Not So Annual

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These primrose look as good as they did last year.

Among cattle, a cow is a female who has calved. Prior to that, she was a heifer. A bull is an adult male. A bullock is a juvenile male or castrated bull. Most cattle are males who were castrated while young, and are known as steers. Yet, cattle are commonly known collectively as ‘cows’.

Similarly, bedding plants are commonly known collectively as ‘annuals’. Many really are annuals. However, some are biennials; an even more are, to some degree, perennials.

Replacing annuals annually make sense. They grow, bloom and die within one year. Some sow seed to regenerate if and when they get the chance. In the prominent spots of our gardens, not many are likely to get such a chance before they are replaced by other annuals for more immediate gratification within the next season.

The same applies to bedding plants that have potential to perform as perennials. They too get replaced during their off season. Since most are inexpensive, their untimely collective demise is not considered to be too terribly wasteful.

There are a few that are not so easy to part with. Cyclamen will be a topic for next week because it is a cool season perennial that is too expensive to be deprived of its potential to regenerate and bloom next autumn and winter.

These English primrose from last winter were afforded an opportunity to stay in their landscape while they were somewhat dormant through the warmth of last summer, so that they could regenerate last autumn and bloom through this winter. A few from around the edges were moved inward to replace a few that did not survive. Impatiens were planted in front for summer.

The results are not exemplary only because of the shade, but are worth the effort of not putting effort into replacement.

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Two seasons for the price of one.

Fairy Primrose

41224The simple pink and white of ‘good & plenty’ candy is what fairy primrose, Primula malacoides, is known for. Pastel purple is also popular. Rosy reddish pink and deeper pinkish purple are somewhat rare. The small flowers are arranged in circular trusses that stand as tall as one foot, just above the softly mounding light green foliage. The rounded leaves are slightly fuzzy. All parts of fairy primrose are toxic, and to those who happen to be allergic to it, can be as severely irritating to the skin as poison oak!

Because they take quite a while to mature and bloom if grown from seed, fairy primrose are typically purchased as cool season bedding plants that are already blooming. Bloom continues through winter and into early spring. If not replaced by warm season annuals, some of the healthier plants can survive through summer to bloom again the following winter as short term perennials. When they do not get enough water from rain, they want to be watered regularly. Fairy primrose can tolerate significant shade.

Why Cyclamen Are So Popular

41224thumbCyclamen are everywhere! Some nurseries have more cyclamen than all other cool season annuals combined. Not all cyclamen are represented though. Almost all are white or simple red. Pink, salmon and other shades of red are noticeable scarce because they are not traditional colors of Christmas. The plants are mostly of impeccable quality, and outfitted with abundant flowers. While there is not much else blooming, the popularity of cyclamen is impossible to ignore.

The problem with cyclamen is the expense. Relative to other cool season annuals, they are large plants that are only available in four inch and larger pots, so naturally cost more. They can not be purchased in less expensive cell packs. Even though they are perennials that can last for many years, they are almost always used as disposable cool season annuals that get replaced when warm season annuals come into season. It can be difficult to justify such an expense for something that lasts only a few months.

The advantage to cyclamen is that they look good instantly, even if they do not perform as reliably during the next few months. This is something that the other cool season annuals have difficulty with. Only larger and more expensive annuals in four inch pots are so immediately colorful, and even they need some time to fluff out and get established in the garden. They just do not grow as fast now as they did earlier in autumn. The weather is now cooler. The days are now shorter.

This is why it was important to replace warm season annuals with cool season annuals earlier instead of later, even if some of the warm season annuals had still been blooming somewhat well. It gave the cool season annuals some time to mature before winter really slowed everything down. Even though they do not grow as actively now, they are already big enough to bloom impressively.

Pansy, viola, stock, Iceland poppy, nemesia, various primroses and ornamental cabbage and kale can certainly get planted now, but will grow a bit slower than they would have if they had been planted earlier in autumn. If necessary, it might be worth planting them a bit more densely than typical, or planting larger plants from four inch pots.

Florists’ Cyclamen

91218It is unfortunate that most florists’ cyclamen, Cyclamen persicum, are enjoyed as cool season annuals only through winter, and then discarded as they are replaced by spring annuals. They can actually survive as perennials for several years, with white, red, pink or magenta flowers hovering above their marbled rubbery foliage each winter. Foliage typically stay less than six inches deep.

Florists’ cyclamen are probably typically discarded seasonally because, after blooming through winter, they take some time to redirect their resources to adapt to their landscape situations as the weather warms through spring. During that time, they can look rather tired. Shortly after they recover, they defoliate for dormancy through the warmth of summer. Some do not survive the process.

When they regenerate through the following autumn, they are not as uniform as they were when first installed. This is probably not a problem where a few florists’ cyclamen are planted with mixed annuals or perennials that compensate for their irregularities as well as their dormancy through summer. However, it does not work well for the uniform flower beds that they are often installed into.

Johnny-Jump-Up / Violas

91016This is not an easily defined flower. There are hundreds of species within the genus of Viola. Many are known as pansies. Many are known as violas or Johnny-jump-ups. Many are in between. The main difference between these two major groups is that, although very closely related, pansies bloom with bigger flowers, and violas bloom with smaller, simpler and more abundant flowers.

Blue, purple, white and yellow are the most popular colors for viola. Formerly uncommon orange and rusty red have become more popular in the past many years. Colors may be monochromatic, or arranged in intricate patterns with another color or two. The abundant bisymmetrical flowers are only about an inch wide. Mature plants should stay less than six inches tall, and spread as wide.

Violas are technically short term perennials that are typically grown as cool season annuals here. They are unlikely to survive through the innately warm and arid weather of summer. If planted now, they slow down a bit through the coolest winter weather, and then resume for early spring. If planted later in winter to continue slightly later into spring, they last only until the weather gets too warm.

Annual flowers For Cooler Weather

91016thumbAll that unpleasant annual business of removing warm season vegetable plants to relinquish space for cool season vegetables applies to annual bedding plants too. Those of us who do not grow vegetables were spared the agony of pulling up tomato plants that might have still been producing a few tomatoes, just to make room for broccoli. Now, it is time to replace petunias with pansies.

There is a reason why annuals get removed this time of year. It is the same reason why those that get planted now to replace them will be removed later. Annuals are annual. They are expected to perform for only part of one year. True annuals naturally complete their entire life cycles in about a year. Those that have potential to be perennial are too unappealing to salvage through dormancy.

Removal of aging warm season annual bedding plants should be less distressing if they are already deteriorating. By now, most of them are. They tend to wear out faster than some of the warm season vegetable plants. Impatiens can be potted for next year, or, for mixed beds, cut down and overplanted. Most cool season annual bedding plants are already blooming when newly planted.

Because the weather gradually gets cooler through autumn, cool season annual bedding plants appreciate an early start. It is easier to disperse roots before the soil gets cool. Only those that are sensitive to warmth, such as cyclamen, get planted later. Ornamental cabbage and kale might bolt and bloom early at the end of their season if they get too warm at the beginning of their season.

Marigold and chrysanthemum are short term autumn annuals that work very nicely until it is time to plant cyclamen or ornamental cabbage and kale.

Pansy, viola (including Johnny-jump-up), stock, sweet William, Iceland poppy and various primroses are now in season. Some could have been started from seed earlier. Otherwise, it is most practical to plant these cool season annual bedding plants from cell packs. Cyclamen and ornamental cabbage and kale that get planted later are best as more expensive four inch potted plants.

German Primrose

81114Just like African marigold that was featured earlier is actually Mexican, German primrose, Primula obconica, is actually Chinese. As odd as it is, the common name is an improvement from the former name of ‘poison primrose’, which was derived from the potentially irritating sap of the unimproved species before it was bred to be less toxic, as well as more colorful and prolific in bloom.

Here where winters are mild, German primrose is a short term perennial that is mostly grown as a cool season annual. Most of us do not bother to keep them alive as their foliage deteriorates in warm spring and summer weather. It is easier to plant new ones next autumn. They want rich soil and regular watering until rainy weather takes over. Deadheading promotes subsequent bloom.

Foliage should not get much higher than six inches. Flowers stand a few inches higher, and can get almost as high as a foot. Individual flowers can be as wide as an inch, and they bloom with several others in domed trusses that might be a few inches wide. Bloom can be white or pastel hues of pink, lavender, blue, peachy orange, salmon, rose or soft maroon, some with white edges.

Cool Season Annuals Are Next

81017thumbGardening is not always fun. After diligently tending to warm season vegetables through spring and summer, it eventually becomes necessary to pull them up to relinquish space for cool season vegetables that grow through autumn and winter. It likely would be less unpleasant to wait for them to succumb to frost, but by that time, it would be getting late for the incoming vegetable plants.

Removing warm season annuals and bedding plants is just as necessary, and might be just as unpleasant. The only consolation is that the incoming cool season annuals and bedding plants are likely to be blooming well as they get installed. Even though they take a while to mature, there is no time without at least some degree of color. Warm season annuals may be tired by now anyway.

Just like cool season vegetable plants, the various cool season annuals and bedding plants appreciate an early start so that they can begin to disperse roots while the soil is still somewhat warm. Only those that dislike warmth should wait. Cyclamen and flowering cabbage and kale can be planted as late as winter. Flowering cabbage and kale might even bolt if they get too warm too soon.

Pansy, viola, sweet William, stock, Iceland poppy, calendula and various primroses are all seasonable now. They should be happy to bloom until they too need to be replaced by annuals for the following season, several months later. Chrysanthemum, marigold and a few other autumn annuals are short term annuals that bloom excellently through autumn, but are not likely to bloom later.

Just like most of the cool season vegetables, most of the cool season annuals should be planted as small seedlings in cell pack. Chrysanthemum and many of the primroses, as well as cyclamen and flowering cabbage and kale that come later, should actually be planted as four inch potted plants. Needless to say, some of these are expensive relative to their respectively limited bloom seasons. Seed for nasturtium and alyssum can be sown directly into the garden. Nasturtiums seedlings in cell packs are expensive and do not transplant well.

Annuals Change With The Seasons

50930thumbLike it or not, the warm season annuals that were so flashy all through spring and summer will eventually need to be replaced with cool season annuals to provide color through winter. It is always unpleasant to pull up the annuals of a previous season while they are still blooming, even if they are already getting scruffy and discolored. It is actually easier if they got roasted by recent warmth.

Some warm season annuals last longer than others. Many are actually perennials that can be overplanted with new cool season annuals as they get cut back or go dormant through their ‘off’ season. Some cur back perennials may not survive through winter; but those that do can regenerate next spring, just as the cool season annuals that obscured them all winter are finishing.

Wax begonias, for example, are warm season annuals that can continue to bloom until they get frosted. Where sheltered from frost, they only need to be cut back because partial defoliation exposes knobby bare stems. If they can be hidden by pansies or violas through their bare phase, they never need to be removed, and some will be happy to regenerate in spring.

Conversely, cyclamen, sweet William, chrysanthemum and some primroses are cool season annuals that have the potential to survive under the lush growth of warm season annuals next summer; but that is a topic for later. (Some people are allergic to primroses like poison oak.) Iceland poppy and ornamental cabbage and kale are not so perennial, but are quite colorful through winter.

Alyssum and nasturtium really are annuals that do not survive much more than one year. However, they can perform through summer where sheltered from heat, or through winter where sheltered from cold. In ideal situations, their self sown seedling replace deteriorating older plants, so that they can perform throughout the year. Nasturtium should be planted as seed, not from cell packs.

Calendula is a popular cool season annual early in the season, but may not last through the end of winter. Yet it is popular because it is so excellent through autumn. Chrysanthemums are even flashier, although they are often replaced as soon their first bloom phase finishes.

Start Cool Season Annuals Early

30925Twice a year, it becomes necessary to discuss the unpleasantries of pulling up the flowering annuals (as well as vegetable plants) of one season, to relinquish space for those of the next season. Just a few months ago, cool season annuals got replaced with warm season annuals. Now, those same warm season annuals will get replaced with cool season annuals for the next few months.

It is unpleasant because the outgoing annuals are probably still blooming when it is time for them to go. It might be easier to wait for cool season annuals to get roasted by hot weather, or for warm season annuals to get frosted. Unfortunately, by that time, the incoming annuals would be at a disadvantage. Hot or cold weather is also uncomfortable for plants that are not yet established.

Sure, warm season annuals like warmth, but only after they have sufficiently dispersed their roots to sustain their growth during warm weather. This is most efficiently accomplished while the weather is still mild earlier within their season. Cool season annuals likewise do not mind cool weather, but do not grow as well as they do during the warmer weather earlier within their season.

This is why it is better to plant pansy, viola, sweet William, Iceland poppy, stock, calendula and the various primroses earlier rather than later if possible. There is no exact science here. A forecast for warm weather certainly justifies delay. Cyclamen and ornamental cabbage and kale are a bit more sensitive to warmth, so could wait a bit longer. They grow well through cold weather anyway.

Chrysanthemum, alyssum and nasturtium are odd ones. Chrysanthemum, although perennial, is most often planted as a short term autumn annual while it is already blooming or is just about to bloom. It rarely gets a second chance if it finishes bloom before winter. Alyssum and nasturtium can be both warm and cool season annuals. They only gets replanted this time of year because individual plants perform through one season or the other, but probably not both. Nasturtium should be grown from seed.