Once established, many annual plants are relatively carefree. However, as is true of all plants, some tender loving care is needed to keep them healthy and attractive.
If not done before planting, it is beneficial to mulch the flower bed before heat of summer sets in. This will keep the soil cool, retain moisture, and help with weed control.
Annual flowers use about the same amount of water as does lawn, equal to about ¼ in. per day during July and August. In most Idaho soils, this means approximately 1 in. of water should be applied every 4 to 5 days. In sandy soils, less water should be applied on a more frequent basis. The amount of water applied should be cut back during the cooler spring months, the late fall, and during those infrequent periods of rain. The simplest method of judging water need is to wait between irrigations for the top 1-2 in. of soil to dry.
In most loam soils, preplant fertilization may be adequate to provide basic nutrient needs for annual plants. However, under conditions of sandy soils or long growing season, there may be benefit in adding a small amount (equivalent of 2-3 lb nitrogen per 1000 sq. ft.) of a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen. Sprinkle the fertilizer on the soil surface and water it in. Make the application in late June or about the time the flowers reach peak bloom.
Some annuals need a little attention to appearance to remain attractive. Plants that look thin and leggy can be forced to produce more lateral growth by shearing or pinching off the growing point of each stem. Plants that fall down or become floppy may need to be staked or interplanted with stiffer, more upright types of plants. Many annuals either do not shed dead flowers or produce seed heads, thus reducing production of additional flowers and making the plants less attractive as the summer progresses. This can be solved by occasionally removing the dead flowers, a practice called “deadheading”.
There are no control options that completely replace hand weeding in annuals. Mulching with organic matter or weed barriers will help by blocking germination and growth of weed seed. Some partially effective herbicides are available to help with weed control in annuals. All of these must be applied after the flowers emerge or are transplanted, but before the weeds emerge. See your county agent or local nurseryman for information on products available.
Disease and Insect Control
With over a hundred species of annual flowers commonly available, it is beyond the scope of this site to provide specific pest management information for each one. However, there are many pests that are common and infest many types of plants. We have compiled information on the most common of these in our pages on insect and disease problems.
For more detail on control of insects and diseases, as well as information of other pests not covered in the sections above, see the Insect and Disease Pests section of this site.