Annual Flowers and the Annual Border

There is no cheaper way of having a lovely flower border than by sowing annuals, for an annual is a plant that grows from seed, flowers, produces more seed and dies with twelve months. Normally annuals are sown in the spring to flower in the summer, but there are some hardy annuals that can be sown in August or September and live through the winter to flower earlier in the spring in consequence.

Position

All annuals like an open sunny position and prefer a nice South border and good soil but not specially rich soil. Some, like nasturtiums, prefer poor soil. Nasturtiums, if they grow in rich land, make a mass of leaves and few flowers.

Soil Preparation

See that the strip of ground in which the annuals are to be sown is so cultivated that all perennial weeds are elimin-ated. The land should be shallowly dug or forked in the autumn so as to allow the surface of the ground to become pulverized by the frost and winds. During the forking sedge peat can be added at the rate of a bucketful to the square metre. It will be easy to get the surface down to a fine state of tilth, as it is called, in which the small seeds will grow well.

Give a second light forking at least a fortnight before seed sowing, to allow the land to settle. It is a bad thing to sow small seeds on what is called a hollow seed bed. Tread the ground firmly before sowing or the baby seeds may be lost in air crevices. Should the ground be sticky it is useless to attempt to prepare it until it has dried somewhat. A seed bed should be moist but never gluey.

Lime and Liming

The ground must not be acid and so normal dressings of \ lime should be given. An annual border might receive hydrated lime every fourth year in January at 105 to 140 g/m2 (3 to 4 oz per sq yd). Some annuals, scabious for in- , stance, like a light sprinkling of lime each year on the strip of land where they are to grow.

Seed Sowing

For the annual flower border the seed should be sown in drifts in a similar way that planting is done in the case of the herbaceous border. Having perpared the ground and raked it level and seen that it is firm, it is possible then to scratch with a pointed stick, drifts of varying shapes into which the seeds of the various kinds of annuals are to be – sown. These odd-shaped ‘patches’ should have the annual seed sown very thinly in them. Naturally the shorter plants will be sown towards the front of the border, the moder- \ ately growing ones about the middle of the border and the taller ones at the back.

As each kind of seed is sown in its particular little drift, the patch should be labelled clearly. Some people take the \ trouble to make a plan of their border first of all on squared \ paper and having drawn the drifts on this in pencil and labelled each one carefully, they then transfer their paper \ plan on to the actual strip of land concerned.

Having sown the seeds very thinly, rake the ground over lightly just to cover them. In very dry weather it may be worth while giving a good watering a day or two later through the fine rose of a can, but if the soil has been properly prepared and damped peat incorporated this overhead irrigation should not really be necessary. Those who feel they cannot sow thinly enough should mix the seed with dry sand. You need about 4 times the amount of sand to , seed. If you want to see the seed as it falls on to the ground it is a good plan to whiten it well with lime before sowing.

Thinning

Any seed may be tiny and an annual flower seed usually is. It may produce a very tall plant. The Larkspur is an example. The seed is about the size of a pin’s head and yet I have known the plants to grow to 2 m (6 ft) high and be 1 m (3 ft) or so across. Naturally, all annuals do not grow as high. I merely mention the fact to show the need for thinning the plants out as soon as they come through, for however much I stress thin sowing, people never do it sufficiently well. So thin to give the plants plenty of room for development. A plant that grows 225 mm (9 in) high will want about 225 mm (9 in) of room. Give it 112 mm (4½ in) on either side.

Some people take the trouble to thin three or four times. They thin out first of all, say, 25 mm (1 in) apart and then to 50 mm (2 in) apart and so on. By doing this they are able to transplant the baby thinnings to any blank spots in the border that may appear. In this way gapping up can be done successfully. The annuals sown in late August or mid September are often not thinned out till the following February or March. They are allowed to grow on through the winter somewhat thickly with the idea that one plant protects another. During thinning a certain amount of hand weeding can be done and it is necessary to be able to recognize weed seedlings from annuals.

Those who are growing annuals for the first time would do well to sow a few seeds of each kind they are going to grow in a box, placed in the greenhouse or even in a warm room near the light. See that the soil in the box is watered regularly and that the rows of annuals are labelled. As a result the plants in the box will be up and recognizable some three weeks or so before those growing out-of-doors, and the beginner with have no difficulty in recognizing each variety when thinning.

Cultivations

In an annual border of this type with drifts of one kind of annual growing, as it were, into another, it is very difficult to use the hoe at all. With care it is possible to do a certain amount of stirring between plants by using a Dutch hoe almost perpendicularly and just cutting through the top 12 mm (£ in) of soil in order to kill weed seeds just as they are germinating. This work has of course to be done in and around the annuals after they have been thinned.

To prevent weeds from growing, garden owners should cover the bed with powdery brown home-made compost 25 mm (1 in) deep all over the bed and in between and among the sown annuals. Those who have not made their own compost will use medium grade sedge peat instead. This organic mulching will prevent the annual weeds from growing and thus no hoeing will be necessary.

Staking

Annuals grow very quickly and in consequence need staking early. They do not have quite the same resistance as perennials and thus they are easily damaged by wind or heavy rain. The ideal method of support is by the use of pea sticks pushed in and among the plants. The smaller the plant, the shorter the twiggy stick used. The annuals grow up in and among the twiggy supports provided. They hide the sticks and yet grow naturally. The only annuals that are grown up bamboos, as a rule, are sweet peas which are often provided with individual 2.5 m (8 ft) canes.

In the annual border they grow satisfactorily up a group of hazel or beech sticks and make a nice clump in consequence.

Dead Flower Removal

Keep removing the dead flower heads. Never allow the annuals to go to seed. You will thus prolong the flowering period of the great majority of annuals, and in addition, the plants will have a much tidier appearance.

Watering and Mulching

If waterings have to be done in a dry summer do not give light sprinklings but soak the ground thoroughly either in the evening or early in the morning. Use one of those whirling sprinklers attached to a hose for the purpose, and leave the sprinkler in position for half an hour. Then move it for the next half hour to another part of the border so that a good quantity of artificial rain is given. Apply damp sedge peat in among the plants to a depth of 25 mm (1 in) in the summer to help conserve the moisture in the ground.

Going on Holiday

If you are going on holiday for a fortnight or so and the annual border is in full flower, it is worth while cutting back all the plants fairly severely to prevent seeding taking place while you are away. Then when you return, the border should be in full bloom again.

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