Gardening: Add some perennials in with your summer annuals

Eileen Ward

The winter annuals have faded in this hot, spring weather. It’s time to remove them and think about summer color.

When you replant the flower, beds add some perennials in with your summer annuals for color that will live on year after year. The average age of a perennial is three to eight years.

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They are available in almost all colors with a variety of foliage shapes and sizes. Perennials are good companion plants with a hedge as a background or added around those annual groupings. They do like their space so don’t plant them close to their neighbor. You can add a spot of color anywhere in your yard using a few properly placed perennials. Next to a favorite rock or at the front door or in a small lanai garden.

Although many perennial flowers do not bloom all the time, some only for a few weeks, their contribution to the garden is constant as the foliage that remains is also an asset to the garden design. The aim in planting perennials should be an attractive blend of foliage and a continuing succession of color.

Orange chrysanthemum flowers background

As with annuals you should know the plant preference for light, water, etc., and plant your perennials in the proper place to assure them a long and healthy life. Prepare your soil with good organic matter as you would for annuals. Perennials are hardier and not as demanding as annuals. Purchase healthy, vigorous plants and put them in as soon as you get home. Remember, don’t crowd too many plants into a small space.

Site preparation is a very important first step. You should spade or till the soil six inches deep in advance of planting. Our sandy soils have very low nutrient and water holding capacities. By incorporating two to three inches of organic matter into the planting beds you will increase the nutrient and water holding capacity of the soil. Organic material such as cow manure and peat should be thoroughly mixed into the soil.

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The beds should be fertilized prior to or at planting time. Controlled release fertilizers, such as Osmocote and Dynamite, are ideal for Florida's sandy soil. They don't require application as frequently as rapid release fertilizers - every two to five months compared with monthly. Fertilizers can be incorporated uniformly throughout the soil before planting and applied on the soil surface of established plant beds.

Treating the soil with a fungicide will help to control soil borne fungi and a nematicide, if needed, for control of nematodes. Nematodes can reach damaging levels where susceptible annuals are grown repeatedly. Finally, absorbent granules like Terrasorb or Soil Moist retain and slowly release water to give your plants an extra lift through the dry season. Incorporate any treatments throughout the soil before planting or into each planting hole as you plant.

A gaillardia is a great annual that can be planted this month.

When planting loosen the root ball of the plant gently without breaking the soil ball. This will help the plants recover rapidly and become established quickly. Water after planting and water daily until the plants have become established, usually within a week. Mulching materials should not come in contact with plant stems. The high moisture environment created by mulch increases the chance of stem rot which can result in plant death.

The best method of reducing insect or disease problems is to keep the plants growing vigorously and free from stress.

Cultural practices that should help to reduce insect and disease problems are as follow:

  • Select a planting site which provides desirable growing conditions for a particular flower.
  • Avoid planting in corners where light intensity and air circulation are minimal as this can increase pest and disease problems.
  • Keep plants growing vigorously by following a regular fertilization and irrigation schedule.
  • Avoid frequent wilting since water stressed plants are more susceptible to infestation by thrips and red spider mites.
  • Remove spent flowers from plants to keep the plant from going to seed as this will result in fewer and fewer and finally no flowers.
  • Prevent pathogenic fungal spores from germinating by keeping water off plants as much as possible, watering at the soil line rather than overhead sprinkling, and providing good air circulation by allowing ample space between plants at planting.
  • Remove weeds from flower beds since they are frequently host to insects and disease organisms.

As a rule, perennials are very healthy, but you should monitor your plants for pest and disease problems regularly and either remove the pest or diseased part of the plant or treat with the appropriate insecticide or fungicide.

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When the plant clump gets too big or is dying in the middle, dig it up and pull it apart. Discard the dead parts and share the good sections with a neighbor or spread more cheer to another spot in your own garden. Most plants that bloom in the spring may be safely divided in the fall and those that bloom later should be divided in early spring.

Diversify your gardens this year and add some perennials. Then when it’s time to remove your winter or summer annuals your garden won’t be completely bare. Those lovely perennials will continue to brighten the garden for years to come.

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Eileen and Peter Ward have owned a landscape and lawn maintenance company for 35 years. Eileen can be reached at Gswdmarco@comcast.net or 239-394-1413.

Following are some examples of perennials and summer annuals for our area

  • Bleeding heart - partial shade or full sun
  • Blue daze - full sun
  • Bush daisies - full sun or partial shade
  • Caladium - shade
  • Calla lily - partial shade
  • Cannas - full sun
  • Chrysanthemums - full sun
  • Coleus - full sun or partial shade
  • Coreopsis - full sun
  • Dahilias - full sun
  • Daylilies - full sun or partial shade
  • Gaillardia - full sun
  • Gerbera - full sun
  • Kalanchoe - full sun or partial shade
  • Lantana - full sun
  • Mexican heather - full sun
  • Orchids - depends on variety
  • Pentas - full sun
  • Scavola - full sun
  • Shasta daisy - full sun
  • Shrimp plant - full sun
  • Verbena - full sun
  • Zinnia - full sun