Sunday, March 3, 2013

What and How To Grow: Flowering Annuals,(Just an Overview)

Verbena bonarensis with a scattering of pink cosmos are pictured above.

I typically do not grow a lot of annual flowers. In the family garden, because there is nothing like very small gardeners being able to pick flowers for their mommy, I planted (direct-sown), with their help and capable seed scattering "technique", thick rows of zinnias, bachelor buttons, teddy sunflowers (because they are short, the flower heads at eye-level for children), and cosmos.

In my home garden, where I can not plant flowers in thick rows, I tend to skip annuals with the exception of anything that manages to self-sow reliable each year that I also do not weed out as an unidentifiable seedling. My annuals go into pots. And, when I finally get around to potting up my pots, whatever I have on hand and pick up as a spontaneous purchase shopping greenhouses in the Spring with my mother is what goes into my pots.

A couple of reasons for this, I grow and save from year to year a lot of coleus. With their colorful foliage, who needs a flowering whatever? Also, I have a lot, and I do mean a lot, of perennials I can pot up in an annual pot. My larder runneth over, literally. I have maybe 3,000 potted perennials and shrubs sitting in a back corner of my parents' dairy farm.

Yeah, that's a confession, huh? Now you realize why my FB picture is in black and white. Otherwise, you would see how green I really am, not just my thumb...

So, other than the fact that I do not have a greenhouse or a cold hoop house, I have enough plants to replant my entire yard two or three times over, if I desired.

I have a "grow room" in my house with two light rack set up on which I can grow 24 flats of seedlings, with room for an additionally 10, if I really pimp it up with a huge kleig light and put the low-lighters in the bay of south windows. Do the math, that's like 9,000 seedlings if I plant up too many of those 288-count trays, and even conservatively it's nearly 1,500 transplants if I stick to the 32-count flats (which unfortunately, I don't).

If you would walk through my kitchen, you would see the progress of my seed starting frenzy. At least a dozen Ziplocks tapped to the side of my fridge, each with a moist coffee filter with seeds doing their busy work of germination. Each baggie is labeled with name and date I first placed in the bag. Some spent some time in the fridge before moving on to hang on the outside which has got to be a better neighborhood. Who wants to spend weeks sitting next to cottage cheese and zesty salsa, after all?

Moving on, once they have sprouted, the seeds get space of their own, either a cell in a 288-count seed starting tray or a 32-count flat under lights in the grow room. This is my method for the flowering annuals and any perennials. The vegetable transplants get star status from the start with a domed germinating tray sitting on a heat mat under lights.

Right now under the lights are about four dozen mixed perennials, three dozen agrostemma, a dozen silver sage salvia, 4 dozen blue ageratum, a dozen laurentia, and cleomes, two dozen white four o'clocks, a nice assortment of herbs,a few dozen green love-lies-bleeding, delphiniums, and nicotiana langsdorfii, and easily a hundred cuttings taken from coleus, airplane plants, dragon wing begonias and fuschias. (Did you notice I didn't mention I had started any tomatoes or peppers! That, too needs to happen in the next ten days!)

I also have five-spot, white cup and saucer vine, and others, remember hanging out on the fridge. This includes verbena bonarensis, which is not germinating.


Yes, it spent a month with the salsa (or actually a few different jars of salsa). Yes I checked the coffee filter, still moist. I will say this was uncleaned seed collected by me two years ago. Sometimes time is a germinatrix's friend, other times her foe. I will say on examining the seed today, it was just a tad easier to discern the seeds from the chaff. Possibly, this is because the seeds are swelling. I always thing of enormous energy this small explosion of life entails, like that stevia commercial. Hopefully, between the few self sowers in my garden and these nascent plantlings I will have enough to create an airy drift mingled with the n. langsdorfii and possible the towering white woodland tobacco.

You might notice I have chosen a lot of white (night) blooming annuals. I so enjoy the way they seem to glow at twilight reflecting the very long rays of the setting sun. I have also found there is a whole group of night pollinating insects that I adore, particularly the hummingbird moth.

Unlike my three pair of actual resident hummingbirds who scold me for not creating even longer borders filled with honeysuckle and red monarda (and not regularly refilling the hummingbird feeder and stupidly nest within reach of feral cats), the hummingbird moth is friendly, seemingly domesticated with no fear. It allows long periods of observation without the swooping sword play in which hummingbirds engage and is a pollinator worth attracting to the garden. Because of their resemblance to the hummingbird, they seem almost magical and very non-insect-like. Face it, if I saw a cockroach that large, I'd either squash it or move. (Yeah, Southerners, your property values are safe from at least this chicken-livered northern gardener!)

You have probably also noted, I have not mentioned petunias and impatiens in my seed-starting frenzy. They are so commonly available commercially, whereas I seldom find white woodland tobacco or verbena bonarensis (that other verbena, I just don't get/understand!).

Also, I have seen an alarming trend for growers to use all sorts of chemicals to control growth, flowering, and branching or annuals. Any premium annuals started from plugs are increasingly being started using a supposedly bio-degradeable pot lining material. When I have a premium annual that just didn't deliver, just sat there and never achieved the look I envisioned, I check out its rootball in the fall. There at the heart of the matter is that rooting fabric that the cutting's roots just never seemed to escape.

In addition to actually getting the annuals I want, having those annuals perform in the way I expect them, lastly cost. For example, five dozen delphiniums, the seed cost me $1.19. I recycle my plant starting trays from year to year, My electric bill increases maybe $30-$40 over the late winter growing season, and the dirt is my own soil, with about $10 of perlite and spaghum moss mixed in over all the thousands of plants I grow.

So pick a flowering annual you won't find at the big box store, and be amazing.


  1. 3,000!?! Sheesh. Good post. I envy you indoor seed sowing operation. I do like to use impatients, though I think I'll give them a pass this year because of the new mildew problem. I am able to buy Nicotiana sylvestris at a couple of places here. I also like to use Zinnias, Cleome, and Cosmos as fillers.

  2. Lots of information on your blog today. I do say you have many seeds growing in your house! I too like the evening blooming flowers because there are insects that one can see at that time that one would never see during the day. Great advice. Jack

  3. That was quite comprehensive and entertaining. This post would surely help those who are thinking of growing flowering annuals. Anyway, keep posting. Thank you so much for these tips! :)