Planting perennials and annuals

Perennials and Annuals can add colour and variety to the flower beds. Here’s some useful tips on how to care for them.

Whats the difference between annuals and perennials

What are Annuals

Annuals flowers are plants that are started from seed, obtain their maximum height, flower, produce seed, and then die all in the same year.  Annual provide a flash of season-long colour, and are easy to grow.  There is an annual that will thrive in every location in your garden.  Annuals are especially valuable in containers: they put on a show for the entire season so you can create colourful displays to accentuate your patios, pathways, houses and more.  Proper selection can provide a season of colour, brighten a shady garden, dress up hot, dry sites or add an accent to an open area.

We install a variety of annual flowers ranging from common to new and improved varieties.  We start working with annuals in the middle of April and get fresh selection from our local nursery on a daily basis until after Canada Day.  We have something to suit everyone’s needs no matter how green their thumb.  Watch for new introductions each year that are sure to inspire your creativity!

How to plant annuals

Annuals can be planted outdoors once the danger of frost has passed.  Most people wait until the May long weekend to do their gardens: however pansies and snapdragons can be planting slightly sooner as they will tolerate some frost.

Annuals come in a variety of pots and packs for purchase.  Choose ones that have dark green leaves and healthy, compact growth.  If they are not in individual pots you can use a knife to cut them apart.  When planting annuals make sure the root ball is slightly below the soil line and water thoroughly.

What is Hardening Off

Hardening off is the gradual acclimatization of plants from indoor to outdoor temperatures.  Ones that have been growing inside – whether in a greenhouse or in your home – are tender and at risk of tissue damage from exposure to sudden temperature decreases.  It is important to harden off these plants to prevent any added stress or drying out from cold temperatures. 

Hardening off involves moving them outdoors during warm days and inside at night, and should be done for one week leading up to putting them in the ground.  They can be left outside at night if there is no risk of frost; if there is a risk of frost cover them or bring them indoors.  They should be given a drink daily because potted annuals dry out quickly and may not fully recover if they are allowed to dry out.  During extreme weather conditions, such as heavy rain or hail, move the them indoors to prevent damage.

How to Water annuals

Watering is the key component to having success with annuals. Annuals have shallow root systems so they dry out quickly, especially in hot and windy weather.  A light sprinkling is not enough; they will need to be soaked thoroughly and frequently throughout the growing season.  

When you water annuals you want to soak the soil and area thoroughly around the base, leave it for a few minutes and then go back and apply the same amount again. Containers, hanging baskets, and patio pots will need to be soaked thoroughly and checked on a daily basis. During the heat of the summer, your containers may require water twice a day!

How often should you fertilize annuals

Soil contains all the nutrients they need to grow and thrive; unfortunately soils may not have nutrients in sufficient quantities to suit their needs. It is advisable to add 2-3 inches (5-7.5cm) of organic matter on an annual basis which will help add nutrients to the soil.  They will also benefit greatly from the regular application of fertilizer. 

It is strongly recommended to use a starter fertilizer, for all new transplants. Choosing a fertilizer that is high in phosphorous, such as 10-52-10, will encourage the development of a strong root system which is necessary for healthy growth and production. 

Fertilizing should be done bi-weekly through the growing season with 15-30-15 Flowering Plant Fertilizer for optimum performance and flowering. This will encourage strong healthy results with optimal growth and flower production. If they get too tall and leggy, prune them back to 8-10cm.  This will encourage bushy, vigorous growth.

How to deadhead annuals

Deadheading is simply the removal of spent (dead) flowers. Deadheading is important to extend the blooming periods of annuals. Removing faded flowers will prevent them from going to seed. Instead, the energy goes into the production of new flowers.

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What are Perennials

Perennials can add pizazz, colour and variety to your home. Perennials are mostly herbaceous, so they die back to the ground in the winter and start up from their roots in the spring.  They add great value because they live for many years, provide a long blooming season, attract hummingbirds and butterflies, and give great cut flowers to enjoy indoors. Our friendly and knowledgeable staff are here to help you make the right selections for your garden!  Perennials will add a new dimension to sunny, shady, wet, dry, or rocky areas; there is a perennial that will thrive in every location in your garden!  Proper selection will enable you to enjoy your perennials for many years and have fun creating colourful displays to enhance your property.

We carry a large variety of perennials from common to unique, including hot new varieties.  We start bringing in our perennials in late April and get fresh stock in on a weekly basis until August.  We have something to suit everyone’s needs no matter how green their thumb. 

How to plant perennials

Perennials can be put in anytime from spring through the growing season up until three weeks before the ground freezes in late fall.  The best perennial selection will be found during the spring months, especially early spring blooming varieties.  An additional advantage to spring planting they will have time to establish before winter sets in.

Hardiness Zone

Hardiness zone is a geographically defined area in which specific life is capable of growing.  It encompasses climatic conditions such as their ability to withstand minimum temperatures.  Nanaimo is located in zone 6 area.  We experience a large variance of climatic conditions within the city, which change depending on where you are located.  You will notice different microclimates within your yard that allow you to grow something that would otherwise be out of your zone.  It is recommended to use zones as a guideline when selecting plants but always remember that unusual weather patterns influence the success or failure of any given variety.  Zones 3 to 7 are ideal candidates for around homes in Nanaimo.  Zone 5 perennials can be seen growing successfully in many different situations; a little extra care may be required. 

How to hardening off your Perennials

Hardening off for Perennials, can be the same as for the Annuals

How do you water perennials

Watering is a key component to success when installing.  Improper watering is the number one reason why they fail. On the prairies you don’t receive enough precipitation to maintain flower beds throughout the season.  Always remember: more water less frequently is better than less, more frequently.  When watering you want to allow the water to soak into the ground to encourage the development of deep roots, allowing them to better withstand stress.  Shallow watering encourages shallow rooting which can be detrimental to them because when the surface of the soil dries out the roots do as well.  This causes unneeded stress, especially to new transplants.  With the winds and temperature fluctuations we experience, it evaporates quickly from the surface of the soil so it is extremely important to soak thoroughly to maintain soil moisture for them.

Perennial flower beds should be watered heavily once a week.  During hot weather this should be increased to two times a week, maybe even three depending on the winds.  New perennials should be monitored and watered at least twice weekly until their root system becomes established.  The addition of a layer of mulch will help retain moisture, which is beneficial to all, but especially to new ones.

In the early fall allow the soil to dry slightly so growth slows down in preparation for winter.  Depending on temperatures, soaking deeply every 2-3 weeks is ideal.  In the late fall it is extremely important to water everything thoroughly to increase winter survivability.  All perennials, especially new ones, need a good drink before the ground freezes; this prevents damage to roots from cold, dry soils which will prevent any unnecessary stress.

How to fertilize perennials

Soil contains all the nutrients they need to grow and thrive; unfortunately soils may not have nutrients in sufficient quantities to suit each one’s needs.  It is advisable to add 2-3 inches (5-7.5cm) of organic matter on an annual basis which will help add nutrients to the soil.  They also benefit greatly from the regular application of fertilizer.  Regular fertilizing through the growing season will provide steady growth, maximum blooming and a longer life.

New plants:

It is strongly recommended to use a starter fertilizer at the time of planting for all new transplants.  Choose a fertilizer that is high in phosphorous, such as 10-52-10, will encourage the development of a strong root system which is necessary for healthy growth and production.  It will also help prevent shock. You can continue to use this fertilizer throughout the first growing season.

Established plants:

There are a variety of fertilizer formulations available for anything already established .  Regular applications throughout the growing season are recommended, following label directions.  Stop fertilizing at the end of July, late summer, as fall fertilizing may stimulate new growth at a time of year when they should be hardening off and preparing for the winter.


Covering the ground around your stock with a layer of mulch will help conserve moisture, prevent erosion, slow weed growth, moderate temperature, prevent crusting of the soil surface, and protect against soil compaction. Organic mulches are ideal because they insulate the soil, reduce evaporation and, add nutrients to the soil as they break down.  You can use different products for mulching which include compost, manure, bark mulch, leaf litter, straw and other materials.  

How can you over winter Perennials

Most perennials will survive and thrive without any extra protection.  However if you have exposed areas in your garden it would be beneficial to add a layer of mulch to help protect against winter kill.  Winter kill is death by exposure to extreme weather. The freeze / thaw cycles we experience cause roots and the crowns to dry out which can result in death.  It is very important to make sure they are watered in in the fall, and exposed areas benefit greatly from a layer of mulch.  Pile snow on beds that are bare; this will help prevent soil from drying out and in turn prevent winter kill.

How to divide perennials

Most perennials will eventually need to be divided; some perennials will require dividing after only a short time while others will be content for many years.  Dividing will rejuvenate them, maintain health and vigour, improve flower production, and increase the numbers.  

In general the best time to divide perennials is in the spring when the foliage is between 5-10cm (2-4”) tall.    Spring flowering plants should be divided after they have finished flowering.  Peonies should only be divided in September.

How to divide:

  1. Water before dividing.
  2. For larger selections, cut back top growth by about two-thirds prior to dividing, this will reduce stress and encourage strong root formation.
  3. Early morning or evening is the best times to divide.  Avoid hot, sunny days because this will cause them unnecessary stress.
  4. Dig up the entire clump, with as much soil as possible, and separate the young shoots from the woody center
  5. Discard the central woody section. Replant the new ones (divisions) as soon as possible at the same depth and soak thoroughly.
  6. Different types of perennials:
    • For clumps that are easy to pull apart: gently pull pieces apart ensuring that each division has some stems and lots of roots.
    • For small perennials: use a sharp knife to cut clump into pieces. Ensure that each division has one growing point and lots of roots.
    • For large perennials: use a shovel to split up the clumps and ensure that each division has at least 3 stems and lots of roots.