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How to Use Annuals for Instant Color

Annuals are great for gardeners who want instant color and big impact. You can plant colorful annuals in the ground, in containers of all sizes, or fill small spaces that just need a touch of "something." Annuals are versatile in your garden design, as well: You can fill large areas with blocks of color and texture, or change color themes each year.

For the brief time annuals are growing and pumping out flowers, you get a lot of bang for your buck. They're hard to kill. Indeed, some of them keep blooming their cheery heads off even when you neglect them. And if you live in a frost-free climate, your "annuals" become perennials.

The main drawback of annuals is economic. You have to buy new ones every spring.

You can use annuals

  • To fill an entire flowerbed (this popular use is why some places call annuals bedding plants)

  • In container displays — in pots, window boxes, patio planter boxes, and more

  • To fill a hanging basket

  • To edge a walkway

  • To "spot" color in a perennial bed

  • In edging and as decoration for a vegetable or herb garden

  • To cover over or at least distract from a fading spring bulb display

If you shop earlier in spring (before the garden center has been picked clean) or go to a place with a big selection, you see lots of choices. If you find certain types too boring or common, look around for alternatives — one big trend these days is familiar annuals in new colors, even bicolors. Get creative! Have some fun!

Here are some popular annuals:

  • Sun-lovers: Angelonia, California poppy, cleome, cosmos, geranium, lobelia, marigold, million bells, nasturtium, nicotiana, petunia, portulaca, salvia, and zinnia

  • Shade-lovers: Ageratum, cineraria, coleus, forget-me-not, impatiens, nemophila, pansy, primrose, sweet William, vinca, wax begonia

Here are some unusual, offbeat, but still easy annuals:

  • Collinsia: An easily grown and graceful plant that looks similar to a blue snapdragon

  • Eustoma: A plant with very long lasting, silk-like flowers

  • Feverfew: An annual covered with double, mostly white chrysanthemum-like flowers

  • Annual foxglove: A plant with charming, nodding flowers on a tall spike, adding a dramatic vertical element to any garden

  • Honesty (money plant): An annual grown for its translucent quarter-shaped seed pods that make it choice for dried arrangements

  • Larkspur: A plant that's easy to grow by directly sowing the seeds in your garden in the early spring

  • Nemophila: A plant with sky-blue cup flowers on compact mounded plants

  • Nierembergia: A ground-hugging plant covered with purple cup-shaped flowers

  • Stock: An annual with heavenly fragrance and flowers from white to pink to purple

  • Torenia: A flower that looks like an open-faced snapdragon on compact plants, in shades of blue, pink and white.

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