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Remember the glorious spring season of pastels when it seemed like every tree and shrub was in bloom? Has your garden gone monochrome green for the summer? With a few seeds and some good soil it is easy to make your summer garden as vibrant as HD TV and in full motion with bees, butterflies and hummers.
Every spring I head out to the garden with rake and seed packs in hand. By the summer solstice, my garden has its summer bloom in full swing.
Why not just head to your local nursery for some 6-packs of annuals? One would think this would give you a definite head start, but here are some things to consider.
I cannot lie, I love gaudy plants. I want the tall zinnias with 4” happy blooms, the deep red ruffled heads of cockscomb, sunflowers that branch out to produce 2 dozen 5” yellow blooms on a single plant, spiky balls of hot pink and red gomphrena/globe amaranth, the fluffy pink blooms of cleome/spider flower with long skinny seed pods that look like fringe on every stem, and ornamental millet with its strappy chartreuse foliage and thick spikes of brown velvet seed heads.
And who could not want amaranth ‘Love Lies Bleeding”? The name alone would break your heart not to grow it! Then there is the flamboyant castor bean ‘Carmencita’, that always commands a “What IS that?!” from visitors.
There is a lot to love about old fashioned marigolds too. They are among the most heat and drought tolerant annuals you can grow, immune to deer and rabbits. There are now more varieties available than ever, my favorite being a white one that anyone would mistake for a carnation. Cleome, celosia, euphorbia ‘Snow on the Mountain’, and marigolds often reseed themselves, meaning you may not have to plant them again.
All of these no-fail annuals may be sown in your garden in April. Here are 3 non-negotiable requirements for success:
SUN – at least 8 hours a day.
GOOD SOIL – Hard red clay won’t work. Addition of compost is mandatory. You can buy a pick-up truck load for about $20. Fill her up! (Avoid “top soil” mixes as the pH can be way too low to grow annuals.) Till at least 6 inches of compost into the soil, then simply scatter your seeds on top and water them in. Most seeds pop up fastest after a rain.
WATER plants regularly through the growing season.
If you are anxious to get started, fall is a great time to seed annuals too. With the Piedmont Triad’s mild winters and the right seed, September sowing brings May flowers! Hardy annuals are actually much easier to grow because plants rarely need watering through the winter. Cool Flowers, by Lisa Mason Ziegler, is a great book on growing long-blooming hardy annual flowers. You can order it from her website at www.thegardenersworkshop.com.
Here are my favorite no-fail annuals to sow in September: poppies, larkspur, bachelor buttons, perennial sweet peas, rudbeckia ‘Indian Summer’ and bupleurum (florists’ call ‘green & gold’). Most of these are winter hardy to zone 5. They sprout in fall, overwinter in the ground as little rosettes of leaves, and bloom in spring. Your garden will already be on its way to a fabulous spring while other gardeners are still deciding what to plant.
Ellen Ashley teaches an annual program of “hands-on” gardening classes on her 10-acre property in Summerfield. Contact her at email@example.com.