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GardenSMART :: 10 Easy-Care Annuals For Every Garden

10 Easy-Care Annuals For Every Garden

By Karen Weir-Jimerson, Costa Farms
Photographs courtesy of Costa Farms

Most annual flowers bloom nonstop, providing a seemingly endless show of color in your yard. Here are 10 of our favorites.

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1. Pansy (Viola)

Pansies brighten early spring and late fall plantings. They're some of the first blooms you can plant to celebrate the start of the season. And, if you're in a cold-winter climate, some of the last fall flowers you can enjoy before the snow flies. In a mild-winter area? You can enjoy pansies all winter long.

Colors: Pansies bloom in almost every color from white to deep purple black. It's easy to use them to fit your favorite look.

How to use: Most pansies grow in tidy little mounds. Some new types trail in pots, planters, or baskets. Or use them as groundcovers when planted in the garden.

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2. Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia)

Sweet alyssum is a must-have annual because it's so versatile. It looks good with any other plant. Once it bursts into bloom, sweet alyssum transforms itself into a low-growing carpet of color. It's exceptionally easy to grow in a sunny spot. Look for varieties such as White Knight or Silver Stream that have been bred with improved heat-tolerance.

Colors: White, lavender, purple, or pink blooms – so many that you can't see the foliage.

How to use: It's often used as an edging plant or in the front of the border. Sweet alyssum also thrives in planters, and often used as a "spiller" element in container garden designs. It's elegant displayed by itself as a centerpiece on a patio table.

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3. Snapdragon (Antirrhinum)

Every garden should have at least a few snapdragons. They are tried-and-true classics. They're so easy to grow! Snapdragons thrive in practically any sunny spot. They don't mind cool temperatures and continue to bloom all summer long in most areas. Their flowers add a touch of whimsy to the garden. They earned their name because some think the individual flowers look like a dragon's face. If you squeeze the back of the bloom, it appears to have jaws that open and snap shut.

Colors: Snapdragon colors include yellow, orange, red, pink, purple, white, and bicolor.

How to use: Snapdragons love garden beds, borders, and containers. Snapdragons come in a couple of different types. Some grow tall, with majestic spikes of blooms that can reach 36 inches tall or more and suitable as dramatic cut flowers. Other snapdragon varieties are smaller, mounding plants that produce many small heads of bloom at a time rather than one large bloom spike. A few even have a trailing habit, making them an ideal addition to hanging baskets.

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4. Dianthus

Love fragrance? Annual dianthus is a must-have. Most have a distinctive spicy clove scent. It's an excellent spring flower that thrives in cool weather. Newer selections boast excellent heat tolerance, so in most areas, you can enjoy this delightful cottage-style flower all summer long.

Colors: Dianthus blooms in shades of pink, rose, white, lavender and bicolors. Some show off silvery foliage that adds to their visual appeal.

How to use: Most dianthus varieties are low growing and ideal for the front of the border (as well as containers and planters). Because most dianthus are small in stature, they are also perfect plants for outdoor centerpieces on patio tables.

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5. Dusty Miller (Senecio cineraria)

Dusty miller creates beautiful combinations no matter what you plant it with. It's fun to look at, as well as to experience from a tactile standpoint. The leaves are soft and fuzzy. Most varieties have finely divided leaves, adding elegant texture to plantings.

Colors: The soft green leaves are covered in silvery hair, giving the entire plant a silvery-white appearance.

How to use: Dusty miller adds a cool touch to red, orange, and yellow flowers. Or soften plantings with blue, purple, or pink blooms. They accent fine-leafed plants like angelonia and marigold, and contrast with bigger leaves like coleus and geranium.

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6. Marigold (Tagetes)

Marigolds are a classic. They've been planted and enjoyed by generations of gardeners. Marigolds fall into basic categories. African marigolds are large, capable of growing 40 inches tall or more, and produce big flowers up to 4 inches wide. French marigolds stay small, usually topping out around 14 inches, and have flowers that can get 2 or 3 inches wide. While the flowers are smaller, there are typically many more of them than on their taller cousins.

Colors: Marigolds bloom in shades of rusty-red, yellow, and orange.

How to use: Plant marigolds in containers, edge a garden bed, or create a swath of color by massing them together. Just drop them in any sunny spot after all danger of frost has passed in spring and watch them bloom and bloom and bloom.

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7. Coleus (Plectranthus)

Coleus is a beautiful heat-loving tropical. Older coleus varieties grow quite tall – to 48 inches tall or more, making them excellent for the back of the border or large containers. Plant breeders have been working on smaller ones, too, and you can now find selections that stay 24 inches tall or less. Newer varieties tend to flower later in the season, too, allowing them to maintain a dense, bushy form without pruning.

Colors: Coleus features variegated leaves in shades of green, chartreuse, gold, orange, red, pink, or purple – sometimes with multiple colors on the same leaf.

How to use: Plant a group of one type of coleus together and it puts on a show you can see from down the block. They excel in containers, baskets, window boxes, and garden beds.

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8. Angelonia

Angelonia is a serious problem solver for gardeners. This plant loves hot sun and is typically passed over by deer and rabbits. This flowering annual (which grows as a perennial in tropical areas of Central America and the Caribbean where it's native), holds up well to drought, too! You can find angelonia varieties that grow tall – just over 3 feet, or tidier types that are bushy.

Colors: Angelonia produces spikes of blue, purple, lavender, pink, or white blooms throughout the summer.

How to use: Angelonia look gorgeous in the front of the garden border. Some types spread, making them perfect for hanging baskets and window boxes. A few angelonia selections are also wonderfully fragrant.

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9. Pentas

Pentas is perfect for hot, sunny spots. This tropical loves hot, steamy weather. Once established, it blooms nonstop with clusters of flowers all summer (all year in frost-free areas!). These blossoms attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

Colors: Pentas flowers bloom in red, pink, lavender, or white.

How to use: Pentas is an ideal garden plant (and a star in pollinator gardens) and thrives in planters. Pentas is available in a range of sizes, from tall types that top out at 48 inches tall or so to smaller selections that stay around 20 inches. There's even a newer collection called Falling Star that has a semi-trailing habit, making it an outstanding annual groundcover or hanging basket plant.

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10. Vinca (Catharanthus)

Annual vinca is a fabulous problem-solving plant. It blooms nonstop, holds up in hot weather, tolerates drought, and is ignored by most deer and rabbits. Most vinca have large flowers. Keep an eye out for the Soiree Kawaii collection, though. They offer loads of tiny blooms, giving the plant a whimsical, cottage-garden appearance. These small blooms are just as attractive to pollinators as their showy cousins.

Colors: Vinca blooms in a wide color range, from reds and pinks to coral and peach to lavenders and whites. Some newer types now show off blue-purple flowers.

How to use: Add to containers or use in garden beds.


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Photos and story by Monrovia Nursery Company

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