Articles by Jim Gainan

As published in the Billings Gazette

Nothing adds more color to your landscape than annual flowers

May 19, 2013

Bright red geraniums, hot pink supertunias, happy yellow marigolds . . . nothing adds those bursts of continual color to your yard like annuals do. Annuals live for one season only -- we have to replant them annually. I always think about high school annual yearbooks. I had to buy a new one every year. Since annuals only last one season, it is their job to be showy all summer long. This is their only chance to shine. We need to help them be the best that they can be!

Soil Preparation

It all starts with good soil preparation. Think of those tiny roots trying to stretch out and establish a good system and running smack into a wall of hardened clay, so cultivate your bed deeply for best root development. Since you’re digging in the garden anyway, this is the perfect time to add soil amendments such as a granular flower garden fertilizer, compost or peat moss. If you have poor drainage, adding some compost or peat moss will improve the bed as well as add nutrients.

If you are planting annuals in containers, be sure to use a good potting mix rather than filling your containers with only soil from your garden. Garden soil alone tends to be heavy and compacts easily, whereas a potting soil is specially mixed to provide nutrients and be light enough for good root aeration.


There is no magic schedule for watering anything -- annuals, planters, trees, shrubs, indoor plants or even lawns. As with many things in Montana, watering is weather-related. Know your soil type. Soil with more clay will be slower to absorb water and will hold it longer. Sandy soil will absorb water more quickly but dries out faster.

The best thing to do is check your plants on a daily basis. Signs of under-watering may include wilted or curled leaves with crispy brown edges, especially towards the top and outer extremities. Plants that are over-watered may have older leaves that are yellow and wilted with new shoots being pale green.

Keep an eye on your beds when watering. Do not apply water faster than the soil can absorb it. Watering in the cool of the early morning, just as the sun rises, is best. This reduces the amount of water lost to evaporation and ensures that the foliage of the plants is dry before nightfall. Wet foliage during the night encourages fungus, mildews, rusts and other diseases. A good layer of mulch maintains soil moisture as well as helping control weeds.

Planters and pots must have drainage holes. During the hottest days of summer, you will probably have to water your planters daily, if not twice daily. Mixing a root watering crystal such as Soil Moist will help maintain moisture. The crystals absorb many times their weight in water and release it slowly to the roots. Your plants will benefit by having a constant water supply to draw on instead of a wide fluctuation of moisture.

When you water your planters, be sure to apply enough water to thoroughly saturate the root ball. You should see the water starting to run out the bottom drainage holes.


Feed your annuals with a blossom booster fertilizer. Most fertilizers recommend feeding annuals every 7-14 days. This is especially important for annuals in containers, planters and hanging baskets because of the limited amount of soil. If you are watering properly and saturating the root system each time you water, nutrients will be leached from the soil and need to be replaced. Always water your plants with clear water first before watering with a fertilizer solution. Fertilizer applied to a dry root system could burn the plant.


Pinching the spent blossoms of the annuals once the flower starts to fade is a practice called deadheading. Aside from the fact that your garden will look nicer, deadheading annuals is important in order to keep the plants producing blossoms. Even though we call the blossom “dead”, it is actually alive and on its way to producing seeds. This seed production process takes the energy that the plant would otherwise be using on growing new flowers and foliage.


Jim Gainan is the President of Gainan's Flowers and Garden Center in Billings.