IN THE GARDEN: Annuals Provide the Pop We Are Looking For

Friday, June 2, 2017 - 11:37
  • Nasturtiums. (Photo by Chris Wood)

In the days ahead as we plan and plant our gardens for summer, annuals provide that bold instant statement of color we desire. While we wait for our perennials to mature and bloom, annuals save the day, magically appearing seemingly overnight.

Annual plants, botanically speaking, complete their life cycle in one growing season and die off after the first fall frost.

In Alaska, with our short growing season, we depend on our local greenhouses and businesses to provide annuals that have been growing inside for months in preparation for our use in the late spring. Some of us plant our own annuals inside under lights by seeds gathered or purchased in catalogs or local stores.

Either way, annuals are loved by Alaskans. Whether you use annuals in containers, hanging baskets or garden beds in the yard, they are a joy to behold.

We aren’t the only ones waiting for annuals to be planted. Our pollinators depend on these pollen-rich flowers for their survival. Until these flowers are available, Dandelions are some of the first flowers bees have to gather pollen.

Most all flowering plants depend on pollinators for pollination, which is an essential part of plant reproduction to produce fertile seeds.

In Alaska, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we have 95 species of bees and 75 species of butterflies. In addition, birds, moths, wasps, bats and flies act as pollinators of our flowers and fruits. The Rufus Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus), is one of Alaska’s most common airan pollinators.

Pollinators have been in severe decline due to the use of pesticides and herbicides which have been deadly to these garden partners. With one in every three bites of our food dependent on pollinators, we have a lot at stake. Consideration of our pollinators’ well-being before the use of these systemic and neonicotinoids is essential to their preservation and worth our attention. We can make a difference one garden at a time.

To keep your annuals performing, the practice of deadheading or pinching off the spent flower encourages continued growth and bloom.

Nutritionally, annuals can benefit from an organic fertilizer to provide what they need during the growing season. Most annuals are grown for their constant flowering ability and require higher phosphorus to encourage continued blooming. If you are growing annuals for foliage, a fertilizer higher in nitrogen is important for growth. Our greenhouse growers are experts in what your flowers and plants need so be sure and ask them their opinion.

Some common annuals that perform well for us in Alaska are:

Alyssum (Lobularia maritima), Lobelia (Lobelia erinus), Nasturtium (Nasturtium majus, pictured at left), Petunia (Petunia X hybrid), Impatiens (Impatiens walleranna), Sweet Pea (Lathyrus ordoratus), Pansy (Viola X wittrockianna) and Marigolds, (Tagetes ececta).

A complete list of annuals can be obtained by the Cooperative Extension Service online at

June 4-10 is National Garden week. In the next several weeks as you work in your garden and as the transformation takes place, consider including your garden in the Greater Eagle River Garden Club Garden Tour. The tour will be July 22 from 12-4 p.m. The deadline for adding your garden is Friday, July 14. E-mail [email protected] to add your garden.

Invasive plant alert: Weed them and reap

Narrowleaf Hawksbeard (Crepis tectorum), is from the sunflower family and considered invasive.

This weed grows three feet high. The leaves are stalked and lance shaped with backward-pointing teeth to deeply lobed. This weed has a flower that has Dandelion-like yellow ray flowers. Often this weed is found in undisturbed soil, riverbeds, or roadsides thriving in dry, coarse soil. If you see this weed in your yard, it is competing with your plants and should be pulled up and thrown in the trash. Do not let this one go to seed.

“Remember, we must stay calm and garden on”!

Upcoming Plant Sales:


Saturday June 3

Anchorage Garden Club Plant Sale, 9-5 p.m. Location and details at:

Mat Su Master Gardeners Plant Sale, 9-3 p.m. at Palmer Pavilion across from the Palmer Visitors Center.

Wildflower Gardener Club Plant Sale, 9-2 p.m. at 7435 Old Harbor Road in Anchorage.

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