Botanically, annuals complete their lifecycle in one growing season. They sprout from seed, grow like mad, flower as much as they can to produce seeds, and then die off, usually with the first hard frost. Sometimes we also grow tender perennials as annuals because they will also flower the first year from seed and are killed off by the first freeze.
But it’s not that important to know if a plant is botanically an annual versus a tender perennial. As long as they flower that first season, we can usually treat them as annuals.
Many are easy to grow from seed and require very little care. And because they die out in the fall, if we don’t like them, they are gone so we don’t have to grow them again the next year. We can start all over in the spring embracing other annuals!
Here are five annuals I embrace every year and grow from seed:
I try to grow a few different varieties of marigolds, Tagetes sp., every year, direct sowing them in a raised bed in the vegetable garden along with other annual flowers like zinnias and sunflowers.
This year I’m growing. ‘Kilamanjaro’, pictured above. It’s a white marigold that seems to be a bit slow in blooming. I also sent some seeds of this variety to MSS at Zanthan Gardens in Austin, Texas so she could also grow them and we could compare notes. I haven’t heard how or if they are blooming for her and suspect that both the marigolds and MSS are suffering in the extreme drought in that area of the country.
I’m growing two kinds of sunflowers, Helianthus annuus, this year.
The ‘Earthwalker’ sunflowers from Pinetree Garden Seeds are nearly eight feet tall and are currently blooming in all shades of rust and orange and maroon. Just think, two months ago, these were just seeds in the ground.
I wasn’t sure if I liked the “fall” colors of ‘Earthwalker’ in the middle of summer, but they’ve “grown” on me, so I’ll probably get them again next year.
My other sunflowers, ‘Elves Blend’ from Botanical Interests, are just about one foot tall, as they are supposed to be, but none of them are flowering yet.
And that’s probably my fault. I decided to move them two weeks ago when they were really too big to move. But I did it anyway because I wanted to plant my new daylilies where they were growing and the move set them back a bit.
One of the secrets to successfully embracing many annuals is to sow them where you want them to grow and don’t plan on transplanting them.
I almost always sow the zinnias where I want them to grow, generally in a raised bed in the vegetable garden.
And I also thin out the seedlings to give the zinnias room to grow. Don’t be tempted to skip thinning out the seedlings. If you do, you’ll just end up with a bunch of spindly over-crowded plants that won't bloom to their fullest potential.
Zinnias come in all sizes, from sprawlers like the star zinnias, Zinnia angustifolia, to my tall zinnias with names like ‘Lavender Queen’, ‘Envy’, and ‘Lilac Time’.
Of course, not transplanting doesn’t hold true for all flowers sown from seed. I’m also growing Sweet Alyssum, Lobularia maritima ‘Oriental Nights’, also from Botanical Interests. I actually started them inside about four weeks before I planted them out in various containers as a filler plant.
Red and purple look, um, interesting together, don't they?
Another favorite annual flower is sweet peas, Lathyrus odoratus. This year, I grew two varieties from Botanical Interests – ‘Fairytale Blend’ and ‘High Scent’. Both grew wonderfully and bloomed as well as any sweet peas I’ve grown. Part of that may be due to the weather we had this spring, but much of it has to do with choosing good varieties. I also soaked the seeds overnight and planted them out in the garden with the garden peas on March 17th. Sweet peas like it cool, so once we had a little heat wave at the end of June, they were done, and I pulled them out on July 3rd.
Now some gardeners wouldn’t embrace a flower like this, one that is done mid-summer when other flowers are just getting going, but have they smelled those sweet peas?
I encourage all to embrace annuals, to grow some from seed for a happier life, at least in the garden. It will not only boost your confidence as a gardener, but also give you blooms all summer right up to the first hard freeze. What more could you ask for?
If you’d like to find out more about the best and worst of annuals that other gardeners are growing and writing about this summer, visit Mr. McGregor’s Daughter to join in her annual flowers meme.