Starting your annuals the right way

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Annuals are among the most popular of all flowering plants, loved by gardeners around the world for their color, hardiness, variety and beauty.  Since annuals must be planted afresh every year, however, it is important to start them properly in order to have a fresh vibrant garden.

What sets annuals apart from other varieties of plants like perennials and bulbs is that annuals complete their entire life cycle within a single season.  That means they sprout from seed, grow, bloom, then die to ground all within one growing season.

Most types of annuals can be successfully started from seeds, and many experienced gardeners prefer to grow their plants from seed.  Growing from seed provides a greater degree of control, and a lower costs as well.  Most types of annuals can be successfully seeded directly in prepared seed beds.  That approach allows the annuals to be started indoors and then transplanted outdoors at a later date. 

For those who prefer not to grow their annuals directly from seed, they can also be purchased as ready to plant transplants.  This approach allows the gardener to see the results of his or her efforts more quickly, and it can also allow the gardener to choose the healthiest, most robust plants.

Most annual varieties, whether they are purchased on the internet or directly from a garden center, will include some sort of instruction sheet detailing the recommended care, the best time to plant, the best planting depth and the recommended plant spacing.  If this information is not provided, it is important to ask about these things.

Some annuals that are recommended for planting in late winter or early spring can be planted instead in late fall where the weather is warmer.  In addition, most annuals planted outdoors should be thinned out to their recommended spacing once they have developed their first true leaves.

If annual seeds are to be started indoors for transplantation at a later date, it is important that the seedlings have access to a light source for at least 16 hours every day.  Seedlings that do not get sufficient light will be spindly and weak, and they may be unable to survive the rigors of the great outdoors.

Most summer annuals should be seeded indoors from six to eight weeks before the first frost.  When planting seeds, it is important to carefully follow the directions on the label.  Seeds should always be started in a sterile seed starting mixture, and the seeding flats you use should provide proper drainage.

It is important to wait until all risk of frost has passed before planting tender varieties of annuals.  The reason for this is that even if tender annuals are able to survive the lower temperatures, they will not grow well until the soil is warm.

Winter annuals, on the other hand, should be planted a minimum of six weeks prior to the date the first frost usually occurs.  This time is needed to give the roots sufficient time to develop before winter sets in.

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