By Linda Roe
Certified Professional Horticulturist, Wight’s Home & Garden
The first really warm days of spring bring gardeners in search of bright flowers to add that glow of sunshine to their gardens. We’ve had it with gray and we’re tired of green. We want red, we want yellow, we want orange, blue, purple, pink and even white! We want that ‘riot of color,’ and we want it, like the sun, to last all summer. We want annuals.
Annuals are plants that grow, bloom, set seed and die in one season (annually). Plants that may be perennial in frost free climates, are lumped in with annuals in nurseries for convenience sake (ex. geraniums). Often called “bedding plants,” the name comes from the practice of planting out large swaths of a few types of plants in one or two colors. Think of large city entrance gardens or estate gardens. This would be something like red salvia, yellow marigolds, and blue lobelia. This is a good strategy for adding curb appeal to a home or business seen from cars buzzing by on the highway. It will be large and bright enough to be noticed!
This effect can be used in small gardens too. A simple swath of color alongside a boxwood hedge, or a foundation planting of low evergreens will certainly add some punch through the summer months. In order for this to work well, the plants need to be spaced closely together, so they will fill in with solid color. Stagger them using a ‘W’ pattern, this way they won’t look like soldiers in formation. Amend your soil before you plant with compost and fertilizer. There will also be maintenance involved. Bedding plants need to be fertilized, watered regularly, weeded and you’ll need to pick off all the seed heads that form (deadheading) to keep them tidy and blooming. Plants that work well for this type of scheme are marigolds, geraniums, upright petunias, salvia, alyssum, lobelia and impatiens.
A more informal, cottage garden mix of annuals, perennials and shrubs is, I think, more fun for the gardener. The pink and white daisy-like flowers of cosmos would fit right in with old roses and old favorite perennials. Use the tall spidery flowers of cleome along a sunny back fence with tall Shasta daisies. Nasturtium flowers are edible and would look charming hanging over the side of a raised bed veggie garden. Plant a small space devoted to all your favorites. Add a teepee trellis in the middle for sweet peas to grow up, put a cutsie little white fence around it and call it a ‘cutting garden.’ That way nothing has to match! Zinnias, snapdragons, statice, starflowers and sunflowers can go from the garden to the vase.
Why is it that so many gardeners shy away from growing things from seed? Some annuals are easy from seed, and really don’t like pot life. California poppies (Eschscholzia) are easy, and there are so many color blends in addition to the usual orange. Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella) has an interesting looking blue flower that turns into an interesting seedpod. Both of these plants will re-seed in your garden for next year.
A container filled with summer annuals to brighten up the porch or patio is the classic use for these showy flowers. Geraniums, petunias, and lobelia are the basics for sun, begonias, impatiens and fuchsias for shade. You can put anything draping or floppy in a hanging basket, but be sure to shoehorn in a start of million bells (Calibrachoa). These bloomin’ machines come in just about any color and bloom all summer. They are my absolute favorite plants for baskets! The secret to growing beautiful annuals in containers is to water until the water drains out the bottom, fertilize once a week with a liquid fertilizer, and deadhead.
As you plant, bring out your inner artist and have fun playing with color combos. One thing about annuals, if you don’t like how your combos turned out, they’re gone at the end of the summer, and you can start over next year!