Despite the task of having to replant them every year, gardeners love annuals. They provide abundant color, require little care besides watering and offer the flexibility of trying something new the next year. Annuals are most commonly planted in spring, although summer and fall may also be appropriate for planting in some regions. No matter where you live, however, one thing remains the same: Proper planting technique can go a long way toward growing healthy annuals!

Planting annuals

Clear away any mulch to make sure the rootball is planted in the soil.

Photo Credit: Andy Bame

Planting annuals

Use a spade to dig a hole deep enough that the rootball is covered, but not so deep that the plant is buried.

Photo Credit: Andy Bame

Planting annuals

Gently compact the soil around and just on top of the rootball to anchor the plant.

Photo Credit: Andy Bame

Planting annuals

Re-mulch if necessary or simply adjust the existing mulch around the plant.

Photo Credit: Andy Bame

Annuals are typically available in packs of three to six plants, or they come in small containers usually no larger than in a 6-inch pot. A common mistake in selecting annuals is to look only at the flowers. Remember, that flower will only be around for a few days – it’s the leaves that are going to support future growth and flowering for the season! So look for healthy, green leaves that cover the soil. If the leaves are gnarled-looking or if the plant appears unusually compact, don’t buy it – it may have been stunted sometime during development.

It’s a good idea to plant your annuals as soon as you can (weather permitting), but if you must delay planting once you bring them home, that’s okay. Most plants will be fine in the original container for a couple weeks – just don’t forget to water them! Plants left in containers tend to dry out quickly since they’re generally sold at “full size” for the growing container. Even if you plan to plant your annuals immediately after you return from the garden center, make your plants are wet just prior to planting, especially if it’s a warm day.

Now, how do you get your precious little beauties out of their cell packs and into your garden?

Have you ever tried to remove a plant from its plastic pack and end up tearing the top right off? It’s a frustrating experience! Instead of forcing the plant out while holding the cell pack down, loosen the rootball from the cell pack first by squeezing around the plastic cell and pushing up on the bottom. If the plant still won’t pull out easily, check the bottom of the cell pack to see if the roots have grown through the drainage holes. (Sometimes the roots intertwine, essentially locking the plants in place.) If this has happened, simply trim those roots off with pruners or scissors – or just tear them apart – the plant won’t miss them.

It’s best to plant in a prepared bed with loose, well-drained soil, and the only tool you’ll need is a spade. I like to lay my plants out first (right out of their packs), especially if I want to create a pattern of color. It’s also important at this stage to know the mature size of the plant you’re about to stick in the ground. Most annuals can be planted 6-8 inches apart when put in the bed, but some will be taller than others, and you probably don’t want the tallest plants at the front. After laying them out in your garden to give you an idea of what your bed will look like, use the spade to make a hole that’s deep enough for the entire rootball.

Annuals require fertilization for maximum growth and flowering. There are different ways to fertilize. Adding a spoonful of nutrient-rich plant food, like Osmocote®, into the hole before placing the plant into it will provide enough fertilizer for the season, resulting in a healthy, vibrant, bloom-productive plant. Another method is to top-dress an all-purpose granular fertilizer by sprinkling it around the plants after planting or incorporating it into the soil prior to planting. (When you water the plants and activate the fertilizer, be sure to wash off any granules that may have landed on the plants.) No matter which method you choose, remember to use a fertilizer that’s formulated for your growing needs, and always read the fertilizer label and apply the recommended dose on the product package.

Place the plant into the hole and back-fill with the surrounding soil, gently compacting the soil around the plant and just covering the rootball to make sure the hole is completely filled. After all your plants are put in place, remember to water them in. Adding a layer of mulch on top of the soil will retain moisture and keep the roots cooler. A variety of mulches are available at your local garden center, or you can gather and use your own natural mulch from your yard (like pine needles) if you like.

Keep a close watch on watering your annuals for the first couple of weeks while the roots grow out and the plants get established, and continue to monitor moisture levels throughout the season – you don’t want all your hard work to dry up as temperatures rise! Enjoy your flowers in all their blooming glory, and when those blooms start to fade, snip or pinch them off. This encourages your plants to make more flowers. With routine flower snipping and proper care, your annuals should give you a repeat color performance throughout the season!