Sweet annie plant care
For optimum survival and a healthy outdoor landscape, get to know your evergreen shrubs and trees.
by Rita Smith
Q: How should I care for my young sweet Annie plantings? I'd like to raise them to six feet.
A: Annie plants are tough and green year-round, but they don't need the same amount of care as other shrubs or trees. They can get even more attention than the evergreen garden shrubs we've discussed in these pages. Here are the steps to a lifetime of happy anies:
MULCH OR NOT: The Annie type of shrub, as well as others such as rowans and azaleas, do well in soil with only a thin layer of mulch. Trees, as you may know, need more than one inch of organic mulch.
LONG DAYS AND COLD NIGHTS: Annie plants need cold nights for growth, but if it's too cold, your plant will become spindly and may not flower. It won't mind if it's hot or even drought-prone if it gets eight hours of morning sun, 16 hours of afternoon sun, and nights of below freezing. We call this the long day. If your plants receive too much sun in the heat of the summer, they may begin to drop their leaves.
FILL IN THE GAP: If your wintertime temperatures drop to or below freezing, as many do in colder areas of the South, a gap of four to six inches will develop between the trunk of the plant and the frost line. Do not cut a hole around the base of your plant, which will allow you to snip it out of its spot and then transplant it. If you dig in, the plants will probably turn brown and die. They are much better to let the gap go unfilled. It will still form, but your plant will bloom and set fruit for a year or so before it gets enough growth to fill the gap. By waiting to fill in, your plant will not spend its life taking up space for others to grow in.
HARVEST: Remember to leave some shoots, twigs and branches for the next year's crop. Also take out dead branches. Prune out any that are crossing over and in the way, but don't take too many out at one time. Cut new shoots off slowly and cut back larger branches when the plant is dormant. This gives the plant a chance to heal. Then your plant will be much easier to care for.
IN THE FUTURE: If you have a sweet Annie that's growing, and you want to repot it, wait until the leaves begin to dry out and turn a light shade of green. The plant is about to drop its leaves. When you pick the plant up, place it in a pot that has good drainage holes. If the pot doesn't drain, the water will collect and the plant will start to rot. We have seen tree trunks rot after we've put too much water in them.
Q: We bought a rose arbor that is five years old, but it is in very poor shape. It's on its last legs, and we want to transplant it into our vegetable garden. What are the best soil amendments to use and how do we fertilize it?
A: You want to change the soil in your arbor's root zone. That means you'll need to remove every sprig of old, dried up roots, lay them out on a clean surface and mulch over them. This not only makes your plant healthier and more vigorous, it also makes your garden healthier because the soil will receive a lot more nutrients.
If you are growing roses and other garden roses in this year's rose garden, check your advice on watering (see page 109) and you'll know exactly how much fertilizer to apply.
Q: We live in Florida. How do we fertilize our oleander tree? It is growing well, but it is not growing in the full space we want it to take up. We have removed the branches so that it has room to grow and a few are beginning to turn brown.
A: Feed it a little after the plants bloom and then wait to feed again after it has stopped blooming. Let your tree grow back on all the dead branches.
Q: I have five young sweet Annie plants that need new homes. I planted them all in April, when I put a whole tree, including roots, into one container, but they were very sick when I got them. Is this a problem?
A: Your plants may have been exposed to something that kept them from getting enough water. If they were not watered enough, their roots could not get enough oxygen. They'll grow better in a new spot where the soil is moist and in a container with drainage holes in the bottom.
Q: I live in the Southeast. Do you have any recommendations for a dwarf sweet Annie? I like the idea of a low and short plant with a mound of pink flowers in June.
A: The dwarf form is generally called 'Humid' Annie, and we do have it. It is compact and the only way to tell it apart from the full-size form is to look at the leaves. The leaves are smaller on the 'Humid' form. Both forms are considered a maintenance plant, although we have heard reports that they are enjoying longer lives. You should also know that the compact varieties of trees have been a problem in recent years because they appear to spread easily, which is very destructive. Also keep in mind that these plants need a deep, well-draining root system. This means that any container with a fine texture will not be satisfactory. To find out more about Annie varieties, visit the North American Native Plant Society (http://nas.fpl.org) at http://nas.fpl.org.
Q: My soil is mostly clay. How can I water these trees properly?
A: Soil types differ and these differences determine how well you can get your plants to live in your area. First, you need to know the pH levels. These numbers tell you the alk