Annie, Sweet Annie

| October/November 1993

Slow to germinate, late to bloom, and somewhat plain and gawky, sweet Annie (Artemisia annua) is the tomboy of everlasting gardens. Yet this tall annual herb, native to southeastern Europe, northern Africa, and Iran, is a favorite of crafters in this country for its versatility and sweet, lingering fragrance.

A Sweet Annie Garden Wreath  

Although each sweet Annie plant lives for only a single growing season, it readily self-seeds, and after one or two have become established in your garden, you’re sure to have plants for years to come. Be patient in waiting for your first seeds to germinate. We usually till the soil, then sow the fine seeds directly in the ground in May (a few weeks before the last frost in our Zone 5 garden), walking back over the sown rows to firm in the seed. It sometimes takes a month for the small, feathery-leaved seedlings to appear. We sometimes sow the seeds indoors in a flat of potting mix about two months before the last frost date. Press the seeds into the soil or just barely cover them, and keep the flat at 60° to 70°F. Pot up the seedlings when they’re about 2 inches high, and keep them indoors until all danger of frost has passed. Harden off the potted plants for at least a week, setting them outdoors in a protected area for a longer period each day, and then transplant to the garden.

Space the plants at least 3 to 4 feet apart in the garden so they’ll grow full and well branched: each one can grow to the size and shape of a Christmas tree by harvest time. The plants will grow steadily until late summer, when they shoot up to 6 feet or more in height. (Transplanted sweet Annie usually doesn’t grow as large as self-sown plants do.) Neighbors may think you have missed pulling some very large weeds, but you can encourage them to brush against the foliage to release its lovely, fruity fragrance.

Sweet Annie is a sun lover and adaptable to many soil types. It needs only average moisture and will grow even under quite dry conditions. We’ve had little trouble with insects; aphids sometimes take a liking to the plants, but it’s usually late in the season when the sweet Annie is so large that the aphids don’t seem to do any harm. We simply harvest the plants, and any aphids that remain will leave as the plants dry.

Harvesting Sweet Annie

In late summer (early September in Zone 5), watch for the development of “beads”—tiny yellow flowers in loose panicles—along the branches. If the branches are cut too soon, they will be of poor quality, so wait until the blossoms open (giving the plants a yellowish cast). Harvested at this time, the plant will dry to a nice medium green but will gradually turn golden brown on exposure to light. Leave one or two branches at the base of a plant to set seed; this will ensure a good supply of seedlings for next year’s harvest.

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