Preparing for Hardy Annuals

Hi Lovelies,

So, it’s raining again. I know I shouldn’t be complaining because a lot of folks are suffering from heat and a major drought, but I’m itching to get back into the garden so badly. The stargazer oriental lilies started to bloom this week. Unfortunately, they did so during the rain. That means there are hundreds of beautiful pink blooms that are completely stained with orange pollen. Since I plant my lily bulbs into the ground and not into bulb crates, I’m not concerned about this mishap. In my zone, lilies will come back every year and are perennial. Lucky for me, I’ll just have more big strong, plants next season.

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“I wish it would stop raining so that I can go watch the birds in the garden.”

I have a few bad habits that I always fall into when it rains a lot. I tend to get a little lazy, watch too much television, and the worst offense of all – I spend too much money. Watching it rain cats and dogs has helped me realize a lot of things, the first being that I still have a huge bag of gladiolus bulbs that need to be planted immediately; the  second being that I had completely forgotten about ordering my hardy annuals and planting my biennials.

Before I started gardening, I’d always get “annuals” confused with “perennials” and all the jargon would be jumbled in my head. What difference did it even make? Well, turns out, to grow lovely flowers, it makes a huge difference! Annuals are pretty simple. Annuals can complete their lifecycle in one season. This includes making seeds, blooming, and obviously; being planted.  When I think of annuals, I automatically picture sunflowers, zinnias, petunias, and marigolds. But wait, do all annuals have to be planted in the spring after the chance of frost and grow in the summer? The answer is no! It wasn’t until very recently that I finally understood the term “hardy annual”.As you might already know, “hardiness” refers to a plants ability to survive in a climate zone, specifically to endure winter. While I wouldn’t consider myself a “northern” gardener, the winters here can still be pretty blustery. Last season, we were covered in snow and at one point the thermometer read -11 f as the low for the night before. I wasn’t even aware that temperatures like that were even possible.

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I usually seed my fall hardy annuals around the same time that I plant my tulips and daffodils.

As I’ve learned about growing hardy annuals, I’ve run into many bumps in the road. Since these annuals are “hardy”, I wouldn’t have to worry about a frost ending their lives, and could therefore, plant them much earlier. First, I’d read that these annuals need to be sown as early as the soil could be worked. I did this, but the results really weren’t anything like I had wanted. Some of seeds germinated and grew, but the plants and flowers were diminutive. They looked nothing like the pictures I’d seen online, or like they looked growing in my neighbors yard. Ugh! In addition to this disappointment, some of the seeds that I had planted didn’t even germinate! I didn’t know what I was doing wrong.

My first season growing bachelor’s buttons was a complete failure. The flowers were impossible to pick and the plants were less than a foot tall. In frustration, I let the flowers go to seed and just forgot about them. At the end of the season, I mowed down the plants and chose to try again next year. However, when spring rolled around next season, I was astonished to find several cornflower seedlings happily growing in the same patch. Before they began to bloom, the plants had grown to be over 4 ft tall! As, it turns out – fall planting was the solution that I’d been looking for!

After this experience, my love of fall sowing has grown tremendously. Each year, I’ve made it a point to try more and more annuals. It’s so satisfying to see these seedlings emerge right as spring begins. The great part is that all you’ve got to do is watch it happen. Winter and spring here is always extremely wet – that means that even when the soil has warmed somewhat, it remains unworkable for much longer. Fall sowing is a great way to get the head start that I need.

I direct sow my hardy annuals at the end of September or beginning of October, around the same time that I would plant ranunculus and anemones, as well as tulip and daffodil bulbs. The seeds of hardy annuals shouldn’t have any trouble dealing with frozen soil.  In fact, many of these varieties will require a period of vernalization. Vernalization refers to a period of exposure to low temperatures for proper growth. For this reason, some seed packages may instruct you to refrigerate the contents for a certain amount of weeks before planting.

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After a long and miserable winter, it’s so nice to see some color! Planning ahead now can help to give you a major jump on the growing season!

Here’s a list of the things I’m going to try to direct sow this fall. If you’ve had success or failure, please let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions!

2016 Hardy Annuals – Bells of Ireland, Godetia, Calendula, California Poppy, Love-in-a-Mist, Shirley Poppy, Agrostemma, Larkspur, Scabiosa, Lace Flower, Bachelor’s Buttons

If you’re interested in checking out what’s growing for 2016 – you can check it out on Pinterest!

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