Friends Tell Friends to Plant Annuals!

This landscape of trees, shrubs, and perennials is garnished with annual which add color and texture spring through fall.

Don’t Neglect the Annuals!

Despite the recent frigid temperatures, the spring season goes on as summer temperatures begin to loom. As such, we have our first shipment of annuals in! I was like a kid watching Santa unpacking gifts when I saw them come off the racks; we got some nice stuff!

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

From time to time, I talk to people who infer that annuals aren’t worth the trouble because they don’t come back every year. That’s like saying the writing on your grandma’s birthday cake is a waste since she’s going to eat it anyway. Who would say that? Anyone who can appreciate a nice landscape ought not to be so flippant!

Annuals are the finishing touch on a refined landscape. They are the seasonings on the steak, the icing on the sugar cookie, the sprinkles on the doughnut. They are the final garnish! Sure, they aren’t as pivotal as shrubs and perennials to a landscape, but if you want to take your landscape from 85% to 100%, annuals are they key! Have you ever seen a floriferous summer garden in a magazine without them? I didn’t think so.

Butterflies and other pollinators love Lantana, a low maintenance annual. Photo by Aaron Grabiak.

I think if more people understood annuals and learned to appreciate them, they’d be willing to utilize them more. Especially when it comes to understanding the “maintenance.” So I’ll try and persuade you here. Still with me?

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

Most annuals are easy to care for. All the “hard work” they really require is planting those tiny little root balls and keeping an eye on their water needs (which you do with your other plants anyway, right?). Other than that, if their cultural conditions are met, annuals are easy! In that light, we could call them “low maintenance” (the favorite of all buzzwords!). If you don’t believe me, perhaps you haven’t seen pansies brutally take March and April flurries, or see Lantana flourish in the smothering heat. Some are even a piece of cake to start from seed, such as Castor bean, an annual which will grow 6+ feet tall in 3 months or so.

If you’ve had mixed results with annuals in the past, let this be the year you hit the ball out of the park. I’m “rooting” for you!

I love using annuals in my landscape beds, filling in the empty spaces between shrubs and perennials and alongside walkways. This is a great way to bring color and interest to your landscape, especially since you can change it up ever year! Many customers are disheartened to hear many shrubs and perennials only bloom for a few weeks. Annuals are a great way to keep beauty and pizzazz to your landscape beds when shrubs and perennials are offering less interest. Most will bloom from the time you buy them up until a hard frost or two (late October/November). That’s a long time! A little plant food will help amplify said blooming.

Zinnias, from several different series, in my 2018 garden.

One of my favorites is sweet alyssum, which makes a nice edger and softener along pavement and walkways. I enjoy zinnias too and usually grow a dozen or so flats a year from seed. You can buy zinnias of course but growing them from seed is inexpensive, easy, and consumes little time. Both enjoy full sun, heat, and won’t demand constant watering once established.

Mexican sunflower can easily fill an empty area with color and food for pollinators (Tithonia rotundifolia). Photo by Aaron Grabiak.

One annual that has become a new favorite of mine over the past couple years is Angelonia. Sometimes called the summer snapdragon, this upright blooming plant requires hardly any maintenance. One established, it can take drier soils but also wont piddle out if summer rains cause your area to be a bit wet. A little fertilizer will really make these gals flower prolifically!

There are annuals for every kind of spot in the landscape. There are big annuals like sunflowers and castor beans which can easily fill the back of a bed or an empty space where you haven’t had the time to plant shrubs.  And there are small annuals like Johnny jump-ups and annual Lobelias to just fill in the empty spaces in your landscape around your front porch. The latter looks much better than looking at mulch or rock!

Most annuals love full sun like marigolds, Cosmos, and petunias but there are plenty of shade loving ones too, such as Torrenia, Impatiens, and Browalia. Some like Coleus and Alternathera, both of which are foliage plants, can go either way. Some like it drier such as Portulaca and Gomphrena while others like it on the wetter side, such as Canna lilies and Egyptian papyrus (Cyperus papyrus).

A shade planter of sweet potato vine, fuchsia, begonia, and Browalia. Design by Plumline employee Jess.

In addition to staples like zinnias and nasturtiums which I often utilize, I love trying a couple new annuals every year. A couple seasons ago I tried some Love-Lies-Bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus). A very fun plant!

Of course, annuals are the best plants for containers. Annual container gardening is one of the quickest and most affordable short term ways to spruce up an area for the spring, summer, and fall – the seasons when you are outside the most! While you can buy pre-planted containers from the garden center, its often the most fun to create your own.

Annuals are excellent for containers. Perennials, such as Goatsbeard (Aruncus sp), work too.

You’ve probably heard the common recipe for a professional container garden – thriller, filler, and spiller – and for good reason as it’s an excellent strategy to follow. For those unfamiliar, 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 small arbor for an annual vine.

Next, pick 1-3 plants to fill in the space around your thriller. Unless you’re specifically going for a monochromatic or another subdued color scheme, I often like going with a mix of colors so everything pops. 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 stuff for your fillers!

Lastly, pick 1 or 2 plants to become your spiller; the plants that trail over the sides soften the edges of the container and add more vertical dimension to the design. Creeping plants such as calibrachoa and bacopa work great as do vines such as sweet potato vine and Black-Eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata).

These containers utilize a thriller (red Celosia) and three fillers. Fillers used here are an annual grass, Pentas, and fan flower (Scaevola sp.). Yellow-flowering Mercadonia is utilized as a spiller. Design by Plumline employee Jess.

Here is a great article from Proven Winners on designing containers.

Of course, this recipe is not the only valid one. Sometimes a lone filler or spiller is enough to make a nice statement, such as this fan flower (Scaevola sp.) cultivar.

Scaevola aemula Whirlwind® Pink. A great annual for both a filler and a spiller, as well as a garden bed plant.

Fan Flower (Scaevola aemula.). A great annual for both a filler and a spiller, as well as a garden bed plant.

Speaking of vines, it is my opinion ever garden ought to have a summer annual vine. My favorite is the morning glory. Talk about a plant that rewards you for so little. Yep, you heard that right, low maintenance! I love the true blues that come with the Mexican morning glory (Ipomoea tricolor) such as Clarke’s Heavenly Blue, Blue Star, and Flying Saucers. This species, in my experience, has not reseeded as fervently as others. That can be a plus although I like the offspring; it means I don’t have to sow seeds the next year! I tried Spanish Flag two seasons ago and that stood out for its uniqueness factor! Flowering sweet peas are another garden classic.

An additional plus is that some annuals can be overwintered inside if you become attached to them. I have three Plumbago auriculata, or blue Plumbago, that I took back outside a couple days ago. I’ve had them for three years! Dahlias are another. Some of those dinner plate dahlias can be pricey; it’s a good maneuver to dig up those tubers and put them in the basement for the winter.

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

To view many of the annuals we typically carry spring through summer, check out our Plant Finder and check the “annual box” before you hit search.

To help you get started, I’ll make some recommendations below for great “filler” plants – for containers or for your 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

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

As I mentioned, considering all the color and blooms they reward you with, most annuals are easy once they’re planted. Just pay attention to their water needs. When planting various annuals together, either in the landscape or in a container, be sure to group plants together based on their water and sun needs. Planting moist-loving and shade-happy Torrenia with dry and sun loving Cosmos will be difficult to maintain. If you need help with some cultural knowledge, we can help you at the garden center!

Torrenia Catalina® Midnight Blue. Also called Wishbone flower, Torrenia is a great annual for partly-shady areas.

As you are buying annuals, I highly recommend purchasing some slow-release granular fertilizer to beef up the blooms after planting. It takes a lot of nutrients to make all those pretty blooms so if you supplement with plant food, it will give your annuals more bang for your buck!  I like using a slow-release granular fertilizer as it’s easier than liquid feed which requires mixing in a watering can. But if you opt to go with a liquid fertilizer, utilize it every other watering (or read the directions on the package). That said, you can also utilize a liquid feed in addition to the granular feed later in the season if you wish!

Calibrachoa x Superbells® Holy Smokes! Calibrachoa, or Million Bells, is a great filler and spiller for a container, as well as a groundcover near walkways.

Now that the freezing nights are finally behind us, it’s time for you to go out and plant once and floral!

Happy plantings!

This landscape utilizes Cleome (also called Spider Flower), Angelonia, Petunia, and Coleus to brighten up the landscape bed of irises and hydrangeas.





With photos provided by Plumline Nursery employee Aaron Grabiak with Aaron Grabiak Garden Photography & Landscape Design, Proven Winners, and the author.