Hardy annuals FAQs

Can you suggest some good hardy annuals to sow for summer colour?

Cornflower

It is always interesting to browse through seed catalogues and select some of the lesser-known hardy annuals. The following, however, are a few of the most deservedly popular: alyssum, anchusa, pot marigold (Calendula officinalis), candytuft (Iberis), clarkia, cornflower (Centaurea cyanus), hound’s tongue (Cynoghssum), star-of-the-veldt (Dimorphotheca aurantiaca), viper’s bugloss (Echium lycopsis), godetia, gypsophila, larkspur (Delphinium annual), mallow (Lauatera trimestris), poached-egg flower (Limnanthes douglasii), love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus), night-scented stock (Matthiola bicomis), mignonette (Reseda odorata), nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus), love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena), poppies (Papauer), annual scabious (Scabiosa atropurpurea), sunflower (Helianthus annuus), and sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus).

Do I need to make any special preparation of the soil before sowing my hardy annuals?

It is desirable to fork over the soil to a depth of about 100 mm (4 in), adding some organic matter, such as compost, peat, shredded bark, or well-rotted manure. After this, tread down the soil and rake it in several directions to remove clods of earth and create a fine seed-bed type of tilth.

When is the correct time to sow hardy annuals?

This varies, depending on the species or variety, but in general hardy annuals are sown where they are to flower in April. In particularly warm parts of the country some of the hardiest annuals can be sown the previous autumn, and the resulting plants will flower earlier than if they had been spring-sown. The best advice, however, is to follow the instructions on the seed packets.

What is the best way to sow hardy annual flowers?

Once the ground is prepared, use a pointed stick to mark out on the soil the ‘drift’ areas each type of plant is to occupy. For the best effect, these areas should be irregular in shape and allowed to overlap. Broadcast the seeds by scattering them very thinly, or make shallow drills (as in a seed bed) within each ‘drift’ area and sow in these. Lightly rake the soil to cover the seeds. Be sure to label each ‘drift’ with the name and variety of the plant sown. When the plants are 25-50 mm (1-2 in) high, thin them to the recommended distance apart and firm the soil around the remaining seedlings.

As to general conditions, sow the seeds when the soil is moist— neither soaking wet nor dry. Water regularly and thoroughly, with a fine spray, until the seedlings are growing healthily. When thinning, remove any weeds, otherwise they will compete with your annuals.

Can I use thinnings of hardy annuals elswhere or must I discard them?

If they are replanted immediately these seedlings can certainly be used to fill gaps in other borders and beds. If you have no room, a neighbour may welcome them.

What sort of general maintenance do my annuals need while they are growing and flowering?

They should be watered thoroughly and regularly during periods of drought and it is obviously good practice to keep the bed weeded. It may also be necessary to stake the taller plants with canes, twigs, or proprietary plant supports, especially in very windy areas. Plants such as tall-growing sweet peas (Lathyrus) and sunflowers (Helianthus) should be tied to their supports. Another important job is to remove dead flower-heads (except from everlasting flowers or those grown for their decorative seed heads, such as poppies and grasses), to prevent seed forming and to encourage the plants to continue flowering freely over a long season.

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