Caring For Summer Annuals

Cushion type zinnias need to have their spent blooms removed when they die.

Pinch out the flowers of coleus to keep them producing more colorful leaves.

Angelonia does not like to be cut back or pruned if you want it to be in continual flowers. Just remove dead stems only.

Pinch petunias back when they get leggy.

Pruning, fertilizing and watering are the musts for summer annuals. The problem is that there is no one size fits all recommendation. So here is a list of the most common summer annuals, and how I care for them.

  • Petunias – You can plant these anytime, but they like sun and fertilizer at least once a month to keep them growing and flowering. I do not like leggy ones, so I pinch mine to keep them contained and not looking ragged. If they suffer some in summer don’t worry, they generally rebound in fall.
  • Coleus – Since all we want are their colorful leaves, keeping the plant actively growing is the key. To keep them from flowering, pinch out flower spikes as they form. Be sure to water these well and fertilize about every six weeks.
  • Zinnias – The big tall old fashion type love to be cut (which is great) as the flowers come into bloom. Cut these back as deep as you want to keep their height in check. As for the mounding or cushion type, they simply like their flower buds removed. Both like fertilizer monthly and watering is a must.
  • Marigolds – There are so many types and sizes, but one thing they have in common is to always remove the spent flowers to keep them blooming. The taller types need to be cut back to keep them from falling over, but while the dwarf types do not fall over, I like to cut the stem below the spent flowers to keep them bushy so they will not “sort of” fall apart. Fertilize about every six weeks, and they like to be slightly on the dry side.
  • Angelonia – Somewhat new to the market, it is a great spike type flower for summer in many colors and very easy to grow. One thing I found out quickly is that if you cut them back they revert to vegetative state and bloom quality is reduced. Now I only remove the dead stems. Low fertilization is good, and while they like to be watered, they do not like it wet.
  • Geraniums – Some of us can grow these, and others of us cannot. As for planting them in the ground, I seem to have little or no luck, so the bedding types I simply do not know how to grow. The old fashion potted ones like partial sun and generally stress this time of the year. Always remove the spent flower stalks, and if they stop blooming pinch their growing tips back, fertilize and keep watered. Do not let the pots completely dry out, and generally new flowers will appear. This is another plant that seems to come alive with flowers when the nights begin to cool in September.
  • Vinca – This is the annual flowering type in bright colors. I have had great success in some years and limited in others. This year with so much rain, they are doing best in well drained locations. Be careful to not over fertilize, as I tend to give them a small amount once over the summer about now. Pruning does not work for me either. My suggestion is if they are growing well, enjoy them and make sure they do not get dry to the wilt stage.

John Floyd

John Floyd has been gardening--and learning about Birmingham area gardening--for more than 30 years. In addition to his day-to-day experience, John has degrees in horticulture from Auburn and Clemson Universities and was Editor-in-Chief of Southern Living.

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