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What to do this week
By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening” on 970WFLA Live on Sunday’s 7-9am
Brighten up your Central Florida Landscape with Annuals
Most of our landscapes have been sleeping through the winter months, and color is very hard to find. Even though some of our plants may show a little life, we are still over a month away from seeing any significant blooming. This is the time of the year we rely on annuals to give us the color we so desperately need in the landscape. Annuals can help bridge this gap and give us the beautiful flowers we are looking for. All you must do is to put in a little effort to prepare the soil. Then, I will help you pick out some great-looking annuals, that you can easily purchase at the local garden center and install them in just a few hours. The next time you walk outside, you will probably be stopped by your neighbors asking about how you transformed your brown landscape into a garden of color. Let’s get started.
If you have never grown annuals or used them in the landscape, then the first thing you need to know is what is an annual? Annuals are plants that grow, flower, and die in one season. They are also used primarily to add a brief burst of color or distinction to your landscape. However, you should be prepared to protect them in the event, we get an unexpected frost late in the year. Generally, the last frosts in Central Florida are typically around the fifteenth of February to the first of March. The further north you go, the later the cold weather will remain. North Florida planting guides say that March fifteenth is the last day you can expect a frost there. Make sure you pay attention to these dates, so you can purchase your plants accordingly. Remember, you want to be able to enjoy your annual flowers and their brilliant foliage for the longest amount of time as possible. Most annuals we plant in the spring will only last until May or June when they fade away. By this time of the year, our perennial plants are normally back into flower production.
Preparing your beds for growing annuals is almost as important as selecting which plants you are going to use for the garden. The first rule is not to take on too much at one time. Start by selecting a small area about three by four feet in size that could use a boost of color. Once you have selected the area you want to work on, spread out at least two to three inches of peat, compost, potting soil or any organic matter over the top of the soil. I also like to spread a little 8-10-10 fertilizer over the area using a hand-held fertilizer spreader. Now you must turn the soil with a regular shovel or rotor-tiller. You should mix the soil down to the depth of eight to ten inches, or the distance of one shovelhead. Remove any weeds or rocks you pull up and then level the bed with a rake. Please try not to walk on the new bed as this could compact the soil. Loose, well-drained soil works best for annual plantings. Once completed, you are ready for the fun part, selecting the plants you will use to brighten up your garden.
Most professional garden centers and even the box stores have tons of annuals ready to go this time of the year. Get a shopping cart and select the plants you want to use by color and height. You do not want to put tall plants in front of shorter growers so read the labels. Additionally, choose the colors you like to see. This is your garden. If purple flowers are your favorite, then Pansies and Violas may be good choices for you. Most annuals are purchased in small six packs that should have a few blooms on them. Try not to select the plants that are already in full bloom, because you want your plants to bloom after you plant them in the garden.
I like to group my plants by the colors I choose and how the plants will look when they are full grown. Always purchase enough to fill in the garden. Remember, annuals grow quickly, and some can get quite large. Full beds can really make a stunning effect. A typical three-foot by four-foot area should be large enough to add at least twelve plants. Remember, the more plants you purchase of a single variety, the bigger the final display will be as the plants reach maturity. You might want to try Calendula or Gaillardia in the rear of the bed as they grow tall, you can then select Celosia or Dwarf Zinnias for the front. Leave at least a foot in-between the plants, and to ensure they grow quickly, fertilize them with a liquid blooming fertilizer like a Peters or a Miracle Grow 15-30-15 applied every three weeks.
My all-time favorite plants, Lavender and Snapdragons deserve a bed all for themselves. Purchase as many plants as your budget allows and set them in mass. Snapdragons will spread out a little more than the lavender, and you can choose multiple colors to grow. Lavender will give you fragrant blossoms throughout the spring and into early summer. Both plants will provide you cut flowers for the table to enjoy inside, and they will give you color almost immediately.
The examples I am giving you here represent only a small fraction of the choices available when selecting annuals for your garden. There are literally hundreds of annuals to choose from. You should also consider planting annuals in garden containers. Containers work extremely well for annuals and may even give you more options on where to place them. Porches, pool decks, and next to your favorite garden chair, could be great locations for your potted annuals. Even hanging containers may offer you some outstanding choices. The point is to get out and make at least a few selections of colorful annuals to help you brighten up your landscape and give you the color you want. Enjoy your annual garden and remember, without plants, we would not be here!