Annuals Create Color That Lasts Into Fall : Before you buy, it helps to have a palette design in mind. Bright hues will withstand the cloudless summer weather.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

If it isn't happening yet, that colorful array of spring blooms in your flower beds will soon begin to wither.

Not to fret. It is time to plant annuals, those sun-loving, quick-growing flowers that bloom throughout the warm months and well into fall.

"Annuals bloom almost nonstop from the time you get them to close to seven months and more," said David Nichols, a nurseryman at Green Thumb International in Ventura. "You get incredible color--longer than almost anything else."

As long as you choose the right color flower.

Flowers with more gentle, hues--pinks, lavenders and the like--are appropriate for the garden as long as it's shrouded by a marine layer or the sun is playing peekaboo with clouds. These softer colors, however, can pale in the stronger light of summer.

It is better to use flowers of a richer color when and where the sun is strong, said Stacy Stowe of Jasmine Nursery in Ojai. Marigolds, zinnias, nasturtiums and many others can provide the explosive reds and yellows, oranges and gold during sunny weather.

A plethora of annuals is available at area nurseries.

"We're really gearing up," said Mike Handberg, a nurseryman at Garden Outlet in Simi Valley. "Everybody's got the bug to get out and plant."

Annuals are sold in various sizes and packages. Generally you'll find single four-inch plants that retail for $.79 to $1.29. A six-plant "jumbo pack" can run $2 to $3, depending on the nursery.

With the four-inch size, Handberg said, you are paying for a more mature plant that is already blooming. "Jumbo pack plants are normally smaller and sometimes not showing color," he said.

It's also not too late to seed summertime flower beds. Seeding, of course, means a lot more work, but you won't be digging as deep into your wallet. If you have a large area to plant--and want to do it on the cheap--sowing seeds may just be the ticket.

Liquidity need not be a major concern, though: "One of the main advantages of annuals is that they're always on sale," Nichols said.

Before making a plant purchase, the fastidious gardener may want to have a general color scheme worked out, thus avoiding a potential color clash.

"It's all in the eye of the beholder," Handberg said.

One trick to ensure that your palette of colors harmonizes is to splash in some white here and there to neutralize potential hot spots. White flower varieties include verbena and some petunias and zinnias. Ask the nursery staff to suggest other creamy-colored types.

You may also want to ask for help in selecting annuals of varying height. There are so many varieties--low-lying types and those that stand more proudly--there's no reason to have a one-dimensional flower bed.

The taller flowers should be planted toward the back--so as not to obstruct the more dainty varieties--but you can create a varied appeal by mixing it up a little.

The annual, though a short-lived specimen, performs extraordinarily well: It seeds, lives and dies all in one brief season. But they don't call them annuals for nothing--you'll have to replace these plants each year. But you can expect them to bloom stunningly for months on end.

Details

* PLANTING TIPS: Stacy Stowe of Jasmine Nursery offers these tips when planting annuals in your garden:

Feed annuals with an all-purpose fertilizer.

Pay particular attention to watering when first planted. Moist soil is needed to establish roots before hot weather comes along.

Never over-water; soggy soil will inhibit root development.

For optimum, consistent blooming, you'll need to remove dead blossoms regularly. "You don't have to run out to your garden everyday to pick off dead buds," Nichols said. "But once a week will keep them in bloom."

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