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For the most colorful landscapes, start fresh every year

Sun., May 22, 2011

For season-long color in the landscape, annuals are the way to go.

“The annual flowers that grow, bloom, produce seed and die the same year are lovely, colorful, and predictable throughout the summer,” Lewis and Nancy Hill write in “The Flower Gardener’s Bible” (Storey Publishing, 372 pages, $27.50).

“The huge variety of annuals makes it easy to choose appropriate colors and heights,” they add.

Jim Alice, owner of Liberty Park Florist & Greenhouse on Spokane’s South Hill, is very attuned to the many attributes of annuals.

“To get a perennial garden to look good all year long, you really have to know what you’re doing and it takes a lot of care,” he says. “You just don’t get the color out of them that you do with annuals.

“It’s easy to prepare a bed, grow the annuals, and tear them out at the end of the season so you can start fresh again the next year.”

Liberty Park Florist & Greenhouse has been in business in the same location for more than 70 years. Its staff grows thousands of annuals, perennials, vegetable starts and custom-planted containers each growing season.

When it comes to caring for annuals, Alice has some helpful advice

“If you decide to grow annuals in a pot, especially in a hanging basket, make sure it’s a big one,” he suggests. “I like 14-, 16- or 18-inch pots. It makes all the difference because you won’t be able to keep the smaller pots watered enough.”

As the plants get root-bound, fertilizers don’t last very long, so Alice recommends using a good-quality, time-release fertilizer that will last about five months.

Don’t be afraid to deadhead the spent flowers and trim straggly foliage.

“If plants are starting to sprawl over, cut them back,” he says. “That will encourage new growth. When you do some selective pruning – rather than cutting all of the branches the same length – you’ll never know you’ve cut the plant.”

And don’t let the plants sit with water in their saucers, Alice adds: “That will flush out the nutrients and plant roots don’t like to sit in water as it is.”

He recommends several favorite annuals:

• Thunbergia (Black-eyed Susan Vine) – “I like how it grows because there aren’t many annual vining plants. It grows rapidly and the yellow or orange flowers really catch your eye. It’s a good plant to grow up a trellis or down over a rock wall.”

• Canna lily – “Here’s an annual that will grow 4 to 5 feet tall. It blooms later in the season but because many varieties have variegated leaves, they don’t even have to bloom to look good in your yard.”

• “Bonfire” begonias – “They can handle full, hot sun all day long. It has stunning orange flowers and looks great in either hanging baskets or flower beds.”

• Calibrachoa (Million Bells) – “These tend to be more of an up-close and personal flower but they are so pretty. We have over 20 different varieties of them. The great thing about Million Bells is that you don’t have to deadhead them. Any time you get a plant that you don’t have to do a lot to, it’s a winner.”

• Fibrous Begonia – “It looks like a wax begonia except they’ll get about 16 to 18 inches tall, which makes an impressive show. This is a no-brainer plant. They do great all summer long and can take the sun. Most folks think it’s a shade-loving plant but these are different.”

• Calla lily – “They’ve come out with really pretty colors this year. I’m anxious to see how well they do outside rather than being grown as an indoor plant. They’re very attractive, just avoid the hot sun.”

• Geranium – “There are some new ones we’re trying this year, such as some bi-colors. Geraniums have a little more formal look to them and they tend to do fairly well here in Spokane. They just need a little deadheading.”

• Coleus – “These are not your mom’s coleus. There are so many interesting leaf colors and patterns. This year we have a trailing purple coleus that is a real knockout.”

• Salvia “Blackie” – “Hummingbirds and bees love them. They get quite tall.”

Liberty Park’s most popular annuals are geraniums, bacopa, Million Bells and sweet potato vines. New this year are the black petunias: ‘Black Velvet,’ ‘Phantom’ with yellow stripes and ‘Pinstripe’ with its creamy star pattern.

Annuals that do well in part to full shade include non-stop begonias, impatiens, wax begonias and torenia. They are all easy to grow.

Susan Mulvihill can be reached via email at Visit her blog at susansinthegarden. for more gardening tips and information.

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