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Summer annuals

Last week, on a trip to our local big box store, I was greeted by the pallets loaded with beautiful, red geraniums.  This is a sight that made me angry.

You may be wondering why on earth the sight of beautiful flowers made me angry.  Well, I do love flowers, (obviously… I’m a horticulturist) –  so that is not what made me mad.

What if I told you that most of the annual flowers that were on display at the beginning of April, are the same kind of flowers that were for sale in September and October.

Summer annuals

Petunias

Now, if you take a minute to consider this, you come to the conclusion that the annual flowers that the big box stores are being offered for sale in early April – just in time for summer.  That doesn’t make much sense does it?

Well, winter annuals are called “winter annuals” for a reason….because they grow in the winter, NOT in the summer.  They cannot handle our hot summers here in the desert.

You may think that this problem does not apply to you if you don’t live in the desert and your summers do not get as hot as ours.  Well, I hate to inform you that this problem occurs all over the US.  

Summer annuals

Violas

I love Violas, but these beautiful hanging violas that were hanging outside of the nursery department will be toast, literally, in just a couple of months.  My violas that have been growing beautifully since late October, are starting to show signs of stress with the couple of 80+ days we have experienced last week. 

And so, this is what makes me angry this time of year, when I enter the nursery section of my big box store.  The winter annual flowers are beautifully laid out in order to entice shoppers as they enter.  You can see the shoppers envisioning how beautiful their gardens will be once they add some of these colorful flowers.  

Marigolds, Alyssum, and Petunias

Marigolds, Alyssum, and Petunias

What they do not realize is that in two months, the alyssum and petunias, pictured above, will be dead and their money wasted.**Interestingly, the petunias and alyssum are placed alongside the orange colored marigolds, which usually will do quite well through most of the summer.  

Arizona is different from many parts of the country.  Our mild winters allow us to grow annual flowers that are grown elsewhere in the country in the summer. 

Stock

Stock

People put their trust in their plant nursery and believe that they would not sell anything that would not thrive in their garden.  They rely on their expertise to sell the right plant for the right time of year.  Sadly, this is not true of all nurseries, especially those at the big box stores.  People begin to believe that they cannot grow flowers or that they have a “black thumb” instead of a green one when their newly planted flowers begin to die soon after planting.

But do not DESPAIR….there is hope!

You can avoid being a victim and the solution is really quite simple….do a little research.  It can be as simple as doing a Google Search and enter the term….summer annuals for (your city or area).  You should be given a long list of plants that should thrive in your area.  

**For residents of the Arizona and California desert, I have done the online searching for you.  You can check out the following link for information on what kind of flowers to grow and when.

Out With The Old and In With The New….

I’m sure most of you know how much fun it can be to garden with your kids.  I remember my dad building each of us a raised planter where we could grow vegetables and flowers.  Today, my kids and I went to the store to buy flowers for their new garden.  You will NEVER guess what they are planting their flowers in…

Easy Garden

Our first stop was our local nursery.  Each was allowed to pick out two six-packs of flowers.  The kids decided to each pick a different type of flower and then shared them.  My youngest daughter, Gracie, selected geraniums and blue petunias.

Easy Garden

Ruthie went the fragrant route and selected stock, (beautiful and fragrant despite its ordinary name) and white alyssum.

Easy Garden

Dianthus and snapdragons were Kai’s choice.

Easy Garden

We finished making our selections and then got ready to go home and start planting.  The only question the kids had was – where were they going to plant their flowers?

Easy Garden

How about their old kiddie pool?  You know – the ones that cost about $10 that your kids play in during the summer.  However, once summer is over, most people either throw out their pool or store it somewhere out of the way.  

Well, now you can use it as a planter for either flowers or shallow-rooted vegetables or herbs.

The process is easy, and your kids will have fun assisting you.

First, move the pool where you want the garden to be as it will be too heavy once you fill it with soil.  Then make multiple holes on the bottom for drainage.  Then fill with a mixture of potting mix.  Sprinkle some slow-release fertilizer and now begin planting!

Easy Garden

Gracie planted her first plant, a peach-colored geranium.

Easy Garden
Easy Garden

My teenage daughter, Rachele, was overseeing our progress while texting on her phone.

flowers

We finished!  The kids are so excited to see their flowers grow.  The garden will be a riot of different colors and has no sense of design, which is as it should be for a children’s flower garden.

flowers

This will be our ‘before’ picture.  We planted alyssum, dianthus, geraniums, petunias, snapdragons, and stock.

If you would like to try this at home and want the garden to become a more permanent part of the landscape, you can add a brick border or plant shrubs and perennials around the outside of the pool.

Flowering Annuals

Each year, around the end of August, I walk into the plant section of our local home improvement store just to look at the colorful, flowering annuals

While I may be sorely tempted,  I don’t buy any; I just like to look.

BUT, I know that I am in trouble when the majority of the nursery shelves is covered in a sea of winter annuals – I feel like a kid in a candy store.  The vibrant colors and scents are almost intoxicating – to me anyway.

In the past, when I managed landscapes on golf courses, I would come to the store in our work truck and load countless flats of annuals for planting around the golf courses and the other buildings.  I loved planning ahead of time what I would plant and the color combinations that I would use.

Flowering Annuals

  Petunias, bacopa, and alyssum

In the low desert, winter annuals typically show up in the nurseries around late August, and it is so easy to get caught up in the excitement of fall being just around the corner along with the promise of cooler weather.  So before you know it, you buy a bunch of flowers and run home and plant them.  The problem is, is that it is often still too hot for them to survive.

Flowering Annuals

  Red geraniums with bacopa

For years, I would tear out the summer annuals around the golf courses and plant winter flowers in late September, usually with good results.  Of course, I would have to be vigilant and replace a few plants that would fall victim to the warm September temperatures, but overall they did fine.  

That is until one year when we had higher than usual temperatures in early October.  The flowers kept dying despite my best efforts.  Each day on my way to work, I would have to stop by the nursery to buy replacement plants.  This got kind of old after 2 – 3 weeks and I would have to go from store to store to find the same kind of flowers that I needed.

Flowering Annuals

 Blue Petunias 

So, I learned my lesson – no matter what, we would not plant winter annuals until late October.  I mean, it was silly to pull out the summer annuals in September when they still looked great.  I think people want to get a jump start on winter flowers because it makes us feel like the weather is cooler when it isn’t.  So unless you want to make extra visits to your local nursery, WAIT until mid-October.

Now, since I no longer manage landscape areas, I am only responsible for my annual pots.  Last year I planted hot pink geraniums with alyssum, and they did very well.  In the past, I have tried the following combinations with good results:

– Yellow Snapdragons with Blue (Deep Purple) 

– Petunias and White Alyssum

– Red Geraniums with White Alyssum

– Hot Pink Geraniums with Lobelia

– Yellow Pansies with Lobelia 

– Light Blue Pansies and Alyssum

– White Snapdragons with Pink Petunias and Lobelia 

Snapdragon

 Snapdragon

PLANTING:For containers (pots), I use a planting/potting mix, which is specially formulated for containers – not potting soil, which can become soggy.  

If you are planting annuals in the ground, then I add compost or potting soil to the existing soil at a ratio of about 1 part compost to 1 part existing soil.  

If you do not have a compost pile at home, you can buy bagged compost at your local nursery.  Add slow-release fertilizer, following directions on the label.  Plant your winter annuals, making sure that they have enough space between them to grow.

CARE:  Water twice a day.  I usually water in the morning and maybe late in the afternoon as the plants are becoming established (about two weeks).  You can then water once a day or every 2 – 3 days, depending on the weather.  

In a managed landscape setting, I would also fertilize weekly with a liquid fertilizer to promote maximum blooming.  At home, I usually fertilize every other week.

Viola

 Viola

Now that we are in the second half of October, I am ready for planting winter annuals in my garden.  I have been thinking about planting violas.  I have not planted them since I was a little girl and I did notice some beautiful ones at the nursery back in August.  Those violas are probably dead from the heat of late August.  

Hopefully, they will have some new ones in now that it is really time to plant!

A Children’s Flower Garden in a Kiddie Swimming Pool