Hot Annuals

Keep your garden colorful throughout summer.


The growing season got off to a rollicking start. Blossoms were bursting, color was pulsating, and everyone craves more of the same. But if you want the beat to go on, consider calling in reinforcements, because perennials often pause in midsummer. When the early bloomers are over, and the late show hasn’t begun, you may want something to fill in. Bridging the gap is what annuals do best.

Annuals throw all their energy into now. Unlike perennials, which must store resources for future growing seasons, annuals don’t survive through the winter. So they can safely pack all their resources into a continual show and keep pumping out blossoms until frost pulls the plug. Breeders have taken that natural tendency to flower without pause and dialed it up a notch or more. They’ve given us dwarf cleomes covered in flowers, lobelias that form little mounds of blooms, lantanas that become color carpets, portulacas in a rainbow of shades, verbenas that don’t suffer from powdery mildew, coleus that can tolerate sun, million bells in the full spectrum, petunias that remain compact, pansies that are more than just a spring affair, and impatiens without disease issues, plus much more. Annuals have a bright future; the trick lies in using them skillfully.

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Nobody is suggesting that you go wall to wall, like the glaringly overwrought displays of the 1960s—may the ribbon borders and bedding displays of that era rest in peace—but annuals still have their place in the garden. Tuck some annuals between your perennials for another dimension to the drama. Rather than waiting for the pause, put them in early in the game. Match or complement the colors in perennial foliage, and they’ll strut their stuff when you need a little filler. Try these secrets to pull together a seamless annual display simpatico with a perennial border setting.

Double Impatiens

Accessorize. When you dress for success, you factor your shoes and purse into your look. Similarly, use annuals to accent the garden, sprinkling the ever-ready bloomers around to bring out the color in the bark of a nearby tree or echo the shape of a perennial’s leaf. 

Make a statement with multiples. One annual looks lonely. A six-pack feels half-baked. Go with a dozen or more. The more plants you put in, the more natural it will feel. Remember: Nature is usually generous. There are rarely onesies in the wild.

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Focus your energy. Rather than creating a crazy-quilt effect, go with multiples of the same cultivar. Choose an annual that works with your display and repeat it throughout.

Choose the right plant for the right place. Check labels to ensure you position an annual where it will best perform. Blossoms will not smother a petunia in the shade. An impatiens is apt to wilt frequently in the sun.  

Care for your annuals. Even runway models need a little help from beauticians. Most annuals require occasional pruning and trimming to encourage branching and become superstars. 

Echo your annuals. Add annuals to containers. If they echo the annuals from the beds, the result will be a “tied together” composition. In addition to mixed containers, consider displaying
a mono container dedicated only
to an annual prevalent in your garden beds. 

Underplant. Let annuals serve as a collar around taller perennials, or run them around the bases of trees. 

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Say it with foliage. Beyond just pumping out flowers, annuals such as sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatus), coleus, and dark-leaved dahlias add a foliar accent, as well.

Easiest Annuals Ever


Bacopa: For a cascade of white, pink, lavender, or pale-blue blossoms that laugh at neglect, this is your go-to. 

Browallias: If you like sailor blue, this is the annual for you. Covered with bright-blue stars, browallias don’t need deadheading. 

Calibrachoas: Colorful, covered with blossoms, and easy to care for, million bells look like miniature petunias—no deadheading needed.

Coleus: When you want great foliage without waiting, coleus is it. And it is available in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Prune often to create a dense mound.

Impatiens: To avoid the issues pestering impatiens recently, go with the New Guinea hybrids. The SunPatiens series is colorful and heat tolerant. 

Lantana: Most lantanas become sizable plants, but the new Luscious Pinkberry Blend remains compact, with quiet pink and yellow clusters of flowers.

Lobelia: When you need something to cascade, lobelia makes a great draping plant. It becomes covered with tiny white, blue, or purple blossoms.

Portulaca: This succulent plant can go thirsty without fainting. Plus, it’s covered with dime-size red, coral, pink, orange, or yellow blossoms. Prune it for a tight show.

Verbena: The old faithful trailing verbenas are still available (try the Superbena group), but upright Verbena bonariensis is also an option. It adds lavender-colored flowers on tall spikes. Want a compact, floriferous version? Try Meteor Shower.

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