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Hardy annuals

5 October 2011
Hardy annuals

Article courtesy of Amateur Gardening - Britains leading weekly Gardening magazine available each Tuesday.

It’s time to get next year’s colour sorted out, by sowing a few hardy annuals outdoors

After the cool, grey summer we had this year I’m craving colour. And in my view absolutely the best colour in any garden comes from annual flowers. These include the tender summer bedding types that we plant out in spring, and the hardy annuals that can be sown now for flowering next summer.

In my desperation for colour I’m sowing a few of the hardy types now. These will develop good root systems before the weather turns really cold, and as a result will survive the winter – even cold ones like we had last year – outdoors.

More than this, hardy annuals sown now will flower a little earlier than those of the same types but were not sown until spring.
There are three ways to sow hardy annuals. The first involves sowing an area of them, where they are to flower. This really is the favourite way to grow them as many hardy annuals hate root disturbance – and this of course means that they will stay in the same place from sowing to digging up and composting.
The second way to sow hardy annuals is to sow seeds into a nursery bed, and when the seedlings are large enough are transferred to the place where they are to flower. This is more successful with some than others.
And the third way is to sow them in pots or trays, for pricking out and potting on in spring.

Use sand to demarcate areas within the bed or border for sowing different varieties of hardy annual. With neighbouring drifts of annuals, draw the seed drills in different directions so as to avoid any chance of regimented lines of plants appearing

Soil preparation

The best place to sow hardy annuals is in a bed or border sited in full sun and away from trees. Fork over the soil, digging in well-rotted garden compost as you go. Do not all fertileser at this stage. Tread over the area with your heels, and then rake it level and to produce an even and crumbly surface. Large island beds can be sown with many different types of annual, or you can just sow one or two different varieties in a gap in a mixed border. In this case, for a worthwhile block of colour, the gap will need to be at least 2 1/2ft (75cm) wide and/or deep.

Sowing hardy annuals

1 Sow some seed now, and keep the remainder until spring, so that you can top-up in case of failures. It is best to store the seed in tins where mice cannot get to them

2 Packets of mixed seed contain, not surprisingly, seeds of different shapes and sizes. These are better for sowing ‘broadcast’ – sprinkling the seed thinly over the soil and then gently raking it in. Always choose a mild, windless day when the soil is moist

3 Areas within large beds or borders can be marked out using sand to show where the drifts of will be. Within each marked out area, make short seed drills, with a cane, and thinly sow the seeds into the drills

4 Sweet pea seeds, after they have been soaked overnight (see above), should be sown in pots for planting outside in spring. Four to six seeds per 5in (13.5cm) pot is about right

5 It is particularly important to label hardy annuals sown outside; without labeling you will soon forget what was sown where, and it may not be until spring before you can identify what is what