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How to Care for Annual Flower Pots

They’re so seductively beautiful, just hanging out in the garden center waiting for someone to take them home. Their impressive color combinations and gorgeous flowers cause thousands of shoppers to grab them purely on impulse and buy them before they even think the purchase through.

Annual Flower Pot

Marigold, petunia and lobela

But how do you keep that container of annual flowers looking fantastic all through the summer? Here are my care recommendations:

They need to be watered almost every day. 

Yes, I know that’s high maintenance, but beauty comes with a price. Most annual flower pots have to be watered every day unless it rains or they’re in a very shady location. The soil needs to ALWAYS stay moist. If it doesn’t, you will have crispy, brown annual flowers instead. Drying out is too often or too much probably the biggest problem I see.

If you have a lot of annual flowers pots or like to go out of town, I highly recommend watering your annual flower pots with a drip irrigation system. It is wonderful to know that your pots are being watered every day without you having to lift a finger. It’s a great investment.

The pots MUST have drainage.

This is critical. Plant roots have to have oxygen, just like you and I, or they die. A plant cannot live without healthy roots. The container must drain regularly for the roots to have access to oxygen.

Purple petunias

A rack of purple petunias welcoming you to take them home.

I hear you thinking, “But wait, don’t plants take in carbon dioxide and put out oxygen?” Well yes, the leaves do because they are photosynthesizing. But the roots do not photosynthesize. They consume oxygen to support their basic functions. They need air.

Most containers that are already planted and are being sold at garden centers have drain holes. Just make sure you don’t set a container in a larger pot that doesn’t have drain holes and let the bottom of the pot sit in standing water. If you’re planting your own container, make sure you drill holes in the bottom before you plant it.

You have to fertilize it regularly. 

Strangely enough, the “potting soil” that is used in containers is not really soil at all. It is made of materials like composted bark, peat moss, and coconut coir. Growers use those materials because they simultaneously retain water and drain quickly, which roots love. However, these materials have virtually no plant nutrients at all. You have to supply the nutrients in the form of fertilizer.

An all purpose water soluble fertilizer will keep your annual flowers green and flowering.

An all purpose water soluble fertilizer will keep your annual flowers green and flowering.

I like to fertilize my flower containers with a water soluble fertilizer every week. Yep, that’s right. If you do that, your annual flowers will be gorgeous. The leaves will be dark green and they will produce a lot of flowers. In my humble opinion, that’s their purpose. So, I give them what they need to do their job.

What kind of fertilizer is best for annual flower pots? Most water soluble fertilizers will work perfectly fine. Brands like Miracle Grow, Scotts, etc. will work well. Select a general purpose because you really don’t need a specialty fertilizer, like the formulations they sell for tomatoes, roses or African violets.

Although I’m a huge fan of organic produce, this is one case where organic fertilizer is not that effective. Why? Because organic fertilizers have to be broken down by soil microorganisms before they can feed plants. There are no soil microorganisms in potting soil. Therefore, the fertilizer is not available to the plants. Without the nutrients they need, they turn brown, stop growing and don’t flower. Save the organic fertilizer for your garden.

You might need to cut off the spent flowers to keep the blooms coming. 

Some annual flowers will stop flowering if you don’t cut off the spent flowers. If you leave the withered flowers on the plants, they will begin to set seed, which they do right before they die. But if you cut off the withered flowers, they will continue to bloom. This practice, called “deadheading,” keeps the plants looking fresh and beautiful.

This daisy needs to have the spent blooms removed.

This daisy needs to have the spent blooms removed.

So, how do you know if you need to do that? Most annuals perform best if you deadhead them every week or two. But if the flowers say they are “self cleaning,” you don’t need to deadhead them. That’s because they have been bred to be sterile so they never produce seed. They just keep flowering.

How do you do it? Just simply trim off the withering flower and its stem back to a fresh leaf or a newly developing flower.

Love them while their young.

The life of an annual flower is like a shooting star–full of glory but fading rapidly. By taking good care of your annual flower pots through watering, ensuring good drainage, fertilizing and deadheading, you’ll enjoy a summer full of blooming beauty.

 

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