First of all, what is an annual?
It is a plant that grows from seed to flower in one year and then dies. Usually you buy annuals in the spring and know they will die in the fall. Some examples of common annuals are marigolds, petunias, geraniums, impatiens, and zinnias. You can buy annuals as bedding plants (often sold in plastic packs of 4-8 plants) or as seeds. No matter if you buy plants or seeds, you want your flowers to look good and not be too much work. Set yourself up for healthy, beautiful plants by doing a few things right from the start.
Make a good planting site for the plants
How? First, make sure your ground is well drained (which means it can't be very dry and it can't be soggy). If you put your plants in a wet area then the roots will probably rot and the plant will die. Do a soil test (you can get them at the Extension office) to see what kind of fertilizer your soil needs. Next, add some organic material (composted leaves or manure, peat moss, etc.) to your planting site.
Start with healthy plants
Don't pick plants that have very wet or very dry soil in the pots. Do not choose plants that are wilted or have a lot of yellow leaves. Look at the leaves from top to bottom and on the underside of the leaves - are there insects on the plant already? Don't buy aphids or other insects with your plants, you don't need them!
Choose the right plant for the right location
Unless you have a lot of time to spend on watering, fertilizing, and treating your plants for insects you should be careful to choose plants that are known to do well in the area you want to plant them. For example, if you have an area in full sun all day, you will not want to plant impatiens there. Sure, they'll look good in the morning, but as the day gets hotter they'll droop and wilt. The plants known as "Pennsylvania Gardener Selects" have been grown in trial gardens throughout the state. They've been judged for beauty and for the way they handle Pennsylvanian environments. Because they've proved themselves in other Pennsylvania gardens, they should do well in yours. Look for them at the garden center where you're buying plants. Also remember to ask garden center employees about what kind of annuals to plant in dry, wet, shady, or bright sun locations.
Put plants in the ground the right way
Do your plants have roots that are coming out of the holes in the bottom? Or are the roots making circles around the inside of the container? If you answered yes then you must do something to make the roots change the way they're going or they will never grow out of that little circle of soil. Break up the root ball enough to make sure the roots are going to grow into the soil where you're planting them. You won't hurt the plants! Just untangle the roots from that root ball and tease them out of the soil pack. Dig planting holes at the same depth as the soil in the pots. Carefully cover the top of the soil but try not to cover the place where the stems and leaves meet the soil surface. Do water the annuals after you plant them.
Keep the plants happy all summer
If you have: done a soil test, chosen the right plant for the right location, made sure the roots are going to grow into the soil, and planted your annuals properly, then you're well on your way to having beautiful, healthy plants. All summer you should be careful to water the plants deeply when they need water. Deep watering means letting the water soak down into the soil. To encourage large, colorful flowers you want to fertilize your annuals regularly (weekly or monthly) with either a balanced fertilizer (20-20-20) or organic amendments (fish emulsion, blood meal, etc.). When you use small amounts of fertilizer you are giving the plant as much fertilizer as it can use at one time. That's better for the plant and better for the environment!
Prepared by Lana R. Adams