Hardy annuals–I never quite understood what that name meant until I became a flower farmer and learned about this amazing group of flowers. These plants include garden favorites like Sweet Peas, Snapdragons, Bells of Ireland, and many others. So many home gardeners are trying to grow them yet are frustrated by short-lived success and outright failures. I want to reassure you that they can be very easy to grow once you “get it.” Right plant, right spot, at the right time!
The “annual” part of this group’s name is what always caught my eye, which to me meant: plant in spring because it is an annual. So I, like so many others, stormed the garden in spring planting those blooming beauties. But once the hot spring afternoons inevitably began to occur, these plants were impossible to keep watered; they fell victim to disease, stress, and pest attacks. This predicament came about because the plants had not had time to become established before they needed to begin blooming under such adverse growing conditions as heat and humidity.
Planting this family of plants in cool weather conditions–either in fall or in very early spring–allows them to become settled in and to establish a deep root system that will carry them right into summer happy and healthy. Many of the members of this group can be planted in fall to winter over as seedlings, then producing a plant of unsurpassed quality in the spring.
There are so many aspects of a hardy annual garden that are empowering to gardeners: you plant when little else is going on in the garden and it is cooler; rain is more frequent, eliminating watering chores; and the act of fall planting introduces a new feeling of anticipation for spring. Waiting for this group of flowers to jump into action in spring is so exciting for a gardener. I find myself snooping around the garden in January and February just looking, wondering and waiting.
Once you understand this fascinating, easy, and beautiful group of flowers, you will be hooked forever. Spring will never be the same once you grow hardy annuals in your home garden.
Lisa Mason Ziegler is a commercial cut-flower farmer in Newport News, Virginia; she lectures and writes about organic and sustainable gardening. You can email Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org, call her at 757-877-7159 or visit her website.
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