Make a Splash with Annuals

Photo by ZDA, Inc.

Spice up your landscape with splashes of annual flowers. Annuals are defined as herbaceous plants that live for only one year. Bedded out en masse, used in containers or interplanted between perennials, annuals add unmatchable color and vibrancy to the landscape.

Like all plants, annual flowers perform best when chosen for light and moisture conditions, as well as color, size, and form. While potted annual plants can be planted anytime to add instant color and refresh the garden throughout the summer and fall, seeds and small starts planted in spring catch up quickly and require less water to establish. With a little thought and planning, the four months of non-stop blooms and colors that annuals add to the landscape will be well worth the yearly investment required to plant them.

Photo by ZDA, Inc.

The luxury of replanting an entire flower bed each year with new combinations of annual flowers might be reserved for public gardens or an avid gardeners prized view. For me, this is the view I see from my kitchen window. Here I choose annuals for their exuberant color display and to attract hummingbirds, which I enjoy watching dart from flower to flower as I prepare our daily meals. But my favorite way to use annuals is to fill gaps and increase color volume in perennial gardens.

Annuals that share their space without demanding star status work to weave a mixed border together without looking out of place. The best annuals are drought-tolerant, repeat perennial flower shapes and sizes, and produce profusions of flowers without deadheading. For a tidy, colorful border, try edging your gardens with short mounding or spreading annual flowers.


Choose annuals that will nestle into or spill around the feet of upright plants to hold the edge against weeds. In addition to classics like sweet allysum and multiflora petunias, Helenium Dakota Gold, Nierembergia, Penta, Scaevola, and Verbena Lanai are exceptional for hot, dry sunny gardens, especially alongside walks and pavement. In shade, Impatiens, wax begonias, and the newer more heat-tolerant pansies, Violas, and Lobelia are all good choices. My personal favorite for a blue edge in the shade is Torina Blue Wave.

Photo by ZDA, Inc.


Taller, upright annuals with slender spires, daisies, or clouds of airy flowers work well repeated through the garden to extend bloom time, fill holes, and add unity to the garden. Upright Fuchsiaparticularly Garten Meister FuchsiaSun Coleus, Nicotiana, and Big Leaf Begonias are excellent for adding color and brightening the shade. Favorite specialty annuals sold potted include Salvia Black and Blue, Salvia Lady in Red, and Angelonia. Other great fillers such as zinnias, sunflowers, cosmos, Verbena bonariensis, and snapdragons are easy to grow from seed.

Annuals from Seed

Starting annuals from seed is an easy way to enjoy an abundance of flowers with minimal investment. Try planting annual seeds in your garden this year and enjoy them for years to come by either helping them to re-seed or allowing them to self-seed in the garden.

Reseed with Help. Collect zinnia, marigold, cosmos, sunflower, and nasturtium seed heads in fall and store in a dry, cool place for winter. Then sow directly in the garden the following spring by scratching seeds into bare spots after danger of frost has passed.

Photo by ZDA, Inc.

Self-Seeders. Sweet Alyssum, Datura, Nicotiana sylvestris, Talinum, Helenium Dakota Gold, Nigella, Verbena bonariensis, and Violas replant themselves for the following year. In the fall, leave seed heads standing and the flowers will do the work, or cut back flowers and sprinkle their seeds over the ground where you want them to grow next year. Edit seedlings the following spring by weeding out or transplanting the babies that come up in the wrong place.

Make a splash in your own garden by planting annual flowers. Planted from seed or added as potted plants, annuals can be bedded out en masse or used to fill gaps and bridge bloom times. Available in an incredible array of colors, sizes, and forms, the choices are endless. Bursting with joy and vitality, nothing compares to annual flowers for adding months of non-stop color to the summer landscape.

Joan W. Ziegler is a horticulturist and garden designer for ZDA, Inc. Landscape Architecture, 4797 Capitol View Road, Middleton. Call (608) 831-5098 or visit .