by Sheryl Simons
Annuals are plants that usually die each year, but often reseed themselves for the next year. Perennials are plants that can live for years, even through our cold Michigan winters, and come back year after year. Biennials are plants that usually only last two years. The first year they grow and the second year they bloom and go to seed, thus ending their cycle with the death of that plant, but continuing through the new seeds. The new seeds may sprout almost as soon as they hit the dirt or they may wait until spring to sprout. Some seeds actually need cold weather to sprout!
Annuals often flower all summer, while biennials and perennials usually have a shorter bloom time. With most flowers, if the flower is clipped off (deadheaded), the plant will keep flowering to try to produce seeds. Once the seeds are produced, a plant tells itself its job is done. Plants like delphinium or phlox will often bloom again if flower stalks are clipped off as the blooms begin to fade. Bring them in and enjoy the last of the blooms!
Some of my favorite annuals are the ones that only need to be planted once! With some annuals, once we buy a flat, they will be part of our garden for years to come. Sunflowers, cleome, alyssum, daisies, pansies, and cosmos, among others, often reseed themselves. If you have them in certain places in your garden, you will always know where to expect them each year. The key is to be able to identify the tiny seedlings. For some, it may not be worth it. To me, it is. If I don't have to buy new plants every year, it feels like a bonus.
I discovered this quite by accident. When I started flower gardening, I didn't know that some annuals actually reseeded themselves. I thought all plants came in plastic boxes at a garden store. One of my favorite flowers, cosmo, grew in a certain area one year. The next year, when I went to plant something there, I saw some very tiny seedlings starting. Getting down nice and close, I realized that they were the baby cosmos! Ok, so now I rarely have to replant these, since I know what to look for. I just have to remember to start watering when I see the seeds starting to sprout. As they get several inches tall, I can move them around my garden, or share extras with friends.
You can also save seeds to use for the next year. I usually go around the garden and gather flower seeds, annuals and perennials to keep together for next year. I have quite a collection. If I mix them all together, I have my own seed mix for a great wildflower garden. Or I can keep them all separate. Don't put them into an airtight container until they are really nice and dry. I have a large tin that I keep them in all winter. That keeps hungry mice from helping themselves if they happen to find them in my garden shed. If you want to remember what they are for next year, put them in plain envelopes and label them.
Usually, the reason an annual doesn't come back is that it doesn't have the right conditions. When the tiny seeds sprout, they need regular moisture to keep growing, at least until they are sturdier. This is why it is sometimes easier to start some seeds indoors, and also to give them a head start. It's no fun to wait all summer to get some blooms from a slow grower.
So, here's to annuals and their steady summertime blooms!
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Sheryl Simons writes a weekly column about families, gardening, recipes and living the simple life.Take the Next Step:
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