Using Winter Annuals Effectively
For many, winter is just a dull and drab few months, best endured under a fluffy blanket next to a warm heater and definitely not out in the garden. This really need not be the case. Annuals, often called bedding plants or seedlings that bloom in late winter and early spring are indispensable in offering massed colour and interest when the rest of the garden is still "asleep". They can be planted from autumn right through to spring.
"Hot" colours (reds, yellows and oranges) are really hot at the moment and are especially useful in giving a winter's garden a feeling of warmth. Fortunately there are a number of outstanding bedding plants to help achieve this.
Also in vogue is the use of contrasting colours like yellow and black or violet and white. You can achieve this either through planting blocks of single colours next to one another or by using plants that combine them in a single bloom. For those that prefer something a little calmer on the eye there are a number of pastel shaded bedding plants available.
Generally speaking it's best to avoid clashing colours like orange and pink or yellow and blue. However, if you look at wild flowers you will often see these growing in the same field and looking very good together. But then Mother Nature does make up Her own rules so why can't you?
Because of the wide variety of winter bedding plants readily available, there is an equally huge number of ways they can be used. They thrive in containers, flowerbeds, hanging baskets and window boxes, basically anywhere you want to add a touch of living colour. Dwarf plants can be used for edging the front of your beds, creating a framework around which the rest of the bed is hung, while those that grow to a medium height are ideal for brightening up the centre of a bed. Plant the seedlings out en masse to create maximum visual impact. If it's a patio or front entrance you are looking to add a splash of colour to, plant up containers and hanging baskets. Many annuals are also well suited to growing in the well drained soil of rockeries.
Tips for success
Make sure that you start off with healthy seedlings bought from a reputable garden centre. Remember to check the label on the plant tray or ask the nurseryman about light requirements, and spacing. Water the seedlings a few hours before planting. Whenever possible grow annuals in a different part of the garden from a previous season, to reduce the risk of disease. Then prepare the area well by digging it over thoroughly and mixing in compost, 90g (a handful) each of superphosphate and a general fertiliser per m², and mix well to a spade depth.
Avoid pulling out seedlings by their leaves or stems. Rather push out the root ball from below. Make a hole in the bed with a trowel and place the seedling in at the same depth as it was in the container. Fill up around the plant and lightly firm the soil around the roots. Water well after planting and keep the soil moist until the plants are established. Once they are happy in their new home, water deeply only once the soil begins to dry out, rather than a daily sprinkling.
Remember to keep removing any old flowers (deadheading), to keep your beauties flowering for as long as possible.
Information supplied by the Bedding Plant Growers Association