Letter to the Editor: A better way to install annuals



I just was reading the recent LM (March 2016) and saw the article on “How to quickly install annuals.

Having been involved with flower installation for over 30 years and over 23 years with Brickman (now BrightView), other than clearing the old mulch off the bed, the rest is a process that I have never seen done, would be extremely slow and inefficient and would not be beneficial for the flowers.

If you want to install flowers efficiently and have them perform well (that’s the ultimate goal, I would think—not just how fast you can put them in), beds need to be rototilled to a depth of 6-8 inches (add some organic matter if needed). Rake the bed to desired grade, apply a granular fertilizer with approximately 50 percent slow-release nitrogen in it that has a nitrogen level of 10-14 percent (this should provide the nutrient needed for approximately 2 months, then come back with additional nutrients in a granular or liquid form) and then plant.

You can lay them out if needed for certain designs or just take from containers and install as you go for less complex designs. To increase planting efficiencies, many nurseries now have annuals that are not grown in containers in the flats, greatly increasing planting efficiency by eliminating this process and also having to deal with all the empty pots that need to be cleaned up and recycled.

While some people may think that rototilling a bed is time consuming, it will actually speed up the planting process by increasing planting efficiency. Not rototilling a bed puts most of the tilling process on the person with the trowel installing the annuals. I would much prefer to till the bed with a rototiller than a hand trowel, and 1 inch of soil is not going to be enough soil to plant most annuals in.

When finished planting, mulch the bed with approximately 0.5-1.5 inches of a light mulch, such as pine fines or similar product. I don’t recommend most hardwood mulch products. Mulch will greatly decrease weeds, keep the soil moist, reduce watering needs and help keep soil from washing onto the leaves and stems of the annuals when watering. Some people say mulch is expensive, but it more than pays for itself in reduced watering, weeding and increase flower growth.

Once this process is finished, manually water in the annuals for best results. Irrigation is fine to keep them hydrated during the growing season, but I would not advise using irrigation for the first watering, since it takes a lot of moisture to get annuals and the soil moist upon installation.

The advice about “loosen the roots slightly before planting” is rarely needed, and will slow down the planting process even further.

Steve Sullivan
Director of Technical Services
Columbia, Md.

Photo: iStock.com / Danish Khan

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