It’s about this time of year that my annuals start killing it in the garden. They are the showstoppers right now, and so, naturally, they get all my garden love as I ignore their powdery-mildew cousins, the perennials. I love my perennials, but they aren’t making me happy in August when it’s sweltering outside, and I don’t want to deal with deadheading hybrid echinacea.  Here are 10 reasons for using annuals in your garden.

10 Reasons for Using Annuals in the Garden
  1. Non-stop blooming.
  2. Low-maintenance.
  3. Pests and disease-resistant.
  4. Showy and versatile.
  5. By the time they outgrow their spots (if they do), it’s October, and out they go, providing a blank slate for next year.
  6. Colorful  (Redhead coleus) or subtle (Moonlight caladium).
  7. They meet various needs: shade or sun, tall, spreading or climbing, foliage or blooming, tropical or cottage, formal or informal.
  8. There are cool-season annuals (osteospermum, fall mums, and rudbeckia) and warm-season (zinnias, cosmos), so never get bored.
  9. Start with seeds, plugs, quarts, small pots, and hanging baskets, giving various options for planting or simply hanging up and enjoying.
  10. Don’t forget. They pollinate.

Why are they called annuals if they don’t come back annually? Great question. We hear it all the time and wonder that ourselves. Because somebody did not think that through? But, for our purposes, annuals sprout, bloom, produce seeds, and die all in one growing season. Perennials have life-spans of three years or more depending on the species.

A few tips:
  1. If you’re starting with seeds and you’re a beginner,  start with the tried and true seeds. Those that will germinate for you no matter where you toss them. Zinnias, sunflowers, cosmos–these are going to reward your efforts, no matter how minimal. That said, more effort equals more flowers, so follow the instructions carefully on the packet. (Here are 5 plants that are easy to grow from seed that pollinators love.)
  2. Know your budget. It’s easy to get carried away when you walk into our annual department, and while we love your business, we do want you to come back. Here’s what I do. I decide before I shop. (I know, killjoy.) I have a few yearly purchases that are pricey–Kimberly Queen Ferns. I use them to provide screening on my back porch. I place them in standing window boxes. Two, 10″ pots fit perfectly in my two window boxes, hiding me from my neighbors, whom I love.  I use two more Kimberly Queens in 24″ pots in my shade garden under the cherry trees to add height (and privacy) where tree roots don’t allow anything to grow. Those six ferns are pricey, but oh so worth it as I live on my tiny screened-in porch all summer, and it creates a tropical paradise for me. Many of my B.B. Barns co-workers love their container gardens. I less so, but I do have a few of them, so I budget for those too. I tend to plant my annuals in the landscape, instead. I plan for areas where not much else will grow, like at the bottom of the rose trellis or where an old tree stump was ground. I buy plugs or “flats” for those areas and my containers (plugs grow fast), generally using begonias, marigolds, and coleus, my favorites. I also ask everyone for plants in spring since my birthday is in April. So, planning and budgeting are key, although I believe in breaking the budget if you see something you must have. Life is short.
  3. Annuals benefit from extra water and fertilizer. Use Miracle Grow Bloom Booster every 7-10 days.
  4. Annuals are tough plants. They can handle aggressive gardening. Feel free to pinch back annuals that are outgrowing their spot (lantana) or bolting (coleus, which means it is producing a flower) or need a shearing because they are getting leggy (million bells).
  5. Leave the seedheads on.  Some annuals are self-sowers: nasturtiums, love-in-a-mist, bachelor buttons, cosmos, to name a few. Don’t tidy up too quickly, let them go to seed first.
  6. Tender perennials (many of the salvias) will return yearly if winter isn’t harsh. ‘Black and Blue’ has made many a repeat performance in my garden, which I love because the hummingbirds are all over it.
  7. Lastly, as Carol Dwyer in our annuals department says, “Go bold, it’s summer. We have all winter to be subtle.” Annuals provide us with loads of color, so max out on some color.

For more reasons, check  Gardenista’s blog on annuals.

10 reasons to use annuals in the garden

My crazy dragon wing begonias. A client gave me six small pots of these annuals back in early May and now it’s August and they’re insane. See what I mean about showstoppers?


I’ve given you my 10 reasons for using annuals in the garden. Please share yours!

Written by Cinthia Milner, Landscape Consultant, B. B. Barns Garden Center and Landscape

B. B. Barns Garden Center and Landscape serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, and  Tennessee.