Swipe to view slides
  • LEFT: Sunflower 'Jade' (Photo courtesy of Burpee). RIGHT: Bellflower 'Champion Pink' (Photo by: Chelsea Stickel).
  • LEFT: Beefsteak Plant 'Blazin' Lime' (Photo by: Chelsea Stickel). RIGHT: Coleus 'Pink Chaos' (Photo by: Chelsea Stickel).

As garden centers start to fill up with enticing displays of annuals, it's easy to grab everything you can and think about where to plant it all later. If you want a cohesive design (face it, we all know that looks better), here are a few essential tips for designing with annuals:

Growing Annuals

When it comes to growing annuals in your garden you have two choices: purchase the plants in flower at a local nursery or start them yourself from seed. If you are looking for instant gratification, buying a few flats from the nursery will be best. However, if you want to save some money and aren't in a rush, seeds are much cheaper.

Purchase annual seeds on Amazon.

  • Before you get in your car to go plant shopping, evaluate the areas in your garden where you want annuals. Measure the size of the spaces, know the sun and shade patterns throughout the day, think about how the areas will be viewed and take stock of what plants are nearby.
  • In a bed of strictly annuals — unless you're buying a mix of plants that is intended to go together, as with some pansies — stick to larger quantities of a few types of plants, rather than the overbusy look of a few of everything.
  • Not all plants need to have flowers to be great additions to the garden. Foliage plants such as coleus, Persian shield, 'Magilla' perilla, Joseph's coat and copper leaf add color and texture whether used as filler or focal point.
  • Color combinations can complement, contrast or match. Too much contrast can be jarring, and too much of the same color can be monotonous. Use several colors in a limited palette that work well together for a cohesive and pleasing look. Arrange samples on the ground at the garden center to see if they will work — chances are, if they look good together in a flat, they'll look good in the garden!
  • Repeat colors and forms to lead the eye through the garden.
  • Use a variety of textures to give the garden energy. Too many plants with either a fine or a bold texture can be boring to look at.
  • If you're tucking annuals into a perennial bed, keep in mind the ultimate sizes of the annuals and the perennials so that none of the plants are later overwhelmed by their neighbors.

Learn About Annuals

Annual Flowers to Consider for Your GardenJan Johnsen shares her favorite annual flowers for non-stop blooms.
Annual ViolasDiscover 8 viola varieties in colors ranging from lilac blue to ruddy orange.
Sweet PeasGet tips for growing, harvesting and arranging these delicate annual flowers.
Picture-Perfect PetuniasFind out how to grow petunias that will be the envy of your neighborhood.
The Blackest FlowerDiscover how this dark petunia can complement contemporary garden styles.
Super SunflowersCheck out these remarkably tall sunflowers that reach up to 26-feet in height.
Growing Geraniums in Your GardenTips for properly planting geraniums and care advice to keep them looking good.
BegoniasLearn about how this tropical plant can be used indoors or in shaded summer beds.
Ornamental Kales & CabbagesSee how these hardy plants are used to beautify the winter garden.
MarigoldsThese cheery annual flowers are easy-to-grow in containers or summer borders.
ZinniasEasy annuals that will bring your summer garden alive with color.

Annuals come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Some produce amazing flowers, while others are all about striking foliage. Take a look at these popular annuals to decide which plants to try in your own garden:

Flowering Annuals

Chelsea Stickel

Rudbeckia 'Radiance'

A black-eyed Susan amped to the max. Heads of narrow, quilled golden petals look like a cheerleader’s pom-pom. Blooms summer through fall, 18 inches tall. Hardy to Zone 5a.

Thompson & Morgan

Cosmos bipinnatus Double Click 'Rose Bonbon'

This brand-new version of an old-fashioned annual flower gets high marks for pure romance. Part of the mixed-color Double Click series of double cosmos from Thompson & Morgan, this pretty-in-pink form is the first single color to be released. Rosy pom-pom blooms sit atop sturdy 2- to 3-foot stems. Like other cosmos, ‘Rose Bonbon’ is an easy-to-grow, long-lasting cut flower. tmseeds.com

Chelsea Stickel

New Guinea Impatiens

One of 22 varieties in the Celebrette Series, ‘Coral Light’ has a kickin’ combination of large coral flowers hovering over dark-edged foliage midstriped with a blaze of more coral. Needs some shade, but laughs at heat and humidity. Grows 8 to 10 inches tall and 10 to 12 inches wide. Annual. simplybeautifulgardens.com

Chelsea Stickel

Nicotiana 'Babybella'

Masses of wine-red flowers on airy three-foot stems nod in the slightest breeze. A classy new flowering tobacco from Floranova, more compact than its ‘Tinkerbell’ cousin. Annual.

Chelsea Stickel

Osteospermum Summertime Series

From German grower Dümmen comes a cornucopia of fruit-inspired African daisies, with tasty names like Blueberry and Cranberry. Purple and fuchsia petals have an iridescent look, with dark violet-blue centers. Typically used as an annual.


Sunflower 'Jade'

Your typical sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is one huge flower on a towering stalk - not exactly vase material. But breeders have selected a host of cultivars that produce multiple smaller flowers on shorter, branching stems, perfect for cutting. ‘Jade’ is a unique color - pale green - which goes with everything in a bouquet. Each 4-to-5-foot plant produces loads of 4-to-5-inch flowers. anniesannuals.com, burpee.com, territorialseed.com

Chelsea Stickel

An award-winning collection of Canterbury bells (Campanula medium), the Champion Series includes pink, blue, light blue, white and lavender. Though the species is biennial, this series can be grown from seed as an annual, blooming the first year, with upward-facing bell-shaped flowers more than an inch long. Each plant can have up to 10 stems, 2 to 4 feet tall. soquelnursery.com

Foliage Annuals

Chelsea Stickel

Beefsteak Plant 'Blazin' Lime'

A cultivar of Iresine herbstii, which is also disturbingly called chicken gizzard and bloodleaf, ‘Blazin’ Lime’ is the new sister to the popular ‘Blazin’ Rose’. Sports lime-green leaves with cream-yellow veining on fuchsia-pink stems. Puts on the best show in light shade. Heat tolerant. Grows 1 to 2 feet tall. Annual. simplybeautifulgardens.com

Chelsea Stickel

Solenostemon 'Chocolate Mint'

Solenostemon 'Chocolate Mint' is a rich new coleus with mahogany velvet leaves edged in chartreuse. For just a hint of black, try racy ‘Fishnet Stocking’ coleus, with an inky tracery of black-purple veins over lime green. burpee.com, chocolateflowerfarm.com, parkseed.com, veseys.com

Chelsea Stickel

Hot-pink leaves with ruffled, variegated borders edged with a thin line of light green make Solenostemon ‘Pink Chaos’ look like an explosion of neon paisley. Grows 6 to 18 inches tall. Can be perennial in Zones 10 to 11, but elsewhere is an annual. Available from Garden Crossings, Proven Winners, and Sunny Borders Nurseries.

Chelsea Stickel

With waxy, sedumlike foliage and airy heads of tiny pink flowers like baby’s breath, jewels-of-opar is a contrast in textures unto itself. Leaves are that ever-popular glowing chartreuse. Zones 9-11.

Hort Couture

Setcreasea 'Grape Ape'

Think purple heart is old hat? Try this new version from Hort Couture with oversized, deep-purple leaves to 3 inches wide. I stumbled on one at a garden center in Atlanta, and it was love at first sight. The graceful way it trails from its container inspires me to try it in a hanging basket.

Chelsea Stickel

Pseuderanthemum 'Black Varnish'

This high-gloss tropical foliage plant is such a deep shade of maroon that it's nearly black. Use it outdoors in the summer as an accent plant in a sunny border or container in which it can reach 4 feet. And it can easily be nipped back to keep it comfy in an indoor spot.

Terra Nova

Begonia 'Black Taffeta'

Big, black, star-shaped, textured leaves with a red reverse on this Terra Nova introduction give it high drama in the shade garden in summer and in a container in a bright room. Pink flowers chase away winter doldrums. It's hardy in Zones 10-11.

Ornamental Edibles

Terra Nova

Kale 'Crane Red'

One of the most-striking and long-lasting cut flowers isn’t even a flower. The foliage of ‘Crane Red’ ornamental kale forms a tight cluster, rose veined with a rosy-purple center, at the end of a long, sturdy stem, looking like an oversize rose blossom. The Crane Series (which comes in several colors, including bicolor and white) was bred specifically for cutting, taking the popular cool-season annual kale to new heights, up to 2 feet tall, with heads up to 7 inches wide. germaniaseed.com, gurneys.com, parkseed.com, tsflowers.com

Terra Nova

Capsicum annuum 'Medusa'

Hot plus cool equals a jazzy ornamental pepper that’s not pungent, so it’s safe to grow around kids. Indoors it makes a wild “hairdo,” spring through Christmas, of twisty narrow peppers in ivory, yellow, orange and red. Also look for child-friendly ‘Chilly Chili’.

Reader Questions

We have just moved from Baltimore to this land of mild winters. I’ve been told I can plant seeds for annuals right now - instead of waiting until spring - to get flowers early next year. What kinds should I try?
See answer

I filled a large flower bed with the new Wave petunias last year, and they made a terrific show at first. But near the end of the summer they just quit. The plants still looked healthy, but the flowering stopped completely.
See answer

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