Gardening Tips: Caring for Summer Annuals

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By Lisa Hilgenberg

Lush and colorful in hanging baskets or container gardens- long blooming annual plants are providing the show in our summer gardens.

I’m Lisa Hilgenberg from the Chicago Botanic Garden with gardening tips for the week. Seasonal interest with pops of color to fill in gaps in the garden, annuals are plants that only survive for one season. This short life cycle means hard working annuals are heavy feeders- needing regular fertilization every two weeks to keep them looking their best.

Organic fertilizers supply supplemental nutrients to boost blooms with the added benefit of building soil fertility. Environmentally friendly, unlike overused synthetics that can runoff into our rivers and lake natural fertilizers like vermicompost, earthworm castings or bone meal can be used to side dress annual plants. Apply fish emulsion or liquid kelp diluted in a watering can. It can be applied to the foliage of annuals every two weeks.

Grooming keeps straggly annuals thriving during summer’s stretch.  Pinching back foliage of coleus and sweet potato vine to keep from getting leggy and out of proportion.

Deadheading or removing faded flowers helps prolong blooming and keeps zinnias, petunias and million bells healthy throughout the summer.


Lisa Hilgenberg is the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden Horticulturist. She teaches classes for the Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School of the Chicago Botanic Garden and mentors interns from the Garden’s urban agriculture programs in the summer. Lisa draws on a rich family farming tradition, having spent many summers on her grandparents’ farms in Iowa and Minnesota. You can follow Lisa on Twitter @hilgenberg8.

Want more gardening tips?  You can read other online articles or listen to previous podcast episodes from WBBM Newsradio’s Gardening Tips segment.
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