So what about those bargain prices alluded to on Page 1? Cheap flowers can be found in July and August. By slashing prices after "prime time" for annuals, garden centers try to unload leggy annuals that they could not sell in spring; ideally, they like to move these cheap flowers by July. But others grow or buy in fresh recruits and continue to carry an inventory of cheap flowers during August.
The cheap flowers in the "leggy group" may not look like much when you buy them, because they have been sitting in nursery flats for too long. But they are still a great bargain, because they can be revived -- provided you follow a few simple principles of container gardening. Check the undersides of the leaves first, though, to make sure they are bug-free. A bug-laden plant is no bargain, no matter how cheap it is!
It is too hot to plant these flowers in July, but that shouldn't stop the frugal landscaper from buying them. Go ahead and purchase the annuals, but do not plant them in the ground yet. Instead, transplant them into containers. Container gardening means mobile gardening. Containers can be moved in and out of the sun, based on how your annual is holding up to the summer heat. You simply do not have this flexibility with annuals planted in the ground.
The containers do not have to be anything fancy, since your aim at this point is not to display the flowers. Rather, you are just looking to nurse them back to health. So a suitable vessel for such container gardening can range from a wooden box to that poinsettia pot you threw behind the garage after last Christmas. Just make sure that you disinfect any container you want to use first, and drill drainage holes in it if the container does not already have such holes.
When you knock the annuals out of their flats, check the rootball. If it is wall-to-wall roots, forming such a dense mat of roots that soil is not dislodged even when you squeeze the rootball, then you have a root-bound plant. You would not think, perhaps, that there could be such a thing as too much root growth. But when roots have been growing in cramped quarters for too long, their growth becomes deformed. Instead of branching out in a healthy pattern, they start to grow in on themselves, forming a dense mat that is unhealthy for the plant.
All is not lost, though. Before transplanting a root-bound plant, just break up that dense mat of roots, by scoring all around the rootball with scissors or a knife. It seems harsh; but this is a case where a little corrective surgery can do wonders!
Also, many annuals respond favorably to a good "haircut." You can revitalize everything from alyssum to petunias by simply taking a pair of scissors and removing the top 1/2 or so of the current growth -- stems, leaves and flowers. In fact, this step is almost mandatory if your annuals are leggy.
During August you can nurse along your bargain-basement annuals, getting them ready for fall planting. When temperatures cool later in the month or in September, transplant your annuals out of their containers and into the ground for an eye-catching display of fall flowers.
"But What If I Wait Till August to Shop for Cheap Flowers?"
The "brown thumbs" among you will be glad to hear that there's another way to provide yourself with seedlings for a fall planting. Some retail outlets, as noted above, call in fresh recruits (seedlings started in summer) to put on sale as the dog days of August are waning. These plants are just starting out in life, so their foliage will still look nice and fresh by the time they bloom in fall -- without any nursing from you! You may pay a bit more for them than for the older, leggy plants; but they are still often sold at a discount, due to lack of consumer interest in annuals so late in the season.
Either way, the beauty of purchasing cheap flowers for fall is that you can thumb your nose at Jack Frost. Let the frosts come when they may; you have little to lose, since your investment was minimal. But which annual and perennial flowers are best for a fall color display? And how should they be arranged? These questions are answered on Page 3.