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Annual Checkup


By Paul James

Brutal heat. Pounding rains. Insect invasions. The last few weeks have been tough on plants of all kinds, and annuals in particular, from Ageratum to Zinnias. But you can rejuvenate them without too much effort so that they’ll continue to thrive and flower through fall by giving your annuals an annual checkup. Here’s how.

Deadhead. Okay, so deadheading — removing spent flowers — can be a drag, but it’s the surest way to encourage more blooms because once flowers fade, much of a plant’s energy goes into producing seed. Interrupting that process leads to more flower production. Plants that produce flowers on a single stem are fairly simple to deadhead, but if flowers are born on multiple stems and branches, there’s an easier way.

Shear. Rather than painstakingly removing individual flowers, shear the plant back a few inches, just above a set of leaves. By shearing the plant, you not only encourage more blooms, but potentially more side branching as well, which leads to even more blooms.

Fertilize. To give plants a boost after deadheading or shearing, apply a slow-release fertilizer such as Espoma Flower-Tone or Osmocote. One application should last the rest of the season.

Spray. Caterpillars and spider mites are two of the more common critters that attack annuals, and caterpillars are especially destructive to Petunias and Million Bells. Trouble is, they’re tiny, and you may not notice them until they’ve done a fair amount of damage. So inspect your plants often, looking for holes chewed in the leaves and developing flower buds. If you see any, spray right away with Bt, an organic control that destroys only caterpillars. Spider mites are tiny as well, and they reproduce like crazy. So if you see one, assume you have hundreds more, and spray right away with a product containing Spinosad, another organic control (I recommend Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew). And if you have both caterpillars and spider mites, use Spinosad because it’s effective against both invaders, as well as a host of other pests.

Water properly. When it comes to watering annuals, the Goldilocks rule applies — not too wet, not too dry, but just right. Most — not all, but most — gardeners tend to overwater annuals, which quickly leads to root rot.

Happy gardening, ya’ll.

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8 responses to “Annual Checkup”

  1. Greg Rosta says:

    Hi Paul,

    I have a couple of large Datura/Devil’s Trumpet in my yard that I deadhead each morning with the hopes that I get more of those intoxicatingly fragrant blooms each night. However, I have some Dianthus that I am less religious about deadheading, but I love just as much (in part due to their fragrance!). Can I use the shear method that you mention on Dianthus?

    Thanks as always for the great info, and I hope you are well!

    Regards,

    Greg

    • Paul James says:

      Greg — The shearing method won’t work on Datura. Sorry. But it will help on Dianthus. Interesting how you describe the scent of Datura flowers as intoxicating, since all parts of the plant are toxic. Stay safe.

  2. Bob White says:

    Paul, are the Tuesday evening talks gone for now?

  3. Cheryl Lee says:

    You make my day as always!
    I taught your son at Edison years ago

  4. Greg Rosta says:

    Thanks, Paul! I have a follow up question…Can I compost Datura, whether it be the ‘spent’ flowers I pull off each morning, or the plant itself at the end of the season? I have not done so due to its toxicity, but wasn’t certain.

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