Adding color to your garden

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Use annuals for an inexpensive and quick way to add color to your garden
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Annuals are beautiful flowers that last just one season, but they provide tons of color to a garden at remarkably affordable prices. Technically, an annual is a plant that germinates from a seed, grows flowers, sets seed, and dies all in one season. But the term is also used to describe any plant that grows and flowers in a single season - a definition that includes tender perennials killed by frost at the end of the season in cold climate growing zones.

Gardeners turn to annuals to provide a full and fantastic effect for immediate gratification. Besides being relatively cheap and fresh, they are great to plant in between slow-growing shrubs or to fill in empty spaces until perennials reach maturity.

To rapidly produce a kaleidoscope of breathtaking color, you don't have to wait for the annual seeds to germinate; just go down to your local garden supply/home store and wander through the nursery section to find a vast array of brilliantly colored plants that are ready to be planted. Don't hesitate to ask any of the knowledgeable staff to assist you in your selections.
  • Does a certain plant need lots of sun?
  • Does it require a great deal of water? (This is an important question if you live in a draught plagued area!)
  • Will it grow in the shade?
  • How often must it be fertilized?

Note: At the same time you purchase your plants, be sure to buy come planting mix to add to your soil (unless you have exceptionally good soil); also get some mulch to use between plants to help retain water and keep the soil from drying out too quickly.

Once you've made your selections, you're ready to plant. Annuals should be planted in blocks for the most effective look. Always consider the height of the different plants, with the tallest at the back, mediums in the middle and the shortest at the front.

In a round garden plot, put the tallest plants in the middle, and work the shorter ones to the edge. If you must put a taller one in front, ensure that it is a transparent and lacy plant. Note: Do not judge height by how tall each plant is in its individual container, but rather go by the estimated height, which is usually indicted on the planting tag.

Look for strong contrasts in one area, or more subtle groupings in another. Arrange plants in swathes of color or texture, making sure that there is always a contrast in shape, texture or color in adjacent groups. This type of planting will be most appealing to the eye of the beholder.

Although most annuals require sunlight, some do OK in shade; but all require rich moisture-retentive soil, with organic matter dug into it. They are half-hardy, and will need to be protected if there is a chance of frost. They can be covered with a fleece or individual plastic bottles. Never let plastic touch the plant. You can also use brown grocery store bags to cover and protect the plants if a frost is forecast.

Generally, annuals need to be fed every two weeks, deadheaded (remove dead flowers by pinching off or clipping) regularly and watered frequently. They should last through the entire growing season, provided you continue to look after them.

Listed are suggested annuals to plant in pots, baskets or in garden beds to use when adding color to your garden. These also look great in large containers flanking entranceways and on the porch or patio.

Half-hardy summer annuals:
  • ageratum,
  • impatiens (busy lizzie)
  • cosmos
  • morning glory
  • lobelia
  • nicotiana

Hardy annuals:
  • marigolds
  • nasturtiums
  • sweet peas
  • sunflowers.

If you are growing them from seed, they will produce masses of flowers within two to three months of the seed being sown, giving you a good couple of months of color for comparatively little money and effort. However, these seeds will require the proper care, ideal growing conditions and necessary nutrients. If you're looking to get the fastest results for instant gratification, buy the plants!

Annuals that thrive in the shade are:
  • impatiens,
  • fuschia
  • lobelia.
  • coleus (although it doesn't flower, it has brilliant and colorful foliage)
Now that you have some information about adding color to your garden, get out the trowel and garden gloves and dig in!

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