THE great merit of trueis their adaptability. They can be used to fill gaps in established borders, as trailing plants in hanging baskets, in window-boxes, or to provide quickly grown, gay flowers in a new garden, while the taller kinds will make a temporary screen or background. In addition, they provide an excellent source of cut flowers, and rows can be sown for picking. For all these purposes annuals give quick results at low cost.
A true annual is a plant which completes its life-cycle from seed-sowing to seed-setting within twelve months. Many other plants can, however, be treated as annuals by sowing the seed early in the year in the warmth of theto hasten germination and then, after careful hardening off, planting out the seedlings to flower the same summer.
The soil itself may play its part in delaying or hastening flowering. Some plants, for instance, like the annual lupin or the, flower far earlier when there is too much nitrogen in the soil. On the other hand the bedding-out salvia and the ordinary clarkia invariably flower earlier when the soil is lacking in nitrogen. It is possible, therefore, to alter the time of flowering by using different methods of feeding.
PREPARING THE GROUND
Because the great majority of annual seeds are very small, it is necessary to rake the surface of the soil down to as fine a tilth as possible. Start by forking it over to a depth of, say, 4 in. as soon as the soil is dry enough not to pick upon one’s shoes, and at the same time apply well-rotted vegetable compost or Pompost at the rate of one large bucketful per sq. yd. Follow the forking, which helps to let air into the soil, by treading or light rolling. This prevents the ground from being ‘puffy’ and at the same time breaks down the lumps of soil which will undoubtedly have been produced during the forking process. Next, rake the soil backward and forward to breakdown the smaller lumps, using the head of the rake with the handle held upright to break any obstinate lumps that resist the normal raking.
If the soil is still not sufficiently fine, repeat the whole process of rolling and raking once more.
In cases where the soil is known to be acid give carbonate of lime as an autumn top dressing at from 4 to 7 oz. per sq. yd. depending on theof the soil. This is especially necessary in the case of annuals like candytuft and , which need limy soil for success. Do not attempt to rake in the lime but leave it on the surface of the soil where it can be washed in by the rain.
WHEN TO SOW
The seeds of all hardy annuals can be sown in April, or sometimes earlier, where the plants are to flower. Some of the hardiest may also be sown in the autumn, in which case they flower much earlier in the following spring. It depends to a certain extent on the situation ofwhich annuals may be autumn sown. Such sowing is more successful in the south or south-west of Great Britain than in the north or north-east.
Thevarieties are better sown under glass in February or, since to sow them in the open means waiting until the soil has warmed up sufficiently (the end of May onward) which in turn delays the time of flowering.
In all cases sow very shallowly since the seeds are small, and lightly rake over the soil to cover them. The depth should be equal to twice the diameter of the seed. Sow the seeds thinly, because if they are thick in the soil the seedlings will be drawn up too much, and when thinning out has to be done many of the young roots will be disturbed.
Soak dry soil the day before sowing, but be sure the water is applied gently, in a fine spray. If the soil is heavy, give a dressing of fine sedgeat one bucketful per sq. yd. before watering to prevent the from caking.
In cold soil, such as heavy clay, little seedlings sometimes rot off due to attacks of fungus-diseases. This trouble is usually known as pre-emergence rot and may be prevented by the use of thiram dust — obtainable in ‘puffer packs’, containers like toothpaste tubes — or other seed dressing. Puff a little of the dust into the packet of seeds and shake it well.
To make a natural and beautiful border, mark out, with a pointed stick, broad, irregularly shaped drifts on the bed where the plants are to flower. Label each drift with the name of the variety within its outline, bearing in mind that the groups should intermingle happily together. Generally speaking, the taller-growing types should be kept to the back of the border, the dwarfer or edging annuals to the front, and those of inter-mediate size somewhere between the two. Island beds are also attractive.
Sow the seeds of each variety within the confines of the marked-out drift and then carefully rake in the seeds so that they are just buried. Do not disturb the outline of the drift. To make weeding easier, it is best to drill seeds within each area, spacing the rows at such a distance that the plants will grow into each other.
Should the weather remain dry, gentle watering with a spray or square area sprinkler, is advisable two days after sowing and again a week later.
SOWING FOR CUT FLOWERS
There is no cheaper way of providing cut flowers for a house in summer than by sowing annuals.
Select a border some distance from the house where, if the plants are cut regularly, the appearance of the garden will not be spoiled. Make rows at intervals suitable to the size of plant so that it will be easy to hoe between them later on, and so that the plants will have room for development.
Sow four rows and then allow a space of 1 ft. before sowing another four rows and so on. These spaces form ‘picking’and will become well trodden as picking proceeds.