An Annual Event - Tips and Tools to Create a Dramatic Display of Color

Now that spring is in full bloom and summer is just around the corner, gardeners are anxiously awaiting the season's annual rite of passage. Flowering annuals, often referred to as bedding plants, have blossomed into a popular pick for both casual and hardcore gardeners who are drawn to the vivid colors and fragrances. From impatiens to the ever-popular marigold varieties, annuals come in and endless assortment of shades, shapes and sizes and add vitality to any garden or home.

Unlike perennials that bloom each spring, annuals usually die after a single growing season. This provides an opportunity for gardeners to wipe the canvas clean every year and begin creating a colorful new masterpiece in bloom that lasts throughout the season.

Since there are so many different types of annuals to choose from, let your personal tastes be your guide. Yes, there are some basic gardening concepts you will need to understand before you start digging, such as the appropriate amount of sun your annuals will need to thrive. But your local Ace gardening expert can help you pick the annuals that right for your needs, as well as provide a basic understanding of the planting process and the care that your annuals will require. The Helpful Hardware Folks are also your best source to help you select all the basic tools, equipment and fertilizers you will need to make sure you do the job right.

Laying the Groundwork

Savvy gardeners are not the fair-weathered sort. Throughout the year, regardless of the regional climate, they research ideas, learn proper planting techniques and discover new methods for improving their gardens.

For starters, learn how to prepare the soil where your plants will take root. Soil that can support healthy plant life is only as good as the nutrients and organic matter it contains. The preparation you put into the soil before planting will pay dividends later.

Begin by building healthy soil with organic material such as compost, which can be a simple blend of household, yard and garden scraps. According to Paula West, an Ace Hardware conservation consultant, 70 percent of household waste - most food scraps and used coffee grounds, for example - can be transformed into nutrient-rich compost that enriches soil, boosts plant health and supports the beneficial recycling of natural matter.

Whether your soil has a sandy or clay consistency, the gardening experts at your local Ace Hardware have a wide selection of soil additives, such as peat moss and topsoil, that can add vital nutrients or structure to the soil to give your annuals a healthy start.

Plant Selection

Now comes the fun part. Annuals offer an assortment of flower styles and colors, and your toughest decision is likely to be selecting which plants to take home with you.

Begin by considering the placement for your new annuals and the reasons for planting them in those areas. While the amount of sun your annuals will need is the primary concern, other factors such as the height of mature plants and color combinations that work well together also need consideration. For example, in a flowerbed that borders the house, taller annuals should be placed in back rows (closest to the house) in order for smaller annual varieties to be seen.

Ongoing Care

Appropriate watering, feeding and grooming are essential for top results. Early one morning every week, give plants a single, deep drink instead of more frequent surface waterings. And don't forget the fertilizer. Occasionally feed plants with fertilizer that can be found at your local Ace Hardware to help them grow to their potential.

Encourage blooming throughout the season by removing old blossoms before plants can produce new seeds.

Beyond fertilizing and watering, ongoing care of your annuals will require periodic weeding and making sure the plants don't become part of the daily diet of harmful bugs and other pests that can wipe out your hard work.

Your Ace retailer can offer quick and easy solutions for battling bugs. Easy-to-use chemical formulas can deliver quick, effective results for the fight against insects, worms and other pesky creatures. Many natural products are also available from your local Ace Hardware to deliver pest-fighting power without using chemical products.

West says many gardeners see insects as harmful pests that should be destroyed. However, keep in mind that many insects offer benefits to plants and the rest of the environment.

West offers the following suggestions for battling pests and understanding how to work with the beneficial critters:

  • Use natural techniques for insect control. Learn to identify the good bugs from the bad. And take care to leave some things alone - the larval form of certain bugs can look harmful, but they may turn into bugs that are beneficial to your garden.
  • Use insecticidal soaps. They break down insects' outer skin coatings. The soaps should be used early when it is cooler, which slows evaporation.
  • Learn more about other bacterial insecticides, such as bacterial products that control caterpillars, red pepper sprays and horticultural oils that suffocate insects.

Bugs may not be your only enemy in the garden. The blooms on annuals are a delicacy for some creatures. If chipmunks, rabbits and other garden varmints become a problem, natural pepper-based sprays and chicken wire available from your local Ace Hardware can usually solve the problem.

All of this may sound like work for a green thumb expert, but growing annual flowers is rewarding and enjoyable once you learn the basics. A few months into the growing season, a collection of colorful annuals will bring nature's beauty to your home.

Step-by-Step Planting Procedures for Annuals

Before planting, the soil must first be properly prepared. Make sure the soul where you plant contains enough air for proper root formation and enough nutrients and organic matter for plant development. Contact your local county extension agency to inquire about the best way to determine proper soil preparation procedures. Once the soil is ready, make sure that it is properly tiled and ready for planting. A cultivator - a claw-like gardening tool - is a great tool for loosening soil and getting it ready.

  1. Arrange the flower bed. To help you visualize how the plants will look after they have been planted, arrange the potted plants in the pattern in which you like them. Take into consideration the height of the flowers when fully grown (labels on the plants should include this information) as well as color combinations that work well together.
  2. Dig the holes. Use a spade or garden trowel to create holes that are the proper width and depth for the flowers youÂ’re planting. Also, you will be kneeling for a while so consider a knee pad to make planting more comfortable. For bigger plants that need larger holes, a tool such as a post-hole digger can make the work easier.
  3. Plant the flowers. When planting annuals from flats or other plastic containers, either press your thumb on the bottom of the container and gently pull the plant from the pack or use an old, dull kitchen knife to cut around each plant. Gently loosen the roots and place the top of the root level with the surface of the soil. Backfill any loose dirt and gently press down around the plant.
  4. Mulch the flowerbed. Spreading mulch around your annuals once they've been planted is a key step in beautifying your garden and ensuring its health. High-quality mulch, which comes in a variety of colors and types, helps retail soil moisture and reduces weed growth while insulating the flowerbeds from extreme temperature changes.
  5. Water and fertilize. Proper watering and feeding are critical to growing great flowers. To give your annuals a healthy head start, water and fertilize after transplanting from the flats to the ground. A mixture of water and nutrient-rich fertilizer found at your local Ace Hardware will help boost plant growth.

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