Friends Tell Friends to Plant Annuals!

Friends Tell Friends to Plant Annuals


Despite the recent cold temperatures, summer is on the horizon. If you haven’t been in recently, come on in and see our first shipment of annuals!

This landscape bed hosts trees, shrub, perennials and is garnished with annuals which tie the seasons together.

Male Tiger Swallowtail on lantana. Photo by Aaron Grabiak.

Every year, a surprising number of homeowners and landscapers tell me they view annuals as ornamentally trivial because they die and don’t come back the next year. To me that’s like saying designing a cake for a special occasion is pointless because it will end up being eaten. Anyone who can appreciate a nice landscape should not be so dismissive.

Annuals are the final garnish on a refined landscape. They are the seasonings on the steak, the icing on the cookie, and the sprinkles on the doughnut. It’s true they are not essential as trees, shrubs, and perennials are, but I think annuals can take add as much as 15 percent to the appeal of the landscape. If you open a garden book or magazine in summer, you’d be hard pressed to find many pictures without them.

I think if more people understood annuals, they’d be willing to utilize them, especially when it comes to understanding the maintenance associated with them. Most annuals are very easy to grow and manage. The part that requires the most work is simply planting them.

Plant them Right & Watch them Flourish

This shade perennial garden pops with the addition of pink begonias, Torrenia, and Hypoestes.

Like all other landscape plants, match the annual plant to the appropriate spot in your yard so they remain easy to maintain. Lantana and Moss Rose are tolerant of heat and dry soils, so they work great around the mailbox and street curb in the heat of summer. Wax begonias like shade. And so on. Most annuals are more adaptable and resilient than you may think which works in your favor! Be aware that most annuals don’t like frost so plant them in mid-May after danger of frost has passed. There are exceptions such as pansies and snapdragons that are tolerant of frost. These can be planted in April.

I like using annuals to fill in the empty spaces between shrubs and perennials in the landscape and alongside walkways. This is a great way to additional bring color and interest to your landscape, especially since you can change it up every year. Many customers are disheartened to hear many shrubs and perennials only bloom for a few weeks. Annuals are a great way to keep pizzazz in your landscape beds when shrubs and perennials may be offering less. Most will bloom from the time you buy them up until hard frost (late October/November). That’s a long time. Annuals are a great way to jazz up the landscape in a short amount of time if you like to host events at your home, such as graduation parties and family reunions.

Annuals Can Go Anywhere

Mexican sunflower can quickly fill an empty area (Tithonia rotundifolia). Photo by Aaron Grabiak.

Zinnias in my 2018 garden.

One of my favorite annuals is sweet alyssum, which makes a nice edger along walkways. I also love zinnias which I usually grow from seed. It requires a little more time but is inexpensive and easy to do. Both plants enjoy sun and heat and require little watering once they are established.

A new favorite of mine is Angelonia. Sometimes called summer snapdragon, this upright annual can take drier soils once established but also won’t piddle out if summer rains cause the area to be wet. Fertilizer is not necessary but will really make these plants shine.

There are annuals for every place landscape. Some are large annuals like sunflowers and castor beans which can easily fill in large areas. Others are small, spreading annuals like Johnny jump-ups and petunias which can quickly fill in empty spaces in your landscape beds. There are also annual grasses which are colorful and quick to establish. Some like drier soil such as Portulaca and Gomphrena while others like it wet, such as Canna lilies and Egyptian papyrus (Cyperus papyrus). While the bulk of annual plants require full sun like marigolds, cosmos, and petunias, there are plenty of shade-loving ones too, such as Torrenia, impatiens, and Browalia. Some foliage plants like Coleus and Alternathera will thrive in both.

In addition to basic and well-known annuals, I enjoy trying a couple new ones every year. A couple summers ago I grew Love-Lies-Bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus) which has unique, fuzzy flowers. Growing annuals can be an inexpensive and noncommittal approach to playing with plants in the landscape.

Container Gardening

Potted annuals brighten up a porch that would otherwise be dull. Photo by Aaron Grabiak.

Annual container gardening is one of the quickest and most affordable methods to spruce up an area, especially around a deck or patio. While you can buy pre-planted containers from the garden center, it’s cheaper and more fun to create your own. Planting annuals is a great way to introduce gardening to children too.

There’s a common trope that describes a recipe for an aesthetically pleasing annual container: “thriller, filler, and spiller.” This is a solid guide.

This means you find a tall and interesting plant to be your focal point. This becomes your “thriller.” Some great examples are an annual grass like purple Pennisetum, Cordyline spikes, or a post for an annual vine to climb on. It can be planted in the center of container or off center.

These containers utilize a thriller (red Celosia), fillers (Pentas, grasses) & spillers (Mercadonia, Scaevola). Design by Plumline employee Jess.

Next, pick 1-3 plants to fill the space around your thriller. These will be your “fillers.” Great examples of fillers are Wave® Petunias, Cuphea, and annual geraniums (Pelargonium sp.). These will be the workhorses of your container so pick some nice plants for your fillers.

Lastly, pick 1 or 2 plants for your “spillers” which are plants that trail over the sides. These function to soften the edges and add vertical dimension to the container. Creeping plants such as calibrachoa and bacopa work great as do vines such as sweet potato vine and Black-Eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata).

Try to use a limited color scheme so all the plants in the container weave together while utilizing a variety of textures.  Here is a great article from Proven Winners on designing containers.

Arranging Annual Containers

For noteworthy impact, group pots of different sizes together (such as 3 or 5). For the most part, use the same plants in each pot but make a subtle difference in each – such as using a similar filler but in a different color – or a totally different plant but one that doesn’t look out of place. Smaller pots should have less variety while larger containers can have more. This will establish repetition and rhythm among your containers but add unique interest to each one.

Annual Vines & Tropicals

Flying Saucers Morning Glory (Ipomoea tricolor ‘Flying Saucers’) in my 2018 garden. An easy annual for a fence or trellis.

Utilizing annual vines another fun and noncommittal way to add color in the landscape. If there’s one plant that rewards you for so little, it’s the morning glory. I love the true blues that come with the Mexican morning glory (Ipomoea tricolor) like Clarke’s Heavenly Blue, Blue Star, and Flying Saucers. Other classics I’ve had success with are Spanish Flag and flowering sweet peas.

Many tropical plants are treated as annuals but can be successfully overwintered indoors. I have three Plumbago auriculata, or blue Plumbago, that I keep indoors in winter but bring back outside in May. Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia spp.) and citrus trees are best grown this way too. Dahlias are another plant that can be saved. Some of those dinner plate dahlias can be pricey so it’s a good idea to dig up the tubers and store them in the basement for the winter.

Getting Started

An elegant planter of yellow Bidens, Coleus, and Petunia. Photo bv Aaron Grabiak.

To view many of the annuals we typically carry spring through summer, check out our Plant Finder.

To help you get started, here’s some recommendations below for great “filler” plants for containers and landscape beds.

Sun loving annuals: Alyssum, Angelonia, Celosia, Cleome, Diascia, Fan Flower (Scaevola sp.), Gazania, Geranium (Pelargonium sp.), Gomphrena, Lantana, Marigold, Pentas, Petunia, Portulaca, Salpiglossis, Verbena,

Part-sun/part-shade loving annuals: Begonia, Browalia, Caladium, Coleus, Fuschia, Hypoestes, Impatiens, Lobelia erinus, Plectranthus, Torrenia, Viola/Pansy

Larger, sun loving annuals: Cassia, Canna lilies, Castor Bean, Cosmos, Elephant Ears, Morning Glory (with trellis), Sunflowers

This landscape utilizes Cleome, Angelonia, Petunia, and Coleus to brighten up the bed of irises and hydrangeas.

As I mentioned, annuals are quite easy to maintain if you pay attention to where you’re planting them. When planting various annuals together, either in the landscape or in a container, group plants together according to their water and sunlight needs. If you need help with some cultural knowledge, we can help you at the garden center.

Torrenia Catalina® Midnight Blue is a great annual for part shade.

When you purchase annuals, I also recommend slow-release granular fertilizer. It takes a lot of nutrients to make all those flowers so if you supplement with plant food, you’ll keep them happy, and it will give your annuals more bang for your buck. I like using slow-release granular fertilizer because it requires less time than mixing liquid fertilizer. If you opt to go with a liquid fertilizer, read the directions first but as a rule of thumb, fertilize every other watering.

Happy planting!


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