Guide to Annual Plants
What is an Annual?
To start talking about annuals, it’s important to first understand what they are. The word “annual” means yearly, which is where this group of plants gets its name. Plants that are considered annuals complete their entire life cycle within one year. For example, a sunflower will start from a seed in the spring, grow rapidly, flower, produce seeds then die come winter.
Annuals vs. Perennials
Of course, annuals aren't the only group of plants out there and are often compared to perennials. The main difference between annuals and perennials is the length of their life cycles. “Perennial” means that the plant’s life cycle takes more than one year to complete and won’t die every year. A clever way to remember this is that PER-ennials PER-sist year after year. For example, rose bushes are perennials. They’ll flower, grow and then go dormant, only to return the following year from the same stock.
Clearing up Misconceptions
When you break it down to simple definitions, the difference between annuals and perennials seems like night and day, but flowers can be tricky and hard to categorize. To help better understand the two, here’s some misconceptions about annuals:
You have to replant annuals EVERY year to enjoy them.
This isn't always the case! Depending on the plant, you can always let it naturally reseed in the area or collect the seeds to sow the following year. Just because it dies doesn't mean that it’s the last time you’ll see it. This isn't true for all plants, so do your research before assuming that you’ll see your plants again.
Perennials won’t die back, only annuals do.
This is false. Perennials come back from the same root source year after year but can still die back. Hydrangeas and peonies are popular examples of this. During the winter, the current season’s growth will die back, but underground the plant stays very much alive but dormant, ready to bounce back next spring.
I’ve seen perennials act like annuals and annuals act like perennials, so they all must be the same.
Thank Mother Nature for this confusion! Plants will continue to grow as long as their needs are being met. If you happen to live in a colder climate than what the plant can tolerate, you’ll experience it dying once it's too cold. On the other side, growing annuals in a warm climate can turn them into perennials that last longer. In general, you can trust the category of the plant you purchase. Just try to meet the needs of the plant to get the longest life out of it.
Planting and Care for Annuals
Planting annuals isn’t all that different from planting perennials or any other plant - just make sure to time it right and plant after the first frost because they can be sensitive to cold. If you do have an unexpected frost, make sure to protect your plants by covering them with a frost cloth or breathable fabric like burlap or a sheet to minimize damage.
Preparing the Soil
When you’re ready to plant, you’ll need your plant, a space to put it, and some quality soil. Potting soil and compost are always a great choice, especially if you’re going to plant them in a container. If planting in the ground, mix some compost or potting mix into the area and break up any large clumps of dirt. When prepping the soil it should have a fluffy texture to it and not be compacted.
Placing the Plant
After your soil is prepped you might want to put some starter fertilizer into the hole before placing your plant, making sure the roots are evenly spread outwards. Different sized plants will need different spacing, so check the mature size of the plant and dig your planting holes accordingly. Secure the plant by gently patting down the soil, making sure not to disturb or compact the roots or surrounding area.
After planting, water deeply for the first following week or two and then stick to a schedule of watering about once every week or when the soil is around 75% dry around the roots. As a note, don't feel like you have to water if the rain does it for you!
Fertilizer is always a good choice to help flowers perform their best. We recommend feeding your plant with a flower-promoting formula or one that’s higher in potassium, as this is the macronutrient that aids in flower production. Always read the product label to ensure the proper application method and frequency.
There are a few types of pruning that can be done on annuals, so keep reading to make sure you’re helping your plant rather than harming it.
- Pruning for the health of the plant is removing anything that’s a threat like a damaged, dying or fungus-infected branch. By removing this area of the plant, you’re saving the rest of it.
- Pruning spent flowers is key if you’re wanting them to continue blooming and not set seed. Cutting off old flowers re-directs the internal energy for more flowers to grow. This isn't the case for all annuals but is true for repeat bloomers.
- Pruning plants back or removing them all together is also an option. Annuals will die back after they set seed and as the season ends, so if you prefer a clean and tidy garden, feel free to cut the plant back as it starts to die down or remove it completely from the area.
No matter which method of pruning you’re performing, remember to clean your pruners before and after every use and in between plants with some rubbing alcohol to prevent the spread of pathogens between plants.
Incorporating Annuals Into Your Landscape
Annuals are a fun and short-term commitment for your landscape that can add in some much needed color and variety no matter what you’re starting with. Try incorporating some annuals in containers to draw attention to entryways, planting a border along pathways, or placing groupings together to brighten up the corners of your yard. The best part is that you can change the look of your landscape year to year to match your style and taste. The possibilities are endless, but below are some ideas to get you started!
Create a colorful planter similar to this one, which features calibrachoas, petunias, tickseed and salvia. Our Tea Party, Tropical Punch and Sprinkles on Top Calibrachoas are perfect for bold container displays!
Don’t let the short-lived nature of annuals take away from the beauty and value they can add to your landscape. Pick a few of your favorites and have a family, fun-filled weekend or enjoy some peace and quiet for yourself and plant away! Your annuals will flourish with effortless colors and textures that you’ll quickly be admiring.
Be sure to shop all of our annuals to find your next addition!