Every spring, the local gardening centers fill up with enough plants to tempt even the most jaded gardener into impulse purchases. While some of the specimens on offer are workhorse perennials that will last for years with the right care and growing conditions, most of the available plants are annuals that are doomed to die once the temperatures start dropping. Some of them are worth buying as transplants but others can be easily grown and are worth attempting to grow from seed. Here’s what I’ve learned on that subject.
It drives me absolutely bonkers to see garden centers charging upwards of $3 for a pot of basil. Ladies and gents, you are being totally ripped off. The same is true for gardeners who buy cilantro, dill, parsley, and more obscure annual herbs rather than start their own. You can get a packet of seeds for less than that and…you know what? Those seeds will produce just as much, if not more, of the plant in question for a lower price. Even gardeners that want several different kinds of a particular herb would still do better to purchase several packets of seeds, especially since most seeds will keep for several years if they’re stored in a cool, dry place.
It is not a very time consuming process to grow your own herbs, even if the parsley does have to be soaked overnight in water. All you have to do with most herbs is fill your chosen containers full of potting soil, sprinkle the seeds on top, and cover them up with a dusting of soil. Then simply water the whole thing and sit it in the sun. Even in the midst of an unexpected move, I managed to get small pots started of dill, parsley, and basil. I would have had chervil too but the caveat to what I said earlier is that there are some seeds that don’t keep for long periods of time and chervil seems to be one of them.
By comparison, annual flowers like pansies, violas, snapdragons and so forth are so cheap that purchasing them fully grown is probably not going to put any significant dents in your wallet. I’m just as guilty as the next person with loading up on a few colorful specimens for my yard when these plants start making an appearance in my local garden center. The fact remains that the cheery flowers generally marketed as summer annuals are lucky to make through June where I live, yet resistance seems futile.
For the sake of an experiment one year, I planted pansies and English lavender. The former never came up at all and the seedlings of the latter died two weeks after their arrival once the outdoor temperatures got stuck at 80 plus. I should have known better in the case of the English lavender because what we consider a nice spring day here is very likely considered murderously hot weather over there. Over here, culinary lavender is definitely an annual but I hadn’t expected it to croak straight away. Lesson learned.
My attempts to find a heat resistant, low maintenance flowering annual have nonetheless resulted in a few modest successes. I have never had any trouble getting zinnias to grow from seed. They do well in full sun during the summer and produce lots of colorful blooms, but they can sometimes have problems with powdery mildew. I’ve also had similar luck with sunflower vines and gomphrena. They’re both great except for a pronounced affinity for powdery mildew. I since discovered that dwarf sunflowers are the clear winner of the annual flower category as long as you don’t attempt to transplant them. They withstand the summer heat and sun without any disease problems or excessive wilting. However, this year the leaves on mine have been pretty well shredded so the sunflowers may need the occasional splash of bug spray or they may simply be averse to traveling long distances in an open flat bed truck.
The truth about vegetables is that some of them hate being transplanted and are likely to keel over dead as a result. Or they will be so lackluster in production that they’ll be the real wallflowers at the garden party this summer. You should probably start these directly in the place where they’ll be spending their short lives, even if you buy the rest of your summer veggies as starts from a garden center.
Cucumbers, lettuce, and peas are said to react badly to transplanting so I’ve never risked doing that to any of them. However, I personally had the worst possible transplanting experience with a pumpkin that outgrew its’ container. For months, it refused to respect its’ boundaries and so I decided to intervene. The vine ended up dying a day later, which probably means plant whispering is not my forte even if I’m a fairly good gardener.
The lesson learned is: don’t touch the pumpkins once they’re in place. The Fairy Godmother in Cinderella was clearly an experienced magician to have one survive her ministrations but, then again, nobody wanted pumpkin pie from that particular specimen. With that in mind, I’m signing off and wishing all of you the best of luck with the so-called ‘summer annuals’ that you’ve probably already bought to brighten up your yards.