Annuals And Perennials: What You Should Know Before Planting

The arrival of bedding plants marks the beginning of spring – even for the most casual gardener. Here’s a to-do list before purchasing plants:

1. Know the difference between annuals and perennials. Annuals are a one-season splash of color. They bloom almost immediately and continue blooming until the first killing frost, which often occurs anywhere between September 15th and October 1st in the metro Detroit area.

Annuals - PetuniasAnnuals are maintenance intensive. To continue blooming, they require close attention to watering, fertilizing, weeding and dead heading. Annuals often are used in new landscapes as colorful fillers, while foundation shrubbery grows and matures. They can also be planted in hanging baskets and containers, adding color to a deck, garden or patio. Annual plants often are more costly in the long run than perennials because they must be replaced each year.

Perennials - Foxglove & Russian SagePerennial plants grow and spread for years. The initial cost is greater, but they are a permanent addition to your garden. Plant tall perennials at the back of a border and shorter plants in front. With a little planning, it is possible to plant masses of successively blooming flowers for an all-season display. After three years, most perennials need dividing which will yield many new plants.

The average frost-free date for the metro Detroit area is between May 15th and May 31st. If tender annuals are planted too early, a late frost could kill every plant. Perennials and hardy annuals such as pansies and snapdragons will survive a light frost.

2. Prepare the soil well before you plant. Your soil can be heavy clay or very sandy. The structure of either soil type can be changed by adding organic matter such as Canadian sphagnum peat moss, well-rotted manure or garden compost. Spread two to three inches of the organic matter over the soil and roto-till or double-spade it in. Add a well-balanced fertilizer at this time. Don’t take shortcuts with soil preparation. When planting a perennial garden, you have just one chance to do it correctly.

Impatien - Red Geranium (Ladyheart |

Photo Credit: Ladyheart |

3. Select plants that are suitable to the site. Most garden centers will list the specific exposure, soil and cultural requirements for a variety of plants. In the absence of signs with this information, read the tag on each variety. Note the amount of sun the plants will receive. Is wind a factor? Many tall flowers do not tolerate wind and snap easily; other tall varieties bend with the wind and perform beautifully. Wind can damage shorter plants too. Impatiens, for example, will shrivel and die in a windy location because they hydrate easily.

4. It’s time to buy the plants. Avoid cell packs containing tall, spindly plants with flowers. They’ve been in the packs too long. You can pinch them back and trim the roots for better performance, but this sets them back, and you’ll wait longer for blooms than if you had chosen smaller plants. Annuals - SnapdragonsCheck leaves and stems for diseases such as leaf spots or stem cankers (dark, sunken areas) and insects. Take the plants out of the pot or pack and check the roots. Healthy roots should be firm and white, without spirals or kinks. Don’t bring home unhealthy or insect-infested plants.

Water and drain cell-packs for 5 to 10 minutes before removing the plants. Remove transplants from cell-packs by gently squeezing the bottom of each cell. Take out the plants one-by-one to delay drying of the root ball. Pinch off long coiled bottom roots with a garden knife and gently rough-up root-bound areas. Arrange the plants close enough together to make a full, attractive bed.

As a general rule, don’t plant seedlings deeper than they were in the cell-pack. Firm the soil lightly around the plants and water thoroughly with a soft spray nozzle attached to a hose. Transplant shock can be minimized by planting during cooler times of the day, preferably evening.

Perennial - Phlox (jdurham |

Photo Credit: jdurham |

5. When should I feed my annuals and perennials? A good quality product such as Bachman’s Garden Food 10-20-10 works well with annuals and perennials, both flowering and foliage. With annuals, it can be applied, monthly, throughout the growing season. With perennials, it should only be applied twice; first when the plants have just started growing in early spring and again, a month later.

With proper planting, watering and feeding, your flower beds should provide beauty and color from spring through early fall.


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