Gardening 101

What is the difference between an annual and a perennial? Evergreen, and deciduous?

An annual plant is one that lives for a short period of time. Its whole mission in life is to sprout from seed, grow, flower, and produce more seed before dying. In the Austin area, we have a few different planting seasons, each with different annuals appropriate for that season.

Annuals usually produce the maximum number of flowers per plant for their given time. We also carry some tropical plants that will say “treated as an annual in our area.” This is a plant that is not annual in nature, but will not live for many years here.

perennial plant is a plant will survive for many years, but usually freezes down in winter months (some perennials may go “dormant” in our hot, summer months). These plants have roots that stay alive, but the top of the plant goes away, only to return the next season. There are some “evergreen perennials” which are plants that are perennial by nature, but usually stay green all year in Austin.

An evergreen plant is a plant that is just that – green forever. Some evergreens may be barren for a very short period when the newest leaves come on in spring (such as our Live Oaks).

deciduous plant is one that loses all its leaves over the winter, but grows back from the existing wood the next spring, as opposed to perennials that grow up from the ground.

What does “well drained soil” mean?

Well-drained soil is simply soil that does not hold excessive amounts of water when it rains or is watered. Most plants do not enjoy having the soil stay wet for too long, as this leads to disease problems. The test for soil drainage is as follows:

Dig a small hole about one foot deep. Fill the hole with water. Observe the hole to see how long it takes for the water to drain away. It should be less than a half hour. Any longer may mean poor draining soil and may require the use of certain plants or the addition of aggregate, such as expanded shale, to improve drainage.

What does full sun mean?

To us, full sun means at least five to six hours of direct sun. This should be adequate to provide for best growth and flowering. Less sun may still mean decent growth, but a reduced flowering.

How often should I water my plants? And what is “regular watering”?

There are too many variables (type of plant, location in the sun, plant age, soil type, etc) to answer that question. We can provide some basic guidelines:

When you water your plants, you should make sure to water them thoroughly. A plant, potted or planted, cannot be watered too much at any one time. Overwatering is a function of watering too often. When it is time to water, soak plants very well. Indoor plants may need to be taken to the sink, tub, or even outside for a good soak. Plants in the ground need a good, slow soaking (that’s why we love soaker hoses). Before a plant is watered again, the soil should be allowed to dry out a bit.

The difference in types of plants, let’s say between a cactus and a fern, is how much you allow them to dry. Ferns should only be allowed to dry on the very top of the soil, whereas a cactus would like to dry completely. If you are unsure of how much water a particular plant needs, just ask one of our sales people. We’ll be glad to help!

The term “regular watering” is used to mean that plants need to be watered throughout the first growing season. Depending on the type of plant and weather, this can mean every 2-3 days.

How do I (or should I) fertilize my plants?

There are generally two types of fertilizers available – liquid and granular. A liquid fertilizer is generally mixed with water and watered onto the roots of your plants. For best results and least waste, water your plants well before you fertilize. The advantage of liquid fertilizers is that they act quickly – usually showing results in a few days. Generally, liquid fertilizers are used every week or two during the growing season.

Granular fertilizers are mixed into soil at planting or sprinkled on top of plants that are already planted. They do take a bit longer to act, needing as much as a week or two to begin breaking down and feeding. Their advantage is that they feed for longer periods, anywhere from a month to three months.