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Potting

5 Ways to Use Annuals in the Garden

By Heather Blackmore for Proven Winners
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners

Annuals are the unsung heroes of the landscape. They can swoop in at any given moment and completely transform a space in the blink of an eye. Perhaps you’ve heard the adage about perennials: the first year they sleep, the second year they creep and the third year they leap. Most gardeners will agree that waiting for a perennial to catch its stride is a true test of patience. Annuals are the opposite—they show their cards within weeks of planting and keep getting better.

Longevity is the tradeoff. Unlike perennials that return every year, annuals complete their entire life cycle in a single growing season. That means they have just a few short months to strut their stuff before a killing frost silences them forever. How’s that for motivation! In a short amount of time, they can do some spectacular things that most perennials take years to accomplish.

Let’s look at five common situations many of us encounter in the garden where annuals can save the day.

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Unplugged® Pink salvia is a magnet for hummingbirds.

Grow Annuals to Attract More Pollinators

Bees, butterflies, birds, and moths bring a garden to life. So why not offer these benevolent creatures a little something to encourage them to linger longer? Annuals like Unplugged® Pink salvia work just as hard to attract pollinators whether you grow them in containers or plant them in a sunny border. Sitting atop deep green foliage are the most beautiful hot-pink tubular flowers which are sure to catch the eye of passing hummingbirds. A black calyx surrounding each flower adds interest to this self-cleaning, compact plant. That’s right, no deadheading is needed to keep the flowers coming.

Check out more pollinator-friendly annuals for your garden including Goldilocks Rocks® bidens, Snow Princess® sweet alyssum, Luscious® lantana and Senorita Rosalita® cleome.

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Suncredible® Yellow sunflowers stay much shorter than the kind you grow from seed, plus they bloom for months.

Short on Space? Choose Smaller Versions of Big Plants

I don’t know about you, but my garden isn’t complete without a sunflower or two. They’re happy flowers whose faces follow the sun, often carrying a bee along for the ride. Some tall sunflowers swallow an entire space to produce just a single bloom, which seems like a lot of effort for little return. Branching varieties sprawl in every direction, eating up valuable real estate. While their flowers may be plentiful, the space they consume can be hard to relinquish for small space gardeners.

Standing just two to three feet tall, Suncredible® Yellow sunflowers offer the best of both worlds. Four-inch flowers cover the bushy foliage which spreads about two feet. It’s the ideal size for smaller gardens. I love how it blooms the whole season without deadheading. It thrives in sun and carries on into the fall, livening up autumn borders.

See more ideas for small space gardening.

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Supertunia Vista® Jazzberry® petunias cover a lot of ground, shading out weed seeds in their wake.

Use Annuals for Weed Prevention

Maybe you have an empty spot in your garden and can’t decide what to plant. It happens. Instead of weeds telling you what to do, as they will inevitably assert themselves in any open space, use annuals as a place holder. They’ll shade out weed seeds, preventing them from germinating, while you make up your mind on what to plant there permanently.

While you’re thinking, pop in a few Supertunia Vista® Jazzberry® petunias. Or, if you prefer petunias in a more subdued color, there are plenty more varieties of Supertunias from which to choose. These mounding plants flower non-stop all season, burying the foliage beneath their brilliant, pollinator-friendly blooms. Sprawling up to three feet, they can cover a lot of ground and shade out a lot of weeds in the process. Who knows? You may love them so much that you’ll decide a Supertunia Vista® petunia was exactly what that space needed all along!

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Colorblaze® Lime Time® coleus keeps its brilliant coloring all season long.

Colorful Foliage Plants Fill the Gap

Flowers seem to get all the attention in the garden, but that hardly seems fair, especially when they can be so fleeting. In my garden, there’s a period in late July when the early summer flowers become less prolific. The dahlias haven’t popped yet and things are in a bit of a holding pattern. That’s when Colorblaze® Lime Time® coleus comes into play. This plant is all about foliage! The lime green color goes with everything, mixing well and offering interest when the rest of the garden is gearing up for the next phase.

Check out the entire line of Colorblaze® coleus and Heart to Heart® caladiums. Their foliage colors and patterns are incredible and most work well in sun and shade. Their stems are also great for cutting for fresh arrangements.

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Double Up™ Pink begonias add a fun pop of color in the shade.

Use Flowers to Brighten Up Your Shady Spaces

Have you ever taken a picture of your garden and noticed a dark spot in a bed? Snapping pictures of your shady spaces is a wonderful way to pinpoint those areas that may be a little lost in the dark. Annual flowers can be a quick and easy solution for brightening them up.

Blooming with double flowers atop the upright, glossy foliage, the Double Up™ series of begonias is self-cleaning and performs well when planted in the landscape and containers. Compared to regular bedding begonias, these shade lovers grow twice as big. While able to withstand a little drought, they’ll show you all they have with consistent watering and feeding. The more sun they receive, the more water they’ll need. Explore more shade-tolerant annuals.

Learn more about using annuals in the landscape:

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Patent Information: Unplugged® Pink Salvia USPP34160 CanPBRAF; Suncredible® Yellow Sunflower Helianthus USPPAF CanPBRAF; Supertunia Vista® Jazzberry® Petunia USPPAF CanPBRAF; Colorblaze® Lime Time® Coleus scutellarioides USPP27140; Double Up™ Pink Begonia semperflorens

Heather Blackmore is a Chicago-area gardener, writer, and speaker who hopes her passion will inspire others to find their way to a happier, healthier life in the garden.


All articles are copyrighted and remain the property of the author.

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