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Garden Care: Annuals

Preparing Annuals for Next Year

Most gardeners find they begin preparing for another growing season while still in the midst of the present one. Certainly, this is the best time to study your yard and to plan for next spring. It's also the best time to note down your conclusions.

Picture of purple and pink lupines.
Lupines are popular flowers that come
in both annual and perennial varieties.

In addition to making future plans, there are also some basic gardening preparations you'll want to consider. Here are some tips:

Preparing Garden Plants for Winter

Many people bring in geraniums, impatiens, and fibrous begonias as potted plants to use as the source of rooted cuttings for the following summer. Bringing full grown garden plants inside for the winter should be done several weeks before frost.

Dig up the plant with a large ball of soil so as few roots as possible are lost. Set the plant in the ground so it is at the same level in the pot as it was in the garden. Fill in around the plant roots with a good soil mix, and press down on the soil with your fingers to eliminate air pockets. Cut back the plant tops by 40 to 50 percent to reduce wilting. Water with a mild liquid fertilizer solution. Keep in a cool location out of direct sunlight for at least a day before moving indoors.

Raising Cuttings over Winter

An even better approach for carrying such plants over winter is to take cuttings from them and then rooting and potting them up to grow through the winter. By late winter, they'll be mature plants from which to take cuttings for next summer's garden. Cuttings should be made in midsummer while plants are still in an active stage of growth, since plant growth slows down when night temperatures cool.

Starting Annuals from Seed

A third alternative for raising annuals in the winter is to start them from seed. Coleus and annual herbs such as parsley and basil do well treated this way, as do flowering annuals that bloom with short day lengths.

Other Winter Preparations

Dahlias, tuberous begonias, cannas, callas, caladiums, and gladiolas are treated as annuals in colder climates. Many people simply discard them each fall and buy new ones each spring. However, it's possible to dig and store them for replanting the following season after the first frost when the tops die back. Remove the dead tops along with any loose soil and feeder roots from the swollen tubers (or corms) and store them loosely in brown paper sacks or open-weave bags in a dark, cool area. Packing material around them will help keep them from drying out.

Later in the fall, there are other chores to do. Soaker hoses should be rolled up and stored, drip irrigation systems should be drained, and the dead plants should be removed and disposed of. Where an organic mulch has been used, an additional layer should be laid over the existing mulch. The new layer added in the fall will replenish any soil that has been lost, cover bare areas, protect the soil from wind or water erosion over winter, and help discourage weed growth during late fall and early spring.

Inorganic mulch sheeting should be rolled up and stored for the winter. In mild climates, replant with winter ornamentals such as colorful kale or pansies. If you choose to let the beds lie empty, either spread an organic mulch or seed in annual ryegrass or buckwheat to provide a winter cover crop that will need to be turned under in early spring as a source of organic nutrients (referred to as a "green manure").

Autumn is a good time to take soil samples and have them tested. If slow-working nutrients such as lime are needed, they can be spread over the area during the fall or winter. The faster-releasing fertilizers should be applied when the beds are readied for planting the following spring.

Some annual enthusiasts like to sow seeds in containers each autumn for winter display indoors. Select those annuals that require only a short day length for blooming. Otherwise, grow those that have attractive foliage and enjoy them as houseplants all winter. You can even add a few annual herbs to spice up your winter cooking!

A helpful end-of-season task is to jot down thoughts for use in future years: which plants did well and which poorly, where to add plants to brighten dull spots, how many plants it took to fill a particular area, and names of plants you've admired in other people's gardens. Also make a note of where you've planted bulbs this fall so you don't dig into them next spring.

You should also take advantage of the Maintaining Annuals Month by Month chart located on the previous page of this article. It will help you stay on top of the various plant care chores that should be taken care of throughout the year.

Many gardeners get more joy out of their gardens by bringing some of the splendidly colored flowers inside. In the following, we will discuss some annuals that are particularly suited for cutting.

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