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Easy Annuals for the Home Gardener

Updated on February 8, 2016
LisaRoppolo profile image

Lisa is a writer and gardener with extensive knowledge of plants and plant care. Her articles focus on easy-care tips for home gardeners.

Annuals are Great Filler Plants

Sometimes, no matter how active you are in the garden, there is that one space that needs a little something. Or perhaps you have hanging baskets or porch planters that need something showy for the summer months?

Annuals are a great choice for these applications and more. Because they only live for one season, you can experiment with colors, textures and heights to find what looks best to you. They are the perfect compliment to Perennials mixed into a border and can help revive an area when other plants have stopped blooming for the season.

Most annuals require little care, so they are perfect plants to plant and forget it. Many also attract beneficial insects, bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

Impatiens mixed into a container
Impatiens mixed into a container | Source

Impatiens: A Shade-Lovers Delight

Impatiens are great for shady spots where other plants don't grow. They are low- mounding and produce showy, delicate flowers all summer long. They are easier if planted from starts purchased at your local garden center. I have found growing from seed to be a bit of a challenge. They like moderate moisture and are a perfect choice for containers, hanging baskets or in the front of a shade border and under trees/shrubs. They come in a wide array of colors and some even have double-flowered blooms.

Plants dislike frost, so plant out when temps are averaging 65 degrees or above. Impatiens will bloom all summer through to the first frost and they don't need to be deadheaded at all!

Nasturtiums "Jewel Mix"
Nasturtiums "Jewel Mix" | Source

Which do you most prefer growing? Annuals or Perennials?

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Nasturtiums: Pretty and Edible!

Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum) are easy to grow from seed and will flourish without any trimming or deadheading. They are perfect in the vegetable garden because the entire plant is edible! The leaves and flowers have a peppery flavor, similar to watercress. Both the leaves and flowers are commonly used raw in salads. The flowers especially are a favorite stir fried in some Asian cuisines. The flowers have 130mg of Vitamin C and 45mg of Lutein per 100 grams, so they are quite healthy as well.

As an ornamental, Nasturtiums put on showy blooms in colors ranging from yellow, red, orange and cream. They look great cascading over a container or hanging basket. They prefer full sun to part shade and will bloom all summer long.

To grow from seed, nick the seed coating with a file, then soak overnight in luke-warm or room temperature water. Plant directly out in the garden after danger of frost or you can start them 6 weeks before the last frost date indoors.

Caladiums Give your Garden a Tropical Feel

Caladiums, also known as elephant ears grow easily from bulbs purchased from the garden center or via catalog. They are only hearty to Zone 10, so for most regions they are grown as an annual. You may be able to get two seasons out of them by digging the bulbs in the fall after a killing frost and storing them during the winter (similar to Gladiolus).

Caladiums come in some interesting color combinations from white/green striated to red/green and watermelon pink/green etc. There are literally hundreds of color combos out there.

If you are looking to add a bit of the tropics to containers or borders, this is the perfect plant. They grow to a mature height of about 24 inches with a similar spread and thrive in part to full shade. If you are lucky, they may even produce a flower for you!

They are tender, so plant out after your last frost date.

Caladium in a part-shade spot
Caladium in a part-shade spot | Source
Purple Zinnia
Purple Zinnia | Source

Zinnas Attract Hummingbirds and Butterflies

A tall annual, Zinnias produce a wide variety of single and double flowered blooms on upright plants. They can reach heights between 3 feet to 4 feet depending on the variety. These beautiful plants bloom in late summer and do really well during summer drought conditions.

Easy to grow from seed, they are perfect for filling in bare spots in your wildflower garden. Sow seeds 1/2 to 1 inch apart and lightly cover directly into the garden after danger of frost.

Purple Zinnia with Butterfly visitor
Purple Zinnia with Butterfly visitor | Source

Cosmos: Beautiful Blooms with Airy Leaves

Cosmos are extremely easy to grow from seed and look great next to Zinnas or in the wildflower border. They also do very well in containers. Part of the Aster family of plants, there are about 20 different species available that grow from 1 foot up to 6 feet depending on the variety.

They come in a wide range of colors and petal types. Sow seeds 1/4 inch deep and 1/2 to 1 inch apart after danger of frost.

Cosmos "seashell mix"
Cosmos "seashell mix" | Source
Oxalis leaves and flowers
Oxalis leaves and flowers | Source

Oxalis aka False Shamrock

An interesting low-growing or mat- forming plant, Oxalis is part of the wood sorrel family. They are grown from small bulbs, planted out in late spring. There are over 900 know species and comes in a variety of flower colors as well as leaf colors. The newest variety on the market today is called "Burgundy" which has dark burgundy leaves and tiny light pink flowers.

Perfect for containers, Oxalis takes full-sun to part-shade. Blooms arrive in early summer that are small and delicate.

Oxalis flower close-up
Oxalis flower close-up | Source
California Poppy closed up for the day
California Poppy closed up for the day | Source

California Poppy: The State Flower of California

One of the easiest plants to grow from seed, California Poppies form a low-growing mat of ferny foliage and beautiful blooms ranging in colors of yellow, orange and pink/purple. They are perfect for areas that have poor soils and even thrive in it.

Even though it is considered an annual in most locations, it does self-seed well and will pop up in the same place for years to come. Perfect in the front of a border and in containers, it does best in full-sun, but can take some shade. The blooms open most of the day, closing in the late afternoon.

California Poppy Bloom open
California Poppy Bloom open | Source

African Daisy (Dimorphotheca)

Also known as the Cape Marigold, African Daisies are a part of the same family as Calendula. They can be grown from seed or by purchasing plants from the garden center (which is where I usually purchase mine). They are annuals in most locations, but are perennials in Zones 9 and 10. They grow from 8n inches to 18 inches in full- sun and well-draining soil. When watering, do so in the AM; these plants can tend towards powdery mildew if watered late in the day.

African Daisy
African Daisy | Source
Convolvulus Tricolor Blooms
Convolvulus Tricolor Blooms | Source

Convolvulus: Morning Glory's Well-Behaved Cousin

Convolvulus, also known as Dwarf Morning Glory is in the bindweed family of plants (morning glory and other ramblers), but does not vine and take over like the others do. Perfect for containers, these short plants put out beautiful, almost fake-looking blooms. The most common type is Tricolor, that has bright blue edges with white and yellow centers.

Convolvulus is drought tolerant and prefers full sun. It gets 1 to 1 and a half inches tall and wide. Very easy to grow from seed by planting seeds 1/4 inch deep and 1/2 inch apart.

Nicotiana aka Flowering Tobacco

Beautiful and fragrant, Nicotiana produce star-shaped flowers in a wide range of hues from white, pink, maroon, lavender, red, green and yellow. The plants are easy to grow from seed. Surface sow the seeds when the average daytime temps are 70 degrees or above and do not cover; they require light to germinate. It takes about 10 to 20 days for seedlings to emerge, so be patient!

The plants can reach heights of about 3 feet and do well in part-shade to full-sun. They do exceptionally well during intense heat summers as well! Plants work well in the flower border or in containers.

Nicotiana in hot pink
Nicotiana in hot pink | Source

Annuals are Easy and Showy!

I hope you enjoyed my small sampling of the wide variety of annuals you can grow in your home garden. These plants are easy and beautiful and will give you an entire summer of enjoyment.

Happy Gardening!

© 2014 Lisa Roppolo


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