Annuals fulfill purpose by adding color, punch to garden

I talk too much. Three times this past week I have invited interested gardeners over to look at this creation. Now, I said “interested” and they are but when I start going into way too much detail and their eyes glaze over I should take the hint. Live and learn. Plus, I don’t have time to go into all this detail. There is work to be done.

For instance all of the annuals are in place. If you have yet to get yours planted please remember two things about annuals: 1) they need to be pinched back. This will make for bushy luscious bloomy plants. Which is what you want. And if it isn’t what you want then you are in the wrong game. 2) Tuck them down into the soil, go ahead, bury that stem. This goes for all of your vegetables (notice I don’t use the non-word “veggie” — it’s baby talk and even babies don’t need that). The more root mass plants can acquire the faster they will acclimate to their surroundings and the faster you will get results. Excellent. 

I am putting in more annuals than I have in years. I started flats and flats of all my favorites. And, as of today, I am questioning that move. Why? Because the annuals from last year have self-sown with gusto. I took a seed head from a Lauren’s Grape poppy and sprinkled it here and there. Yes, you are correct, there are now MILLIONS of Lauren’s Grape poppy EVERYWHERE. Good grief. I am giving them away by the trowelful. This overabundance includes California poppies, nemophilia (baby blue eyes), and unidentifiable whatevers. I have learned my lesson. I hope.

Annuals are so easy to start from seed and the seedlings always look so promising, how can I not plant all of them? By using common sense. Last year I felt the perennial beds were not colorful enough, not abundant enough, overall lacking punch. So I vowed that wouldn’t happen this year and I have overcompensated. We’ll see. 

Annuals will give you color long after your perennials have faded. This is their purpose in our gardens. They will be colorful and healthy until the frost takes them down and even then pansies will hang in there. You will keep them deadheaded, which is the process of pinching off the spent blooms before they go to seed. This will encourage them to keep blooming. Once the end (who wants to think of the end?) is near you will allow seed heads to develop and cast their seeds about willy nilly and when the next spring comes around you will be faced with the proliferation of annuals that I am faced with now. Good luck. 

I go ahead and start annuals every year because I don’t have faith. I don’t believe that they really will go to seed and offer up seedlings the following spring. Because some years they don’t. And I need to be ready for that year. I will NOT be without annuals. 

We need to address floating row cover. I am a huge proponent of this material. It prevents the fly that lays the egg that will become a root maggot that will destroy every single one of your cole crops. But there is a catch: it will increase the soil temperature and as our climate changes and it gets warmer and warmer it will become too warm for the cole crops to thrive. They want cool temperatures. Warm means they won’t thrive. They won’t end up in your freezer. They will fail you. 

So there is a fine line between leaving it on and taking it off. This also depends on your elevation. The gardener at 1,000 feet will leave their floating row cover on longer than say someone at 700 feet. I really think every foot in elevation makes a difference in what and how you grow. If you are new to all of this seek out a gardening neighbor. We have much to learn from each other. 

On to the spruce aphid. We planted seven spruce when we moved to this location almost 18 years ago. There wasn’t anything here but alder and grass. We added two more about three years ago. One of the criteria for encouraging the aphids is a lack of water. No. Our most affected spruce is  planted in a soggy, marshy, rather nasty area. Plenty of water there. So we have read the literature on what our options are and decided on washing off the aphids with water from a hose. We attempted this and may I say that it is somewhat like spitting in the wind. We will now acquire a pressure washer and have a go with that. I am loath to introduce a pesticide to the environment. As much as I love these spruce, if water can’t save them, I will kiss them goodbye. Horrors. 

And this brings me to the vegetable garden and greenhouse. It’s too soon to tell if the cutworms and slugs (yes, there are slugs already and they are doing damage) will win or I will win but we are in full blown battle. Wish me luck. 

I am leaving the peas covered, the sparrows will make a mess of them in jig time. We have encouraged the birds by planting shrubs and trees and there are times when we pay for that encouragement. Do I want peas or golden crowned sparrows? I want both. So the peas will stay covered. 

The strawberries are in bloom. Our 7-year-old grandson, Luca, is optimistically counting the blooms and anticipating an excellent harvest. Ah, youth! So far the raspberries are gorgeous but I am already hosing them down when I water to combat potential aphids. Just to be sure. 

Take a look in your greenhouse. My tomatoes need to be staked, one was tipping over yesterday and you don’t want that to happen, it could snap off. Yes, it will regenerate from the root, but you will lose time in making a harvest and you certainly don’t want that to happen. I have completely forgotten, until this very moment, to start basil. Goodness. I have  changed my technique. I fill a pot with compost and sprinkle seed on the surface, lightly cover with more compost and leave in the greenhouse. I usually start three pots like this and get cut-and-come-again all season. But I need to get them started. Off I go.

Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener. She has been writing Kachemak Gardener since 1990.