Pink cosmos. Photo by: _Alicja_ / Pixabay.com.

Annuals are plants that germinate, grow, flower, set seed and die all within one growing season. The first frost will generally signal the end of the season for annuals and most will need to be replanted each year. Some will set seed if the flowers are left to produce seed heads and return the following year. Annuals can be divided into three groups: hardy, half-hardy and tender, based on their cold tolerance. This classification will determine how close to the last frost date in spring that they can be planted.

Hardy annuals do well in cooler weather. They are able to withstand some freezing temperatures and can be planted the earliest. These types will also do well when planted in fall when temperatures begin to drop.

A few common examples of hardy annuals are:

Half-hardy annuals will tolerate a touch of frost and most common annuals fall into this category. If a surprise spring frost arrives, be prepared to cover them at night.

A few half-hardy annuals you might try are:

Tender annuals can’t take any frost and most have originated in tropical or sub-tropical climates. Their growth may be stunted in cooler weather (above freezing) and they shouldn’t be planted until late spring.

Some tender annuals are:

Besides true annuals, there are tender perennials that are often grown as annuals in climates where they are not hardy.

GROWING ANNUALS

When it comes to growing these garden favorites, 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.

DESIGNING WITH ANNUALS

As garden centers start to fill up in spring 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:

  • 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.
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.

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

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?
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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.
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