Articles by Jim Gainan

As published in the Billings Gazette

Complement your landscape with annual flowers

Do you still have empty flowerbeds or pots and are wondering what to do?
Nothing will add as much color to the landscape as annual flowers. Annuals come in virtually every color and in heights ranging from 2 inches to 6 feet. There are varieties of annuals that will grow and bloom in the hottest sun while others will thrive in the deepest shade. With such a wide variety to work with, it is easy to design beautiful flower beds for your home.
It took me a while to understand the difference between annual and perennial plants. Finally, someone told me that annuals are “planted annually” (a nice way to say they won’t come back next spring) and perennials “come up every year”. I’m sure most of you know that already, but just in case I thought I’d share. I always found the two easy to mix up.
Flower borders
Annual flower borders are one of the best ways to add color and life to your landscape and provide a great transition between your lawn and the foundation planting, shrub border, fence, hedge, vegetable garden or patio. The border can be a narrow edging of one foot or even less using one variety or a deep bed of three feet or more with several rows and varieties of annuals. It is usually best to keep the number of colors to two or three unless it covers a very large area.
For wider borders, be sure to select lower growing varieties for the front along with medium varieties for the back. For a narrow border, be sure to keep the height in scale with the background.
Soil Preparation
Good soil preparation is essential to success with annuals. Till or spade the soil deeply and add a granular flower garden fertilizer at this time. We recommend Jirdon’s Vegetable Fertilizer because of its high sulfur and iron content.
If drainage is poor, you will need to consider raising the bed and improving drainage by adding compost, peat or other organic matter to the bed. Good topsoil can also be used. After planting, mulch will help to control weeds and keep the soil more uniformly moist and cool.
Planters and pots
Planters and pots should be treated as smaller versions of the flower border with the same design principles applying. Use up to 3 colors together with the taller plants in the center or rear. Plants that trail over the edge, such as vinca, lotus vine, sprengeri or lobelia, will help give the planter unity with the surroundings.
A general rule of thumb to follow when selecting plants for your planter, the eventual height of the tallest plants would be as tall as, or up to 2/3 the height of the planter. Dracaena (spikes) are often added to the center of the planting to achieve this extra height. Tall flowering annuals such as cosmos, pentas, dahlia, canna or salvia look great in large whiskey barrel sized planters. You might also want to consider using a short trellis in a large pot. Vining plants such as morning glory, sweet peas and black-eyed susans can create an impressive planter in a short time.
Planters and pots must have drainage holes. Use only packaged potting soils to fill your planters. Garden soil is not recommended, since it usually does not drain fast enough.
During the hottest days of summer, you will probably have to water your planters daily. Mixing root watering crystals, such as “agrosoke” into the soil can decrease the time you spend watering by 50%. The crystals absorb many times their weight in water and release it slowly to the roots. Your plants benefit by having a constant water supply to draw on, instead of a wide fluctuation of moisture.
Don’t forget to add time-released fertilizer (like Osmocote) while planting – it makes a huge difference!