If you buy annuals now, be prepared to baby them

Erin Schanen

’Tis the season for buying annuals. It has to be because Mother’s Day just passed and that’s when everyone from Minnesota to Georgia buys annual plants. Deep down most of us in Wisconsin know that it’s probably too early to be buying those plants, but old habits die hard, and this year I’m not going to argue about it.

The fact is, there does seem to be a shortage of some plants this year. Local garden center employees who I’ve spoken with have said that some of their orders just aren’t coming this year. So it really does seem to make sense to buy what you need when you see it.

But I implore you to be careful with what you do with those plants. Almost every annual plant you buy has only ever seen the inside of a greenhouse, which means they aren’t used to highly variable temperatures or the intensity of full-on sun. So they need to be hardened off just like home-grown seedlings do, by gradually exposing them to both sun and cooler temperatures, ideally over the course of seven to 10 days.

Some annuals are more resilient than others. Alyssum, also known as Lobularia, is tolerant of cool temperatures, so it won’t need as much protection at night. Snapdragons, calendula, geraniums and marigolds are also tough cookies.

Petunias, on the other hand, really aren’t interested in nighttime temperatures below 55 degrees, so it could be awhile before they are ready to fend for themselves in a planter or garden bed. The same goes for sweet potato vine, which is a popular additional to mixed container plantings. It will turn into a limp mess if it gets chilled.

Some plants that we often think of as annuals will be toast if you don’t treat them well in May. Caladiums, which have seen a resurgence in garden centers as new sun and shade-tolerant varieties in a range of interesting colors and patterns hit the market, will just up and die if they get even a touch below 55 degrees. They are probably among the last plants you should put outside (until well into June, would be my guess), and the first you bring in if you’re going to try to overwinter the bulbs.

The fact is that there are far more annuals that we buy at this time of year that are cold sensitive than there are plants that can take a cold night in stride. And after you’ve gone through the trouble of hunting all those potentially hard-to-find plants down, it’s worth it to spend a couple more weeks babying them a bit rather than risk losing them.

The same, by the way, goes for those Mother’s Day hanging baskets that so many moms received last weekend (whether they wanted them or not). Most of them will need a daily routine of going in and out of the garage, exposing them to a little more sun every day and tucking them away at night. In other words, it’s a little bit more work than a necktie.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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