If you think perennials are all that and then some, and you won’t even look in the annual department, then you and your garden are missing out—on color and joy.
Often, customers refuse to consider a plant if it isn’t a perennial. They don’t want to waste money, they say, purchasing plants and replanting year after year. We don’t want you to waste your hard-earned money either, but let’s stop and examine what annuals give us for the dollars spent.
First, What’s An Annual?
Annuals are often mistaken for perennials because the name “annual” sounds like it refers to a yearly return, as in the plant comes back annually. Instead, the term annual describes plants whose life span is one growing season. In one season an annual will sprout, flower and fruit, reseed, then die. Often, the seeds of that annual come back the next year, though not where you planted it and not as prolific.
Coleus is a perennial in it’s native home of Southeast Asia but in Western North Carolina it’s used an an annual because it won’t survive our winters. Coleus, with it’s bold leaves and love of shade and sun, is a perfect addition to gardens, containers or window boxes. It’s easy to grow. It requires consistent moisture and when flower blooms appear simply pinch them off as it’s grown for its foliage, not the flowers. Coleus grows quickly forming large shrub-like plants, trailing plants, or compact plants. Most are purchased in 4” pots and cost between 5.99-6.99. They will last in the garden until the first hard frost—planting until mid-October. An awesome deal.
The term perennial defines primarily herbaceous plants that live two to five years. Many perennials live much longer (peonies, ballon flowers, hostas) and many reseed like annuals (rudbeckia, summer pholx, gaura), but most require a division every three years to continue to thrive. (For how to divide perennials, read here. )
The term annual is also used for temperennial or tender perennials. These are plants that are perennial in warmer climates but not in colder ones. Coleus, lantana and elephant ears are an example of a tender perennial in WNC, but in tropical climates are perennials. These plants are called annuals because they are used as such.
Annuals, in the gardening world, are plants that are planted each year in the garden. They’re added for seasonal interest (pansies, petunias, mums) and to try out new combinations of color. Massing them for a show-stopping scene without a lot of expense or gardening expertise is easy and adds to their popularity.
Lantana is a perennial in zones 9-10 but in our zone 7 (Asheville is a zone 7, with higher elevations going as low as 5) we treat it as an annual. it is used in hanging baskets, containers and for a big pop of color in the landscape, often around mailboxes. It has vibrant blooms, and is upright and bushy or trailing. Lantana is planted alone or in combination with other annuals. It does sometimes reseed. It is drought resistant and butterflies love it.
Are Annuals Hard to Grow?
Annuals are popular because, unlike perennials, they bloom from planting to frost. Perennials typically bloom three to six weeks depending on the flower. Annuals provide color between perennial bloom and will pop back after a hard rain or even a hail storm. There are both sun and shade loving annuals. If you’re brand new to gardening and don’t know a sun annual from a shade one, staff is available to help you.
Study your landscape to determine if you have shade or sun. Sun is defined as six hours of direct sunlight a day. Shade is defined as four hours of sunlight a day, preferably the morning sun.
Annuals do not require a lot of gardening knowledge to grow. Just plant, water, fertilize and enjoy. For blooming annuals give them Miracle Grow Bloom Booster every seven to ten days for optimal flowering. Foliage annuals require consistent water and a balanced fertilizer once monthly.
You can start from seed or transplant. Transplants save precious time in the garden but should be planted after danger of frost is past. Seeds can be sown directly into soil or started indoors depending on germination time.
Million bells resemble petunias but are much smaller and more heat resistant. Used in hanging baskets, containers, and landscapes these flowers are workhorses. They bloom consistently from spring to frost. The don’t require deadheading. They’ll make a comeback after a hard rain, or hail storm. Easy to grow, they need full sun and benefit from Miracle Grow Bloom Booster every 7-10 days for optimal blooms. They trail over the sides of containers without being spindly and look lovely in hanging baskets. Their blooms are bright and single or multi-colored. They will out-bloom any plant in the garden. Plant from transplants as it takes several months for seeds to germinate and begin flowering.
Where do you plant annuals?
Annuals can be planted in containers, around mailboxes, by front doors, added to perennial and shrub borders or in window boxes. Annuals are adaptable to many different environments and can go from container to landscape easily. As noted above, make sure to know your light—sun or shade—before purchasing.
For tips on container design, read here. Or purchase one of our ready-made containers and enjoy with no work at all. (Except watering. You always have to water.)
If you have limited space, hanging baskets don’t require a lot of room and can be enjoyed all season.
Annuals are purchased in hanging baskets, 4” pots up to gallon-sized containers, and in flats of 16 or 18 for bedding plants.
Diamond Frost Euphorbia
‘Diamond Frost’ euphorbia is a beautiful, little flower that makes a great filler in containers, is perfect for edging on sidewalks, perennial borders, and added to window boxes. It is drought tolerant, heat tolerant, blooms prolifically, mounds nicely when planted in the landscape, and has won more awards than any other annual. It is the 2020 annual of the year. It requires little fertilizing but performs best when using Miracle Grow Bloom Booster every 7-10 days.
Petunias are tops of the list for favorite annuals. Grown in containers, landscapes, hanging baskets, they don’t require much of the gardener. A balanced fertilizer once a month, and once a week deep watering. Some require deadheading but they also benefit from shearing if they get leggy. Full sun with protection from harsh afternoon sun is best. Mass in one color or mix, it’s hard to mess up petunias.
Have we convinced you yet?
Every plant has it’s place in the garden—perennials, shrubs, trees, and annuals. Annuals are often the workhorses in the garden, providing color when perennials or flowering shrubs have faded and adding the right touch in places too small for additional landscape plants, bringing color to apartment balconies, porches, office windows, commercial properties, a welcome home by the mailbox, a simple arrangement in a container. As gardeners we place a lot of demand on our plants—providing bloom all season without the maintenance is the most repeated request. Annuals give us just that, and for a cost that is relatively low.
Annuals are good team players in the plant world, deserving of a place in your garden. Just ask Brian Jennings, our annuals buyer.
Written by Cinthia Milner, garden coach and blog writer.
B.B.Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, and Tennessee.