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Cultivation of Annuals - Hardy and Half Hardy Annuals
Author: Charles Henry Curtis
Cultivation of Annuals Described.
Cultivation of Annuals - CHAPTER II
It has been frequently stated that the great secret of gardening lies in "doing the right thing at the right time." But although no one with gardening experience will raise any objection to that statement, it is a fact that the capacity to carry out the instructions implies a vast amount of knowledge. We need to know the right thing to do and we must learn the right time to do it, and it is scarcely less important to know what to avoid. First, then, we must not buy cheap seeds merely because they are cheap.
This is an age of cheapness, and most people endeavour to obtain as much as possible for the money they spend. This is all very well if quality rather than bulk or number is considered. But low-priced seeds are often the dearest. Just as much time and labour are necessary for cultivating plants of a poor, weedy strain of Annuals as those of a fine one that are the result of years of skilful selection or breeding; consequently, a strain will give the best possible return for the care we bestow upon the seedlings. Happily, nowadays it is possible to purchase a small packet of a good strain of seeds for the same price as a large packet of inferior strain.
Avoid thick sowing. How many times, I wonder, has the advice " Do not sow too thickly," been given ? Beyond all computation. Such advice is excellent, but " too thickly," like "too wet" and "too dry," are terms that convey little to the novice, although they are fairly well understood when used by experienced cultivators. Mustard and Cress, for salad purposes, are usually sown as thickly as the seeds can be placed in one layer, but the end in view is not to obtain sturdy plants to branch freely, flower profusely, and last in beauty the Summer through. Even the cleverest growers find it difficult to sow seeds of Annuals as thinly as they should be sown. The germinating power of purchased seeds is higher now than ever it was, therefore there is no need to allow any considerable margin for failure. The allowance should be larger for outdoor than for indoor sowings, because unpropitious weather and such enemies as slugs have to be taken into account. If, when sowing seeds, we always remembered that every seedling should have room to fully open out its seed-leaves without let or hindrance from its neighbours, there would be far fewer mistakes made. Even more space than this should be allowed unless time and conveniences can be provided for promptly pricking off the seedlings, or for thinning them severely before they crowd one another in the slightest degree. Some Annuals will not bear transplantation and must be sown out-of-doors where they are to flower; in such cases thick sowing renders success impossible, and the neglect of proper thinning is a distinct proof of bad cultivation.
Excess of moisture should be prevented as a plague. The seeds should be sown in light, sandy soil, and the receptacles must be provided with ample drainage. This applies equally to seeds sown in pots and boxes or in the open ground. Lack of sufficient moisture is as injurious as the other extreme. It is a fact that irregularities in watering, coupled with thick sowing, are responsible for most of the failures that arise in the earlier stages of the culture of Annuals.
Very large quantities of Hardy and Half-hardy Annuals are now raised each Spring under glass for the purpose of securing stocks of strong, sturdy, well-rooted plants ready for planting out-of-doors in April or early in May. Where a greenhouse, frame or pit, from which frost can be excluded, can be requisitioned, cither or all of these structures will afford suitable shelter for early batches. Excess of heat must be avoided. When the plants are raised in this^ fashion, there is a great temptation to take full advantage of these shelters and so secure big plants when planting time arrives. In this connection it is worth while to remember that large plants are by no means the best for planting out, because growth produced under favourable conditions under glass is apt to suffer badly should cold or windy weather follow immediately after planting in the open bed or border. Further, the larger the plants the more room will they need, and space is usually limited for the accommodation of such subjects. Again, the larger the plants the more root room will they require and the more attention will they need in the matter of watering, and there is the greater likelihood of trouble from drought and insufficient nourishment.
Cultivation of Annuals
When Annuals are raised under glass the aim should be to provide an atmosphere and temperature for them such as prevail in April, the month when some of the earliest Annuals should be appearing above ground in the outdoor seed beds. The date of sowing must be arranged so that the seedlings, after due growth and careful hardening off, are just needing more root room when planting time arrives. No definite date or dates can be given that will be certain to bring about this ideal condition of things, because many and varied circumstances come into play, even beyond the differences of climate that prevail in different districts.
In districts where the soil and climate are both favourable Autumn sowing is well worth while, because it enables the plants to produce a good root system, and the result is sturdy plants that come into flower early. A sheltered spot where the soil is well drained and contains a fair proportion of grit and leaf-mould is suitable for this method; but here again thin sowing and early thinning must be insisted upon. If pleasant Autumn weather follows sowing, especially if considerable moisture accompanies the warmth, then the seedlings will certainly become "soft" or sappy unless thinned severely as soon as they can be handled safely. If they do become sappy or spindly, then the losses during the winter are likely to be severe notwithstanding the hardiness of the subject. However, despite the risks of weather and the losses through pests, Autumn sowing gives gratifying results nine times out of ten, whether the seedlings are planted out the same year or left in the bed to be transplanted at the first favourable opportunity in the Spring. I have had annual Chrysanthemums a yard high and almost as much through from Autumn sown seeds.
Most Annuals succeed best in deep rich soil, and it is a mistake to imagine because they are only of annual duration therefore their needs are few and they can take care of themselves. They will certainly take care of themselves in the sense that they will rapidly fulfil their mission so far as this is tauf^ht them by Nature. The end they have in view is to produce the largest possible amount of seeds in the shortest possible time. But that is hardly the purpose of the cultivator. Comparatively few people — and this applies particularly to the owners of small gardens — have a knowledge of the capacity of Annuals when the plants are given every possible chance. If people would give, say, a Larkspur, an annual Chrysanthemum, an Ostrich Plume Aster, a Ten-week Stock, a Clarkia, or a Coreopsis, ample room to develop freely in rich soil, with no hard-feeding and hard-drinking competitors to fight against, the revelation of beauty and grace, freedom and brilliance they would give would be worth more than many pages of advice, and would I think tend to exalt Annuals in the general estimation of the public.
Firm planting, a good watering to settle the soil about the roots, and a free use of the Dutch hoe are cultural items to be practised, not avoided. Close planting is as illogical as thick sowing; it destroys the beauty of the plants, reduces their effectiveness, and shortens their season of flowering. The necessary supports for all tall-growing subjects must be provided early in the Summer, and the stakes used should be slender and strong, and sufficiently tall to serve all the season through.
Annuals used for garden decoration must not be allowed to ripen seeds. Nothing reduces the vitality of a plant more than the effort to bring a crop of seeds to perfection. An Annual is quite willing to give up its life quickly to do so; indeed, under natural conditions its motto seems to be " A Short Life and a Merry One." The prompt removal of faded flowers will do much to lengthen the life and usefulness of the plants. Leave seeding to the seedsman, it is his business, and he will probably do the work far better than you. If you are a raiser or are working for the improvement of any section of Annuals, the case is different, because the assumption is that you possess the knowledge generally believed to be the exclusive possession of specialists.
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