So, what's your annual plan?

GREEN SPACES

Working in the garden is certainly laborious. But once flowers bloom, the effort seems worth it. The best varieties to choose for your garden are fast-growing seasonal plants called annuals, writes Surabhi Johri.

The best way to infuse colour into your garden is to use a lot of flowers. Annuals infuse cheery colours and can brighten up a garden. Annuals are fast-growing seasonal plants and complete their lifecycle within a span of few months. Those few months happen to be the ideal season for such varieties.

Flowers such as marigold, zinnia, nasturtium or watercress, snapdragons, pansies, petunia, sweet pea, calendula, poppy, calliopsis, celosia, salvia, coleus, cosmos, dahlia, foxglove, impatiens, hollyhock, amaranthus, sunflower, morning glory, etc. are some examples of annuals. They cannot grow in shade gardens because they require a lot of sunlight. But they can grow in both small and big gardens.

These annuals need sunshine because they have a short time to complete their lifecycle. Hence they need plenty of sunlight to grow. However, depending on the degree of shade, a few may flower in shade gardens as well. Annual flower seeds are a big market, both for the seed and nursery industry, contributing to around one-fourth of the annual seed production. Thus they are a staple in the global agricultural industry. Annuals are raised from seeds and some seeds take longer to germinate. Therefore, it takes several months of work to develop a suitable transplant.

A gardener can either germinate seeds or purchase ready-to-bloom annuals from nurseries.

While purchasing ready seedlings is easy, raising from seeds is economical. Moreover, conserving seeds is better because the variety that you wish to grow may not be easily available as a transplant in the market.

However, raising from seeds may not be worth one’s effort in the case of hybrid varieties. Owing to the latest genetic techniques, hybrids now come in new colours and sizes. Yet, due to their hybrid nature, certain characteristics cannot be reproduced from seeds of the previous season. It is necessary to purchase fresh seeds for transplantation, if one is using hybrid varieties because seeds of the previous season give rise to plants with mixed characteristics. For example, if you have sowed seeds from a purple and white ribbon periwinkle in the first season, the second season’s sowing will give some white flowers, some purple, and a few ribbon.

Choosing the best

Because transplants are expensive as compared to raising seeds, it helps to know how to select promising transplants. Always look at the foliage; it should be full but not overgrown. The plant should be compact. An erect stem and well-branched, crisp leaves are indicators of a healthy plant. The leaves should not be brown or yellow in colour, nor should they have droopy, long stems. Plants that are in bloom are a temptation but avoid them because the bloom will not last long and you will be left with an annual in the last phase of its lifecycle.

Growing annuals is a labour-intensive task, compared to biennials or perennials. Every season, one has to start with the seeds, raise the transplants, prepare the bed, transplant, watch out for pests and diseases and then remove those annuals whose flowering has dwindled because they reduce the charm of the garden. Definitely, maintaining an entire garden of annuals is a demanding job. But small portions dedicated to colour can be maintained with suitable planning and timely action. Certain tricks can be employed in order to enjoy the beauty of these flowers for a longer period. Plucking off spent blooms is the simplest way of retaining their beauty for a longer duration. Also, by doing this, the energy of the plant is not spent on setting seed but in giving out more buds.

Because annuals are available in a wide range of colours, one can create an amazing colour palette in the garden. If you know the colour of the flower and habit of the plant, it helps in getting better results. You can combine their characteristics suitably with other plants and create your own picturesque combinations. To create aesthetic gardens, gardeners have to use their experience and knowledge to create unique displays. So, this season, go ahead and unleash the colour in you garden.

(The writer is a landscape consultant.)

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