What is an annual, and why should I care?

Reading Time: 8 minutes

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Did you ever have a conversation with a plant head? You know those people that know everything about gardening, have a bright green thumb, and spout words like annual, perennial, bi-annual, and on an on?

The people that make gardening sound sexy, fun, and magical? You want to understand what the hell they are talking about and get in on the fun so you nod your head in agreement. But … in reality, you haven’t a clue as to what they are saying? I feel ya. I’ve been there too.

Well, today my dear friend we are going to arm you with the knowledge you need to nod your head and mean it. At least when it comes to annuals.

What is an annual anyway? And more importantly, why should you even care?

In a nutshell, an annual is a plant that lives one season then dies. Knowing what an annual is and how to use them in your garden can take your garden from good to showstopping in no time.

Sounds great, but it doesn’t sound very sustainable you say, and you are right. Annuals are rare in nature because they are not very sustainable with a one season shelf life.

Nature likes plants that continue their lives or continue to replicate themselves over and over.

We don’t usually allow an annual in our garden to live out its true life cycle because a brown plant that is going to seed is unsightly to most people.

So they are usually pulled up before going to seed. That means they never get to start the life process over with a new plant from those seeds the next season.

If an annual plant is left to fulfill its full life cycle it will drop seeds, and allow those seeds to go dormant until the next growing season. That gives those seeds an opportunity to grow into a new plant. This process keeps that particular species alive from generation to generation.

This is how Mama Nature intended annuals to go. It’s a far more sustainable cycle and makes a whole lot more sense.

But, we humans being the way we are tend to pull the annual plants out before they drop their seed because they get brown and die. So they don’t have the chance to go through the natural cycle and create new plants. Brown plants aren’t so pretty in the garden. So now what?

They aren’t very sustainable and it seems like pulling up the plant each season can get expensive you say? You are right on both points. True and true.

So, if they aren’t very sustainable and they cost you extra money why do people love annuals so much? Why do landscapers install them then rip them out at the end of the season and put a new annual in?

Well, annuals are usually pretty showy and hardy. They grow quickly. Remember, they have to grow, flower, and produce seeds all in one year before they die so they have to work fast.

They usually start producing flowers in six to eight weeks, impressive. They also provide color quickly and it usually lasts for the season. Most people love color in their garden. I know I do!

Annuals come in a wide variety of colors, sizes, shapes, and textures too. So they are a pretty diverse option for a showstopping garden.

Back to sustainability …

Now, don’t get me wrong I love color and annuals, and I like to see people plant more of any kind of plant, but there are some sustainability issues to keep in mind with annuals.

Because annuals are not very sustainable the way most people use them, you will find yourself going back to the nursery or big box store to buy more mature plants when the current plants start to decline and end their life cycle.

This seems like a huge waste of time and money. We are literally throwing out the seeds and then buying plants to replace them. Hum?

Another issue is that nine out of ten times those new plants come in plastic pots which unfortunately are not recyclable.

You can’t recycle most plastic garden pots in your regular recycling bin, and throwing them in the garbage would just send them to the landfill to off-gas, breakdown, and get into our water systems.

The plastic pots new plants come in are usually not recyclable so they end up in landfills and eventually in our water systems.

I don’t know about you, but the thought crushes my heart so I try hard not to do that. I use the plastic pots I do have over and over and when they rip I use duck tape to bring them back to life. But, I know at some point they will end up in a landfill creating microplastic that finds its way into our water systems and oceans. Not good.

We won’t be here in 1000 years (the time they estimate for plastic to breakdown) but while I am here I’m going to do my damnedest to use as little plastic as possible and change my habits for current and future generations. How about you?

So as much as I love color and fast-growing plants I’ve realized annuals are not great for our environment the way we are currently using them. I cringe when I see landscapers ripping out plants at shopping malls and industrial parks that look fine, just to install the new “fresh” ones. Ouch!

Just because that’s how it has been done before you doesn’t mean you need to do the same thing and repeat a broken cycle.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Most people think Einstein said this but it is not confirmed. Still a great quote.

P.S. You can try and save those plants the landscapers rip up and plant them in your yard. I’ve done it and had lots of success. Free plants. Wahoooo!

So what do you do if you want lots of color and annuals in your garden?

Start with seed and eliminate the plastic pot.

The first step is to eliminate the plastic pot. Buy seed instead. The second step is to use composted soil. Try not to buy composted soil in plastic bags if you can. If you have no other choice then please wash them out and recycle them where they recycle plastic bags, like Publix Supermarkets.

Great soil is the key to a great garden. Start with compost.

You can purchase great compost from nearby farms that have horses, cows, chickens, or goat waste. They are fantastic for new seeds. You can let the manure sit for a few weeks or months so it breakdowns and offers the perfect organic matter for seeds to grow in.

Always stick to herbivore compost. You CAN NOT, SHOULD NOT, ever use human, dog, cat, or any other meat-eating animal’s waste unless you have processed it correctly for years.

The Native Americans had a great system of rotating their potty stations in a square so by the time they came around to potty station one in the fourth year it was ready for planting. I don’t suggest that at this point in time.

Maybe when I’ve found some better studies on it in the future I’ll share a post about it. Until then please do not use meat-eater (carnivore, omnivore) waste. If you do it is at your own risk, and that is a big risk. Yuck.

For now, skip the meat-eater poo and go to a local landscape supplier. Call and ask them what is in their soil mix first. You’d like to get the most natural option possible like a composted horse or cow manure mixed with a soil that drains well. Then, bring a bucket or bag with you to fill with bulk compost.

Better yet, have them drop a big old load of composted soil in your yard or driveway. A nice example would be Big Earth they have tons of options and can mix to order. Google similar options for your area.

In the Spring, put down the new soil, spread the seeds on top, cover with a thin layer of additional composted soil, and water deeply every day until you see sprouts. Then, keep watering the soil daily or every other day depending on how dry your climate is.

Always water the soil, not the leaves, so it stays moist but is not soaking wet. Annuals do love water which is another reason they aren’t very sustainable.

You can minimize the issues of sustainability by buying seeds (no plastic pot) and buying bulk soil (no plastic bags). Every little bit counts!

The last concept is to plant the annuals between other long-living plants like evergreens, trees, shrubs, and ground covers.

In the photo below you can see how we created a hidden row for the annuals. They are nestled behind plants that are full and beautiful year-round. We used an evergreen hedge as an example.

Example of planting an evergreen row in front of annuals.

The annuals will come up for the season and give you that pop of color and drama you want in your yard. Then, when they die back you won’t have a blank yard with brown dying plants. The older annuals and seeds will be hidden behind the plants that are there year-round.

Example after the annuals have died back. They are hidden behind the evergreen row where the seeds will stay dormant until next Spring.

Most areas of the country are snow-covered in the winter so the annuals can stay buried and wait until Spring to sprout and do it all again with a new generation of plants.

How cool is that? It reduces your plant buying costs, time, labor, wasted plastic, and gives you a yard that dances with color.

Yes, you may see some brown plants peaking over the hedges once in a while. But, there is a solution for that as well.

If the annuals aren’t falling down fast enough for your aesthetic taste you can cut them back once they seed and let them compost right in place.

Then, put a thin layer of mulch over top (stay away from rubber mulch, red mulch, and acidic mulches like pine-they can stop seed growth). Or just use the brown plants you cut back as your mulch for the next season covered with a light layer of composted soil.

The beauty of this gardening style is that as the season changes and the annuals die back you will still have a beautiful yard.

If you are patient and allow the annual seeds to drop and overwinter you might be pleasantly surprised to see some plants come back the next year.

Seeds rarely have a 100% germination rate but you could get lucky and have a nice bloom.

Another benefit of gardening with annuals this way is that you will have more biodiversity growing from seed. See our post about the importance of seeds and biodiversity here.

Here at The Plant More Project we absolutely love wildflowers. Many wildflowers are annuals although there are also perennial wildflowers. The color, the texture, the animal life show it brings with butterflies, bees, and other pollinators is fantastic.

We plant the annual wildflowers knowing they will seed, die back, and a new generation will come back the next season. We also know that when they die it looks sad so we interplant with plants that will look good all year and that helps a lot.

The year-long plants may not be showy but they are still beautiful and offer a pleasant visual. The contrast between the annuals and the year-long plants is stunning too.

Here are some options for seeds in paper packets. Those paper packets will degrade quickly. I like to bury them under the seeds and let them degrade right there.

Check with your local master gardeners for native annual suppliers in your area.

So that is an annual. Pretty much one and done unless of course, you let them go to seed and have the next generation of healthy beautiful plants grow. Isn’t that what we all desire for our children to grow up strong and healthy, with a great future?

Let me know if you have questions or if you have a garden filled with annuals you’d like to share. We showcase gardens on our social media pages with the rights holder’s permission.

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In our next post we’ll talk about perennials.

Plant Power On!

Stephanie

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Growing your own Papaya, tips, and tricks to a deliciously successful fruit

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Affiliate Disclaimer: This post, document, email, or site may contain affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, The Plant More Project may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). We use this money to help run our organization and continue our mission. Here’s a link to our full disclosures, terms & privacy if you’d like to read more.

Do you love Papaya? I sure do. It has such a sweet-tart, creamy taste and is great for you.

Growing Papaya (Carica papaya Linnaeus) isn’t hard. You can keep the seeds from an organic Papaya, and 9 times out of 10 they will grow into a hardy tree and produce fruit.

It isn’t 100% clear where Papaya originated but most people believe they traveled with the Spanish and Portuguese to the Americas.

Papayas thrive in subtropical and tropical regions.

Papayas enjoy tropical and subtropical climates.

Botanically they are considered large herbs and can grow to 30 feet tall at their max height so plant them in an area where they can grow nice and tall. Unless, of course, you read on and learn a helpful trick.

Sometimes I throw the seeds in a container or in the yard and wait for the surprise trees to show up and share their tasty goodness with me.

Years ago I tossed some seeds into a pot and multiple trees popped up. At the time we had 12 rescue bunnies. They have all since gone over the rainbow bridge but fear, not they lived long happy lives and taught me a lot about herbs and gardening. But that is for another post.

Gizmo, of the bunnies, ate the top off my 12″ tall Papaya tree. I thought that was that and figured it would die soon after. It didn’t die and it came back even stronger.

Sometime later, one of my garden friends told me that in Cuba and Puerto Rico they cut the tops off just like Gizmo did so the plants would grow back dwarfed. This way it is easier to reach the fruit. Thank you Gizmo, for that tip. You always were a great gardener.

Normally, a Papaya grows between 6-15 feet before it produces fruit. It will continue growing but after a bit of time, the fruit isn’t as sweet.

Left to nature the cycle would go something like this … fruit from the older tree drops, rots, and the seeds grow into new plants with sweet fruit. Most gardeners cut down the older trees when the fruit stops coming in sweet, but you could just leave them there for looks and animals if you’d like.

It only takes about 6-11 months to grow from seed to fresh ripened fruit. It all depends on the soil, light, water, and temperature during that period.

This makes Papaya a great first choice when starting out with fruit trees or a school garden. It isn’t instant satisfaction but pretty darn close.

You can eat Papaya plain and they come in their own biodegradable bowl. Papaya is great in salads, in dressings, in sauces, you can make jams and chutneys, or you can add a dash of salt and lime juice like they do in Mexico. Hello Yum!

There are some great Thai dishes that use green papaya which is also fantastic. The green papaya is not ripe yet.

You can save the seeds to grow new trees at a later date or dehydrate them and grind them up for parasite medicine for you and your pets. The seeds are great for killing parasites. Many animals like to eat them fresh too and receive benefits from it but check with your vet first just to make sure. They taste peppery.

I love the seeds and use them from time to time as a crispy dehydrated treat in salads. Please do your research before using them and consult your doctor if you are on any medications or have concerns about eating them.

Papaya filled with nutrients like Vitamin C, A, Magnesium, and Potassium and is thought to help with digestion, lower cholesterol, improve heart health, support eye health, is filled with antioxidants, boosts immunity, and can help with weight loss.

If you want to try to grow Papaya here are some tips and tricks.

  • Papaya trees like a good amount of water like most fruit trees. It takes a lot of water to make those juicy fruits. However, they don’t like sitting in water so well-drained soil is the best.
  • They like a bit of sandy loam Alkaline soil is perfect for Papaya.
  • They do enjoy nutrients and as we don’t promote chemical fertilizers we suggest using fish emulsion, compost, or another organic product like worm castings.
  • You can grow them indoors but need to make sure they have access to plenty of bright light and a nice size pot so they can grow big and strong.
  • They can also be grown in a greenhouse if you monitor the temperature. Papaya thrives in subtropical and tropical climates. Zones 10-11 are great.
  • There are a few varieties like the Sunrise Solo (most common), Golden Yellow, Mountain Papaya, Red Lady, Maradol, and Bella just to name a few. They are different flavors and sizes.
  • Cool fact. Payapa has male, female, and bisexual plants. It is the female flowers that turn into the best fruit. However, bisexual flowers can also produce small fruits. The males are great for cross-pollination. Plant a lot and you are bound to have all three. The pollinators can help you fertilize the female & bisexual flowers when you have males close by so plant a bunch of seeds.
  • To pick the perfect fruit they should be a little soft and have a nice red, orange, or yellow flesh, depending on which variety you planted. I personally love the yellow/orange. Those are ready when the fruit is completely yellow. I like to let most things ripen on the plant but you can remove them and let them ripen off the plant as well. The fruit should be firm but push in just a touch with light pressure. If it is too soft make a juice or nice cream, or freeze them for future use in smoothies.
  • When they get to about 12″ tall, cut the top off. I know it hurts, but they come back better than ever and stay smaller in height so you can reach the fruit easier. It worked when Gizmo did it.

I’d love to hear your experiences with Papaya. Share your recipes, growing techniques, or anything else you’ve experienced with Papaya. We all learn when you share.

Plant Power On!

Stephanie

The easiest way to start gardening and loving it!

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Affiliate Disclaimer: This post, document, email, or site may contain affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, The Plant More Project may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). We use this money to help run our organization and continue our mission. Here’s a link to our full disclosures, terms & privacy if you’d like to read more.

I hear so many people tell me they have a brown thumb. “I can’t grow anything”, ” everything I try to grow dies.”

With experiences like that who would want to try and grow something, especially food for themselves. It makes the gardening process way to heavy and stressful. It just seems too hard and you already feel like you’ve failed. Feeling like you failed stinks. I’ve been there too and understand how you are feeling.

You can grow things and we can show you how.

Failing doesn’t build confidence or bring you the peace you were hoping for from gardening. So let’s change your thought pattern and instead let’s think of it as experimentation.

So you experimented and the experiment didn’t go in the direction you wanted. They often don’t, but it is not the end of the world because you get to experiment again, and again, and again if needed.

Only this time you are going to start with something simple. Like a house plant that can take almost anything.

Sansevieria trifasciata is one of the easiest plants to grow.

Enter the sansevieria, sometimes known as a snake plant, mother-in-law’s tongue, Saint George’s sword, viper’s bowstring hemp, and many more. Those are the common names and aren’t always the best way to find a particular species of plant. If you want to get very specific use the Latin name which in this case is Sansevieria trifasciata. This way we are all working with the same plant.

This experiment starts with a fun, easy mission. Find a pot you love, then order a sansevieria and plant it in this new cool pot. Name him/her/they and then enjoy watching that plant settle into the pot and live a long happy life.

You don’t need to overwhelm yourself with all the stuff you see on-line or in all the books offered on Amazon about gardening. Just K.I.S.S. on this one.

You will hear things like you need to fertilize it once a month, light requirements, soil needs, how invasive it can be, and on and on but we are keeping it very simple and in a pot, in the house.

In future posts, we can break all that other information down but for now, just keep it simple. Get a basic potting soil, a plant, and a pot. You can even purchase one that is already planted in a pot you like.

There is only one goal in this experiment and that is to get to know your new friend. It may sound silly but plants are alive and the more you interact with them the more you get to know them.

Pet your buddy when you pass by. Say hello. Tell them a joke or dump your day on them. They love it! Just enjoy your relationship with this one simple plant.

The fantastic thing about Sansevierias is that they are in the Asparagaceae family and are a pretty hardy plant that doesn’t need a ton of care. They actually thrive being left alone and can deal with a variety of light situations. Low light? No problem they can handle that. Bright light? Ok, they enjoy that as well. They just don’t love extreme blasting sun all the time, it can burn them out but they will usually survive that as well.

You don’t need to water it all day every day because it is a succulent and they can go for long periods of time without water. In fact, they enjoy it when the soil drys out a bit. They definitely do not like to sit in wet soggy soil so just a touch (cup) of water in the soil, not the leaves, every few weeks. That will make them very happy.

Set an alarm on your phone that tells you to touch the soil once a week. It will be good for you and the plant. Overwatering is normally the biggest issue with plants believe it or not.

In this experiment, you get to just look at your plant, enjoy it, say hello each morning, and say good night before bed. That is it. That is the goal of this experiment to just enjoy the beauty and natural aspects of this plant for as long as you wish.

If you want to do this for a month, great. A year, fantastic. Go at your pace and just enjoy watching the experiment.

You can try drawing your plant. It doesn’t have to be perfect just doodle it. Take the time to really look at it and see the lines, colors, shapes. It is a form of meditation that will chill you out quickly while connecting you with nature.

See how your breathing shifts when you do this. It is pretty amazing. You will also notice when the plant starts to grow and see the new leaves breaking through the soil. That is always a thrill for me. I love watching things grow and create new forms.

Soon you will want a friend for your Sansevieria trifasciata.

My guess is that you’ll enjoy this new relationship so much that it won’t take a year for you to want to bring a friend home for your plant buddy. But give yourself time that way you have no pressure and can just enjoy the process.

If for some reason it dies you didn’t fail. You can experiment again. Failure isn’t really a failure at all, ever. You gain valuable information from the experience. Next time you’ll have a new experience and will gain valuable information from it too.

There are so many plants to experiment with. Even “expert” gardeners are not perfect with everything they plant. That is part of the fun to see what thrives and what doesn’t and then modify the experiment and try again.

Mama Nature does the exact same thing, all the time, for billions of years.

I’m excited for you and can’t wait to hear how it goes. Let me know about your experience in the comments below.

Plant Power On!

Stephanie