People who rent or don’t plan to stay in one place for long, or those with tiny “farm ground” have used annuals to be able to have some blooms.  Annuals were used almost entirely earlier and then fell in popularity as perennials took over. The last few years a mixture of both has become more popular. Annuals bloom longer, cost less and can give you variety if you like to change your flower beds.

          Let’s start with Zinnias as there are so many sizes and colors. Most of them are in bright colors and need full sun in well drained soil.  They came from Mexico or Central and South America so will drown if kept wet.  The last few years I have had the “Profusion” series that blooms from May until frost. They are only 16 to 18 inches high and this year there is a new red one “Fire”. I have always preferred the orange as the red faded to pink so I hope the new one will not do that.  This last summer I had a group of orange growing in the parkway, and they did not seem to be bothered by all that cement around their edges. If you want a ground cover there is a creeping Zinnia (Sanvitalia speciosa).

          From the creeper to the giant (3 feet) a Zinnia can be found.  They have interesting names like Peppermint Stick, Thumbelina, Ruffles Sombrero, Cactus, and Swirls, Swizzle, Envy (green).  I get Zinnia seed to plant late in bulb beds, etc., as they come up and bloom so fast. Some of the Zinnias are prone to mildew so one needs to have some space between them for air movement.

          Petunias are as easy as Zinnias and come in almost as much variety. There are singles and doubles, and ruffled in nearly every color. Like the zinnias they are sun lovers.  Last year I started seed under lights of the Purple Wave variety (six seeds of 15 came up) and those six plants spread like butter to cover a triangle 10 feet across in just a few weeks after setting out.  The cascades form a curtain from the top of a wall or hanging basket. After their first long flush of bloom they can be trimmed back to start new buds.  Seeds are small so in general it is easier to buy plants than start your own. 

          You can find an annual for any place in the yard: shade or sun, wet or dry, good or poor soil, aggressive or shy ones.  One of the aggressive ones is Perilla (Perilla frutescens). This is a handsome 2-2 ˝ foot dark purple leaved one that makes other plants show up.   They come up thickly and I move them to a bare spot.  They also work well in areas where bulbs have died down.  I have found it called Chinese Basil, False Coleus, and Beefsteak plant (there are several plants with this common name).Its flowers are white and very small. There is a new Perilla out in the last year or so, Perilla Padilla, that does not seed so much and the foliage is brighter.  This one looks good in a big pot in full sun with white or silver trailing plants near the edge.

          Queens Ann’s Lace is a fun one to have as it produces six inch wide sections of white flowers that do resemble lace. The form you get when you buy seed is “Ammi majus” also called Bishop Flower or White Dill rather than the true one (Daucus carota), which is a wild, aggressive plant. All of these belong to the Carrot family. Our tame one grows 2 ˝ to 3 feet tall and tends to flop after a rain as the heads become heavy.  I generally put out a cage and plant the seeds inside. They go well in practically any bouquet and make the other flower colors seem brighter.

          Some of the Rudbeckias (coneflower) are listed as annuals and some as perennials. Even some are listed as biennials. Sometimes this is because of the zones.  In the South they may be listed as perennials while in Nebraska they are annuals. This is true of one of my favorites, “Indian Summer”. Some winters they live through and others they are killed.  For this reason I always keep their seeds which come up fast and bloom not too much later than the surviving ones. You can find seeds or plants for nearly any height.  I am using this year, the little short yellow “Toto”. It is the one that is ten inch in height. Since squirrels ruin my sunflowers as soon as the head starts ripening, I need the coneflowers for that bright yellow color when it is hot and dry.

          When I was about ten, one of the seed companies sent my mother a sample packet of cosmos. She grew only “useful” things and I had had my own garden for several years, so I now had cosmos-the tall pink and red ones and 4 feet tall.  But I grew up on a cattle ranch so we had horses and one sad day one of them reached his head over the fence and ate them down as far as he could!! I still got some blooms and have had cosmos ever since. The last few years it has been the shorter 24 to 30 inch yellow and orange ones.  Last fall I saved the seeds (mostly to keep the bed from getting too thick) and I now have a quart of seed!! The plant is so lively I will still have to thin the bed out from seeds I missed.  So if you want an easy annual, try Cosmos!!

          If you like to make your own jewelry, get some seeds of “Job’s Tears” (Coix lacryma). They look like corn coming up and grow about 3 feet tall.  The tears are the seed and when ripe are about ˝ inch long, hard, shiny, and drop shaped. Some are white, some are gray and some are purple. They have a hole in the middle of the seed so all you have to do is string them.  If you don’t pick the seeds, I can guarantee you a thick crop the next spring.

Copyright 2006