microscopic critters are critical to helping plants absorb nutrients. Look for a potting soil that has mycorrhizal fungi added to it for best results. And it doesn’t hurt to have things like bat guano, chicken manure, worm castings and alfalfa meal added too.

All annuals benefit from immoderate feeding. Soluble fertilizers like Miracle-Gro are fine as long as you apply them weekly at the minimum. Time release ones like Osmocote will feed for an entire season but don’t feed early on when the soils are still cold. So the best tactic is to add plenty of organic fertilizer into the soil at the time of planting, then sprinkle some Osmocote on the surface and supplement with Miracle-Gro weekly early on and bi-weekly later in the season. If you want over the top annuals then you need to treat them like royalty. Remember that most annuals in containers are growing in a very crowded environment with a limited amount of soil and sometimes water and the only way they are going to survive is if we feed the heck out of them and water them consistently.

So use good potting soil, feed excessively, plant the right varieties at the appropriate time and then sit back and enjoy. It’s that simple. Oh, and don’t forget to water.

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