KC Gardens

From store to soil: Follow these tips to help your annual flowers thrive this season

Beautiful marigolds and other annuals are calling from garden centers. Here’s how to help them thrive in your garden.
Beautiful marigolds and other annuals are calling from garden centers. Here’s how to help them thrive in your garden. Johnson County K-State Research and Extension

Garden centers all over town are bursting with color as truckloads of plants have arrived.

Bedding plants, or transplants, are a popular way to quickly add annuals and color to the landscape. Successful gardening comes from the careful selection of healthy plants, as well as proper care and planting after purchase.

Selecting vigorous plants requires looking at more than the pretty flowers. Examine the foliage for dry, papery areas, tip burn or wilting. These all indicate improper watering either during the production or at the retail outlet.

These symptoms are also signs of possible root damage. Poor roots and frail foliage will hamper establishment in the garden.

If the flowers are fully open and have started to fade, remove them at planting. This is necessary to avoid seed formation, which uses valuable energy needed by the plant to form roots. Removing the flower buds is hard, but the result is a bushier plant with more flowers.

Consider buying the plants green, or plants with buds not yet opened. These will establish quicker in the garden.

Before going to the garden center and purchasing the annuals, make sure the soil where they will be planted is adequately prepared.

Till the soil to a depth of at least 6 to 8 inches and add 3 to 4 inches of compost or other organic matter. The compost will help loosen up our heavy clay soils and provide nutrients for strong seasonal growth.

The key is to buy healthy plants and get them into the soil as quickly as possible. Plants that remain in their cell packs or containers for prolonged periods become stressed and stunted.

When planting the flowers, set them in the ground no deeper than they were in the container. If the roots are planted too deeply, they will starve for oxygen. Lightly pull the roots apart if tightly wound around the soil ball. This helps the roots reach out into the soil.

Water the plants after planting to settle the soil. During the summer, keep the plants evenly moist to promote proper growth. A light layer of mulch, about 2 inches deep, will help cool the soil and conserve moisture, along with controlling pesky weed growth.

Throughout the growing season, snip off the faded flowers or straggly stems as this keeps the plants producing more blooms instead of seeds. This is called deadheading.

One last tip, don’t forget to feed your plants. Annuals are heavy feeders as it takes a lot of energy to produce the growth and flowers.

No matter how you fertilize, continue feeding the plants until early September. Many of our annuals look their best once cooler fall conditions arrive.

Need help this gardening season? Remember that our gardening hotline is just a phone call away at (913) 715-7050. Our goal is to help you have the best growing season ever.

Dennis Patton is a horticulture agent with Kansas State University Research and Extension. Got a question for him or other university extension experts? You can also email them to garden.help@jocogov.org.

Related stories from Kansas City Star