The Best Annual Flowers To Plant In Your Garden

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Annuals are short-lived plants that sprout in the spring, grow flowers during the summer months, go to seed in the fall and die off in the winter. The seeds produced by the flowers of the annual plant are very hardy and survive during the harshest of winters. Even under severe conditions, these seeds will sprout come springtime.

In warmer climates, a number of annuals will survive longer than one season as long as they are not subjected to a winter frost. This type of annual is referred to as a tender perennial. Tender perennials include geraniums, coleus, impatiens and lantana.

Planting Annuals

Annuals can be either started from seed or purchased as transplants. The easier of these two methods is to start with transplants. Transplants will get a garden off to a quick start. Also, at the end of the summer, the transplanted annuals will set seed, which can be collected and started indoors during the winter months, or they can be allowed to scatter on the ground so that new annuals will appear in the same place the following spring.

Before putting transplants in the ground, prepare the soil by adding organic material or compost to improve the soil fertility and improve drainage. When adding organic material or compost, work 3 to 4 inches of organic material into the top 6 to 8 inches of soil.

When planting transplants, follow these guidelines:

  • Moisten the soil before planting.
  • Loosen any compacted root balls to encourage better rooting.
  • Plant in the garden so that the soil line of the transplant is the same as the garden soil.
  • Use a starter fertilizer with a high phosphorous content such as 10-52-17 to help transplants get off to a good start.
  • Add 2 to 3 inches of mulch around the plant to conserve soil moisture, keep the soil cool and inhibit weed growth.
Ready for Planting Finished Product

Basic Care Of Annuals

Most annuals require a minimal amount of care and maintenance. All it takes to keep annuals healthy and long-lasting is to make sure that the annuals receive the right amount of water, are kept weed free and are pinched back on a regular basis.

Annuals prefer deep, infrequent waterings. Allow the soil to dry out between waterings. By giving plants a deep soak, the plants develop a deep root system. When watering annual plants, do not wet the leaves. Keeping the leaves dry will help prevent foliar diseases.

Weeds should be kept out of the area where annuals are planted. Weeds compete with annuals for space and nutrients. This is especially important when plants are young and small. As plants get larger, the shade from the leaves will make it difficult for weeds to grow.

Probably the most important maintenance task for annuals is continual pinching back and deadheading. To keep annuals compact and bushy, pinch off the new tips on a regular basis. Pinching encourages the plant to branch, which makes the plant bushier. After pinching back the plant, water deeply to encourage new growth.

Deadheading is another important task. By cutting off the spent flowers before the seeds set, the plant will produce flowers for a longer period of time. Deadheading is only required on plants where the spent flowers do not fall off the plant automatically.

Popular Annuals

There are thousands of varieties of annuals that come in a rainbow of colors and all kinds of growth habits. Here are a few popular annuals that will work well in most gardens and climates.

  • Coleus comes in a variety of colors and adds a tropical feel to a garden. These easy care leafy plants enjoy full sun and do not require pinching.
  • New Guinea impatiens are another colorful addition to the garden that grow in partial shade to full sun. New Guinea impatiens are hardier than regular impatiens and have larger flowers.
  • Ornamental cabbage and kale are popular annuals for a winter garden. These large plants add color to a garden during the cold months and have very few pest problems.
  • Pentas are the hot loving annuals of the garden. These colorful plants are a food source for butterflies and hummingbirds. Use pentas in container gardens or in a mass planting.
  • Heliotrope is a great addition to the garden with its bold purple flowers and sweet vanilla scent that fills the nighttime air. This low growing plant also attracts butterflies.
  • Hyacinth bean does double duty in the garden as an ornamental and as a vegetable. This sun-loving vine produces clusters of fragrant purple blossoms that turn into beans. Both the flowers and beans are edible.
  • Dianthus is a hardy family of annuals that includes carnations, gillyflowers, pinks and Sweet Williams. All dianthus have a rich fragrance and will easily re-seed to produce abundant blooms the following year.

Annual Herbs

There are also a number of herbs that have an annual growth habit. Here are just a few:

  • Basil is a popular herb for pesto and Italian cuisine.
  • Lemon Balm has a lightly lemon scent and its flowers are attractive to bees.
  • Parsley is the companion plant of the garden that attracts beneficial insects.
  • Scented geraniums are cultivated for their potpourri qualities and for their culinary uses.

Annuals are a great way to change the look of a garden from year to year. Because annuals are temporary, they offer the gardener the opportunity to experiment with different plants, colors, leaf types and growth habits. Annuals also are a great way to fill in blank spots in a garden, such as those spaces left bare after spring bulbs die back.

Last Updated: December 28, 2011
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About Coletta Teske Coletta Teske has 25 years' experience in tech journalism, as well as home and gardening topics. She has freelanced for Fortune 500 companies such as Boeing and Microsoft, published more than two dozen computer books for Prima Publishing and Macmillan, and worked as a freelance correspondent for West Hawaii Today. Coletta has been an avid gardener since she was 2 years old. While living in Hawaii, she achieved a lifelong dream of becoming a certified master gardener.

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