We also get many questions about the best times to start seeds for annual plants. Again, with our short season it is advantageous to start your summer flowering annuals early indoors to maximize flowering time!
A true annual is a plant that completes its entire life cycle in one season. Typically it grows from a seed in Spring, quickly becoming a mature plant and then quickly producing a great abundance of flowers.
Why grow annuals in the first place? Barbara Damrosch in her fine book, “The Garden Primer” states the case for annuals very well: “…annuals give such spectacular results with such little labor. Nothing else blooms with such profusion and for such a long stretch of time, so if you want a riot of color, annuals are your answer. Not only do they bloom abundantly, they do it quickly. Gratification is, if not instant, then certainly not long delayed; you can have mature plantings in a matter of weeks. Nor will your senses ever become jaded with annuals; you can plant a totally different color scheme or totally different plants each season. And best of all, annuals are just about the easiest plants to grow.”
Also from “The Garden Primer”: “(Annual) plants are usually started indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost, then set out into the garden after all danger of frost has passed. They are slow to get started and are therefore most effective planted closely—about 8 inches apart. They prefer full sun but do fairly well in light shade, especially in hot climates. Pinching them back once will make the plants more bushy….”
In southern Maine, I consider June 1 to be a date that is usually safe from frost. Anytime before June 1 can sometimes be risky--but every year is different. Please consult us at Skillin’s with any questions about frost dates. However, June 1 is often a smart date to use because even if we get no frost in late May, the weather at that time (especially the nights) can often be cold and your tender annuals and vegetables will not grow anyway. Moreover, the cold weather can weaken the plants and leave them more vulnerable to disease.
In terms of specific start times for annuals, please consult the detail on the seed packets. The packets will state the time needed for a plant to reach mature size. Use June 1 for your “set out” date and work backward for seed starting time. In most cases, the best time to start annuals indoors is April 1 to April 15 or so.
What is your favorite annual or annuals to plant? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org! Better yet like Barbara Gardener in Getting impatient for impatiens! feel free to send us a picture or two or three of some of your favorite annual plantings that you may have saved in your camera or on your computer. We would love to share your fine work and gardening comments right here at the Skillin's Garden Log!
March 6, 2008 (reprinted March 9, 2009)