Annuals may be the one-and-dones of the plant world. But, wow, do they put on a remarkable, season-long show. Sunflowers soar to eight feet and unfurl giant flowers. Petunias boundlessly bloom and bloom and bloom. Many other annuals deliver a non-stop color parade from Mother’s Day to Halloween. If that’s not enough, annuals also are incredibly diverse, affordable and support pollinators. So, no fretting when the curtain drops in late fall – consider it an opportunity to change up the cast of annuals for next season’s debut.
Annual or Perennial?
Annuals, unlike longer-living perennials, complete their life cycle in one season. They grow from seed, flower, produce more seed (for future generations) then die. In the north, we also label tropical plants, like coleus and lantana, as annuals since they die when temperatures dip and must be replaced each year.
Seeds or starts?
Annuals are sold as starts (young plants) in quart pots, six-packs and even in flats. They can be planted in the landscape after the last frost and provide a jump start on the growing season. For the more adventuresome, annuals can also be started by seed. While growing annuals by seeds saves money and opens the door to a wider availability of plants, it also takes some time and planning. In our gardens, we like to plant a combination of the two – 1) seeds for easy-to-grow annuals like nasturtiums and marigolds and 2) plants by the multiples to fill beds for instant impact.
Before shopping, it’s smart to take a look at your space and decide where you want to add annuals. Is it a shady bed in the backyard, a sunny border along the driveway, containers for the patio, or a dry spot by the mailbox? There’s a perfect plant to match each situation – just check plant tags for light and water needs.
Besides growing conditions, consider a plant’s height, color and texture as you assemble your purchases. Shorter plants like alyssum are ideal for the edge of a border while taller plants like garden phlox are better at the back of the border.
One more factor to consider is performance. Look for cultivars bred for disease resistance, vigor and extended bloom time. At Groovy Plants Ranch, we sell top performers including many All-America Selection winners. To see some of the newest cultivars first hand, visit a trial garden like those at Chadwick Arboretum or Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.
Wait until the last frost to plant annuals. Make sure to thoroughly water them once planted. Annuals are heavy feeders and benefit from an all-purpose fertilizer such as 5-10-5 or 10-10-10. Either apply a slow-release granular fertilizer at planting time or apply a fast-acting liquid fertilizer every three to four weeks. Follow the fertilizer package directions for top results.
Annuals also quickly become thirsty because of their shallow roots. Remember to water them when the soil feels dry about one inch below the surface. Take note: annuals planted in containers will need more frequent watering than those planted in the ground.
To keep the blooms coming, many annuals benefit from “deadheading” or removing old blooms before they go to seed. These include snapdragons, cosmos and marigolds. Other annuals (like calibrachoa) start looking ragged by mid-summer and gain from a cut back to encourage new growth. For pruning details, see this guide by Fiskars.
Maybe the best part of annuals is the endless possible combos for containers and landscape borders. Here are a few ideas from our Pre-Order Collections and more to help get you started.
- Butterfly favorites: Welcome butterflies with a trio of nectar-rich and heat-loving lantanas in this Butterfly Fire Trio of pink, yellow and orange.
- Shade combos: Light up your shady spots with our TropiCool collection (wasabi coleus, electric blue lobelia and ‘Encanto Pink’ begonia) or Shady Character collection (Dragon Wing® red begonia, pink double impatiens, Dragon Heart coleus and lime sweet potato vine).
- Container stars: Create eye-catching containers with our winning combos. For full sun, try the Full Petal Jacket collection (purple salvia, yellow canna, lime sweet potato vine and pink petunia). For shade, pot up the Hawaiian Wedding collection ('Canary Wings' begonia, Lava Rose coleus, fuchsia and white double impatiens).
- Heat-lovers: For those blazing hot patios, try the Temple of the Sun collection (blue saliva, Sunrise Rose lantana, and yellow portulaca).
- Humdingers: Welcome hummingbirds with our Humdinger collection (blue and purple salvias, hot pink calibrachoa and Campfire coleus)
- Fillers: Mix annuals to fill in and weave together perennial beds. Some of our favorite fillers include tobacco plant, gomphrena, ageratum and alyssum. Also, fill gaps left from fading spring bulbs by planting shallow-rooted annuals like coleus atop them.
- Cut flowers: Plant annuals like zinnias and cosmos to cut for fresh flower arrangements or plant everlastings like celosia, strawflowers and amaranth for dried flower bouquets and wreaths.