Spring & Summer Annual Flowers – Five Simple Techniques to Maximize Flower Bloom.
By:Jonathan Manning, CLT
A Better Garden Maintenance, LLC
Annual flowers can be designed to make a wonderful display in your patio container garden, annual flower bed or even dispersed among a perennial bed. There are five key elements (Soil/Soil Preparation, Plant Selection, Watering, Fertilizing, and Deadheading) to help maximize bloom to keep a colorful and inviting appearance in your garden throughout the spring and summer months.
1) Site Selection/Plant Selection
The plant material selected to grow in a container or in an annual flower bed is directly correlated to the sun’s exposure. In areas of high sun exposure you would want annual grasses, petunias, lantana, lobelia, zinnias, marigolds, daisies, geraniums, cuphea, sweet potato vine, verbena and other annual flowers and colorful vegetation to accent the area being planted. In shade areas, you want to have dahlia, ageratum, begonias, impatiens, calibrachoa, pansies, coleus, angelonia and other plants adapted to flower and be colorful in low light conditions.
2) Soil/Soil Preparation
There are two situations which will be discussed; Containers & Pots and Annual Flower Beds.
Containers & Pots
The best investment you make every year or each time you replant your containers & pots for your patio garden is the soil. Having fresh sterile soil gives a clean start by eliminating the risk of pathogens from previous years. (If flowers in a container were infected the previous year, either replace the container, sterilize the container or plant a different variety of plants in the container.). Containers & pots need a specialized soil, one that helps retain both moisture and nutrients while still supplying the necessary air for the roots. The soil needs to contain a mixture of vermiculite, perlite, moss, sand or whatever mixture for which the specific plants need.
In the Denver area a potting soil needs the ability to drain quickly, yet still hold a massive amount of water. Colorado’s intense sun rays and dry air suck the water out of the soil in the containers. It is important to have a soil mixture which will withstand Denver’s conditions.
***Regular soil from your garden should never be used, especially in Colorado. The soil does not provide the appropriate drainage required and our Colorado clay soils pull away from the sides of a container making it difficult to rewet.
Annual Flower Beds
Flowers which are being planted in the ground need a sandy loam which has a lot of organic matter. Organic matter acts as a sponge, retaining water for uptake by the colorful flowers. It is important to have a soil structure which drains well. The drainage allows oxygen into the soil, this air in the soil profile is an important factor in root growth. If the soil does not drain and remains saturated, the roots will actually suffocate or suffer hypoxia (tissue being deprived of oxygen) in the roots. This leads to roots which only function at around 10% of normal roots. If your soil is not the proper mixture, it should be amended.
Amending the soil is best done by adding organic matter in the way of composted dairy manure. This nutrient rich soil additive is relatively inert when bought completely composted and screened. In most situations for amendment of soil I recommend 5 cubic yards per 1000 square feet to be roto-tilled into the newly established annual flower bed. With the initial amendment of heavy clay or just to decrease or eliminate the need for fertilizing that year, 7 cubic yards of composted dairy manure should be used for annual flowers in Denvers soils. A different approach which is more work, is to remove the soil down one foot to 18 inches and add new planting soil or potting soil. However you wish to prepare your garden bed water should be added to “wet” the soil as to prevent the from soil sucking the water out of the new plants & flowers.
It is important to the survival of the plant material to have sufficient water, especially if just planted. Once planted all annual flowers and colorful vegetation needs to be thoroughly watered 2-3 times after planting. After initial watering, all plants which got knocked over should be up righted and adjusted as necessary to ensure good soil contact. Soil should be allowed to dry slightly to reduce pest and disease issues. Irrigation by a drip emitter system, drip tubing or netafim is the best way to help your annual flowers survive. Irrigation mainly acts as an insurance policy to give the minimum amount of water to survive. When combined with hand watering during the week, the vegetation really takes hold and the flowers bloom exquisitely.
***Pots need to be hand watered often. In Denver this may be twice daily, once daily or even once every couple days. As always, the weather, the size of the pot, the exposure to the sun and the type of plant material in your containers will dictate the watering schedule needed to make your patio garden look wonderful.
Adding the needed nutrients to any plant will make it grow better, stronger and provide intense flower color. A general balanced flower fertilizer of 10-10-10 is recommended in most situations. (The numbers represent a percentage of the total contents, in this case; 10% Nitrogen – 10% Phosphorous – 10% Potassium ; the other 70% is just inert or inactive material). Each plant requires different amount of each nutrient to promote adequate vegetative growth, root growth and flowering.
With fertilizers there are two different ways it is released, immediately or over time. Great care should taken in order not to poison the plants with too much fertilizer. Miracle-gro is a quick release fertilizer and can be used every few weeks to help promote healthy growth. Too much of this fertilizer at one time and it may cause water to be unavailable to the plants. An osmocoted fertilizer pellet will fertilize the soil around it over weeks as water deteriorates the pellet layers. This is the safest way to fertilize as the amount needed to be toxic is greater with the slow release formula.
***A way to stay organic is to use a natural compost and amend the flower bed, as stated earlier.
Annual flowers generally only last one year. Their whole goal in this short life time is to reproduce. The beautiful flowers produced by the plants is the vessel of reproduction. When a flower is spent it usually means it has become fertilized and will produce a seed pod. Since the goal of annual flowers is to reproduce, most the energy created in the plant will be allocated to the production of seed. To redirect this energy, the seed pods must be removed in a process known as “deadheading.” It is important not to just remove the flower petal, but the base of the flower itself. This can usually be done by pinching the soft stem tissue with nails of your thumb & index finger. Some people prefer scissors, just remember they are dangerous tools and should be handled with care.
This combination will help your annual flowers look their best and provide spring color through to the first freeze. Please note that most annuals are annual in Denver due to the frost. In the Denver area, it is best to plant after mother’s day (May 10) to account for the frost.
Here at A Better Garden, we understand some people don’t have time to do all the work to have a great looking flower display. We will happily work with you to set up installation of flower pots, containers, annual flower beds or planting within a perennial bed. We provide full installation, maintenance and can even provide sprinkler renovation or addition to get water to your pots or new flower beds. Call us today (303) 433 – 3750 and get Annual Flower Maintenance for your home or office.