The slow start to spring and the constant reminder of winter have been major frustrations these past few weeks. Visits to the nurseries and big box stores help us look beyond the chilly days we have been experiencing as we peruse the flats of beautiful flowers that are inviting us to summer days. There are so many possibilities that it can be hard to choose.
Annuals are plants that complete their life cycle in one growing season or they are killed off by the frost in the fall. Some plants that are perennials in warmer climates need to be considered annuals in Minnesota. Perennials typically have a bloom time of one to two weeks, but annuals will provide a wonderful show of color during the summer. They are generally easy to grow once you determine your type of soil, the amount of sunshine available, drainage and watering needs and size of the mature plant.
Annuals are extremely versatile. Some are suited best for shady areas, while others love the sun. Some are very fragrant and some annuals are good for attracting butterflies. You can use annuals to fill spaces and hide the leaves after the spring flowering bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and hyacinths have finished their show. Annuals work well interspaced with perennials or as a transition zone between two areas of the landscape. Use them to brighten up a darker corner of the garden. Annuals are popular plants to use in containers and window boxes. They are available in various heights, many colors in both flowers and foliage and have specific growing habits such as mounding or trailing. Annual vines can be used to create a screen or climb a trellis just about anywhere you chose to put it. Annuals make wonderful borders or even hedges. In beds annuals work best in groups of at least three to five plants, or more, to provide a drift of color. Or, plan a bed of shades of the same color and add a plant or two of a contrasting color for an eye catching pop of color.
They can be used to soften or reduce the impact of an unattractive object or view such as garbage cans. Or, they work well to accent a landscape feature or create a focal point in the yard. Annuals are good for providing curb appeal or an appealing view from your favorite window. Be certain to plant some annuals that can be used as cutting flowers for those beautiful bouquets to enjoy inside your home.
All of this takes planning. Determine where you will plant the annuals and what the conditions (e.g. shade, sunshine, irrigation) are in those locations. Do you need to amend the soil? Will the type of display(s) be island beds, borders or containers? Where is the best visibility? What colors do you want? Height of plants and growing habits are important. The planning may seem like a lot of work, but it will help insure that the results of your work will be pleasant and rewarding.
Make lists that include your favorite plants, favorite colors, problem areas where you want to fix the “look,” results you want to achieve. Seed catalogs, seed packages, online websites and plant nurseries are excellent sources to go to for information and ideas.
When purchasing plants, select those that are healthy, have good root systems and no evidence of insect damage or disease. Have fun and enjoy the beauty you have created. Best of all, if something doesn’t work out this year, you can change it next year. Annuals are forgiving that way!
Mary Heie is an Anoka County Master Gardener.