Hardy annuals are flowers which are sown, flower and die within one year and can withstand frost as opposed to half hardy annuals. Some of them are super robust and can be sown straight into the ground in Autumn and will soldier through the winter without protection. Others may need some horticultural fleece to get them through the coldest and frostiest (real word?) of the short winter days.
Why sow hardy annuals in Autumn?
The main benefit of sowing your hardy annuals in Autumn is that you will get a stronger and more abundant plant. It will also flower several weeks earlier than its spring sown chums. Although you may not see much growth above the ground, underneath it is forming a large root structure which will allow it a massive headstart come the warmer weather.
When should I sow my hardy annuals?
I favour September when the ground is still warm. (We are based in Cambridge, UK) If you sow too late your plants won’t become established enough to survive the cold weather. I also sow a huge amount in the spring from March.
How should I prepare my soil for hardy annuals?
Make things as easy as you can for your seeds. Like most of us they want an easy life. Get your soil to a fine consistency with no bits bigger than a dice if you can. These heroic seeds need to be pushing down through organic matter so best if it isn’t as hard as Kryptonite. Also well tilled soil will have better drainage and the seeds are less likely to drown or rot.
If the ground is heavy clay then add some barrows of compost and dig in well, it won’t take as long as you think and the results will be well worth the effort.
How do I sow hardy annuals?
For the vast majority of hardy annual seeds I sow them at spacings of about 5cm and about 1 cm deep, but CHECK the seed packet as some seeds need light to germinate) I score a line in my well prepared bed with the handle end of my rake, pop in the seed as close as I can to my 5cm target and gently rake over. Gently water the row BEFORE you sow the seed, this prevents the seed from being washed away if you decided to water after sowing.
Take your time over sowing, it may be a little tedious but care now will save you time later and increase your yield of fine flowers.
I mark my rows with some sand. The sand won’t affect the germination of the seed and allows me to see which bits I can hoe without worrying that I’ll destroy all that I’ve worked for and also makes your neighbours think you know what you’re doing.
Do I need to thin out my hardy annual seedlings?
Indeed you do my horticultural friend. It will feel really wasteful but I’m afraid you just have to harden up and deal with the pain. Check the packet for spacing distances. I normally thin everything (almost) to about 25cm. I like my plants to offer each other a little support but not out compete one another.
If you have a second thinning session in Spring the plants will be strong enough to be moved elsewhere in your plot.
Do my hardy annuals need staking?
My flower field is reasonably sheltered but I still use some support. I take some pea netting and put a layer of it at about 50cm off the ground. My beds are a meter wide and the pea netting comes two meters wide…so I cut it to a one meter wide strip and all is well with the world. Some find it necessary to have another layer higher up, I haven’t found this necessary on my plot.
How do I look after my hardy annual seedlings?
The ground MUST be kept moist. If it doesn’t rain on the little Muchkins then you must water twice a week or they shall perish and you will never forgive yourself and your life will be blighted by guilt and despair. (Nice to avoid that if you can.)
Keep them free of weeds. Weeds are thieves, stealing light, minerals and water. Get them gone. If you leave spaces between the hoes you can run a hoe through them and make life much easier on yourself. Don’t wait for these weedy criminals to get established, get them whilst they are young. Show no mercy, you mustn’t let chaos prevail.
I use a 5cm layer of mulch on my beds, it saves you eons of time weeding and helps keep the moisture in.
Can I sow my hardy annuals in Spring?
Yes you can. You will get smaller plants however. They will be later to flower, which of course can be a great advantage and they will in theory last longer into the season. I tend to sow some in Autumn and some in Spring.
If all goes well your Autumn sown seed will be in flower in Mid May.
What types of hardy annuals will survive a cold winter?
Ones that always seem to survive for me are….
*Cornflowers (These seem to be mega tough…drought…cold…no problem)
*Nigella. (Love in a mist)
Which hardy annuals would require some protection from the cold?
Have fun planting your hardy annuals. They are well worth the effort and are stalwart chaps to have growing in your garden and should bring you lots of pleasure.
December 31, 2014 @ 9:57 am
Hi Ben. Have you got any advice for the best way to sow hardy annuals in late Winter/early spring to give the best chance of flowers by late May? I have a greenhouse which I can put a little heater in if required and a large (8×10) grow tunnel. I’m growing my own for my wedding in late May. I sowed a load in autumn but not enough with the few that didn’t make it so want to add to it. I’ve got tons of your seeds left to try and want to put them all to good use :) Thanks for your help x
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September 4, 2011 @ 6:37 pm
Belinda sent me over for this excellent post! A couple of questions, tho. I am in Virginia (it’s a Colony, well west of you across the pond) and in what we call Zone 7 (15-20F minimum – that’s about -5 C, I think) and our first frost is normally around Nov. 15. So, 1) how much time to they need before the first frost? You’re planting in Sept… can I wait until October? 2) can you explain better about the netting support. The picture in my mind is netting (of some sort) stretched parallel to the ground at 50 cm (I’ll do the math to convert to inches!) and then supported here and there by stakes of some sort. As the plants get taller they would poke thru from the bottom and then the netting would help hold them upright and apart… is that the idea? 3) do these “hardy annuals” actually stay green thru the winter? or do the come up for a few weeks, then die back some (a lot?) and then re-green in the spring, but saving all that pesky germination time in the spring? Sorry to be so needy, but this is a first venture in annuals – am a perennial kind of girl! Thanks.
September 7, 2011 @ 7:21 am
Hey there! The netting is what we call pea netting…holes about 4 inches sq and made of nylon of some other plastic….it is reusable and inexpensive. Yes they hold plants up and stop them blowing over in wind…but they have some movement of course which is important.
Hardy annuals do indeed stay green through the winter.
Yes you probably can sow in oct…why not sow some now and some in October and see who wins? I shall be sowing in Oct too.
Some plants are more susceptible to cold than others and in REALLY cold weather you may lose some if you don’t protect them.
Thx for posting Mizz Webb ;)
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August 17, 2011 @ 4:35 pm
I always forget… until Spring. Great post and a timely reminder :)
August 17, 2011 @ 4:46 pm
Merci Buckets Mo :)
August 17, 2011 @ 1:29 am
I find that calendula and nigella self sow quite readily, good for lazy gardeners like me!
August 17, 2011 @ 3:54 am
Ha! You are quite right Jan they do….but being a geek I like my rows. I shall be collecting my calendula seeds in a short while….not difficult to do….and putting them exactly where I want them! :)
August 16, 2011 @ 2:43 pm
Ben – great post, could I reblog on mine in a couple of weeks – as part of the cutting course I’m doing using one of your photos and a link? Bx
August 16, 2011 @ 3:29 pm
Yes of course…I would be most delighted and honoured! x