When what you like is lots of color all season long, nothing performs in the garden like annuals. If you would like to expand your annual palette beyond the dependable petunias, marigolds and zinnias but don’t know what else there is, just take a look. All these plants are annuals too, each offering its own contribution to your summer garden. Many can be grown from seed (usually started indoors early) and quite a few of them are reliably available in garden centers as transplants early in the growing season. If the plants are new to you, try tucking a few here or there in your garden to see how they do. Chances are you’ll plant lots more of them next year and be looking for other new annuals to try.
Amaranthus An old-fashioned annual valued for its boldly colored foliage on some varieties and for its unique flowers on others. Amaranthus like it hot, sunny and a little bit dry. For incredible foliage color, try ‘Joseph’s Coat’, ‘Flaming Fountains’ or ‘Early Splendor’. For eye-catching flowers, try the heirloom A. caudatus, a.k.a. Love-Lies-Bleeding.
Asters Great for cutting and for bedding, there are several types of annual asters with various daisy-like flower forms and colors. A good source of strong blues and pinks. They need full sun and well-drained soil.
Baby’s Breath The annual version of this popular perennial is a pretty filler that covers itself with tiny flowers in any sunny garden. One of the best white varieties is ‘Covent Garden’. Pale pink is an option, too.
Bachelor Buttons Also called cornflowers, these tall, willowy plants have showy blue, pink and white flowers. Bachelor buttons attract both hummingbirds and butterflies. Grow in full sun and well-drained soil.
Balsam A member of the impatiens family, balsam are tall and hold their flowers close to the stems, unfortunately sometimes hidden by the leaves. Like impatiens, balsam are shade tolerant. Flowers can be singles or fancy camellia-like doubles and are in the same color range as impatiens.
Browallia A great source of blue for the shade garden, browallia offer compact, upright plants that do well in light shade and have star-shaped blue or white flowers.
Cleome A must for lovers of old-fashioned annuals, cleome are also called spider flowers because of their large, showy flower heads. They are tall plants that need lots of room and lots of sun. Available in shades of pink, rose, purple and white.
Cosmos One of the best sources of pastel daisy-like flowers for cutting, cosmos are easy to grow and prolific bloomers. Most varieties of cosmos grow into tall, willowy plants with large blooms in shades of pink, rose, red and white. The variety ‘Sonata’ is a much shorter plant (usually around 2 feet or less). There are also new cosmos that offer smaller sulfur orange, red and yellow flowers. Plant in full sun with average soil.
Dahlias, Bedding A seed-grown version of their larger, tuber-grown cousins, bedding dahlias offer gorgeous 2-inch flowers on compact plants. Flower colors are incredible. Some varieties have dark foliage. Plant in full sun with compost amended soil.
Datura Also known as moonflower, this large, stately plant produces huge, fragrant deep-throated white trumpets that are open at night. Grow in full sun or very light shade and give it lots of room.
Four O’Clocks Another night-blooming plant, Four O’Clocks earned their name by opening their flowers in late afternoon. They are upright plants with loose clusters of small deep-throated flowers in red, pink, yellow or white.
Gazania With large daisy-like flowers on low-growing, compact plants, gazanias have beautiful bright colors. Grow them where they will receive full sun. On some varieties, the flowers do not open on cloudy days. Gazanias do best in dry soil areas; they are a perfect companion to tall bearded iris.
Godetia Sometimes called by either the name Farewell to spring or clarkia, godetia are cool-season plants with beautiful, delicate-looking flowers on bushy, upright plants. Flowers are usually soft pastels. They need bright light to bloom but won’t continue once it gets hot.
Gomphrena Offering small flowers resembling clover blooms in red, pink, lavender and white, gomphrena is also known as globeflower. The flowers dry easily and last almost forever. Grow these upright plants in full sun to light shade. Varieties vary greatly in height from short, compact bedders to tall cutting plants.
Heliotrope A plant that always attracts lots of attentions with its large clusters of showy purple-blue flowers, heliotrope is an old-fashioned favorite. Plants are upright and foliage is attractive too. Grow in full sun or very light shade.
Hypoestes Also known as polka dot plant, hypoestes are valued for their green leaves marked so heavily with pink, white or red that you might not notice the green. Colors are best and plants are more compact if grown in full sun, but they are shade tolerant.
Lisianthus With flowers that look like a cross between a rose and a tulip, lisianthus are sun-loving plants that perform best when the summer gets hot. Flowers are in pinks, blues and white.
Nasturtium With intriguing flowers and leaves, once you grow nasturtiums, you’ll always want to include them in your garden. The edible bold orange, yellow, and red blooms adorn attractive round leaves. Grow in full sun or very light shade and be sure not to overfeed them or they won’t bloom well.
Nicotiana Also known as flowering tobacco, nicotiana flowers have very deep throats, making them a favorite of humming birds. The upright plants with large leaves are adorned with loose spikes of red, pink or white flowers. It does the best in full sun but will also tolerate light shade.
Nigella With its beautiful common name, Love in a Mist, nigella is a billowy plant with unusual feathery foliage and blue, white or mauve flowers. It does best in full sun or very light shade and has attractive seedpods that dry well.
Phlox Annual phlox has a wide color range with larger-flowered, looser clusters than garden phlox. It will tolerate light frost and attracts hummingbirds. Try it early with pansies and snapdragons.
Rudbeckia The annual version of a perennial garden favorite, Rudbeckia is sometimes called black-eyed Susan. Large daisy-like flowers in strong shades of yellow and gold are held on compact, upright plants. Look for varieties such as Toto, Indian summer, Prairie sun or Becky. They may self-seed, but they are true annual rudbeckias.
Salvia In addition to the common garden salvia, there are several other very nice varieties, all of which are upright plants that prefer sun to light shade. Clary (or paper) sage has spikes covered with papery bracts of pink, blue or white that dry well. Salvia coccinea offers light, loose spikes of red, white or pink. For a nice blue spike, try Salvia farinacea ‘Victoria’.
Sunflower There are dozens of very useful forms of sunflowers for the garden. Some will only produce a few large heads and others are branched and produce dozens of smaller flowers. You can now also choose from yellows, golds, cream and maroon flowers. Sunflowers do their best in full sun and well-drained soil.
Tithonia Also known as Mexican sunflowers, tithonias are large, branched upright sun-loving plants that offer incredible orange flowers. Try out the more compact (only 2-3 feet!) tithonia variety called Fiesta Del Sol.
Torenia Sometimes called wishbone flowers, torenia are compact plants that enjoy light shade and offer small, pastel flowers, many with darker markings.
Verbena With round clusters of flowers on low, compact plants, verbena does best in full sun. Most verbenas have strong, clear pink, red, rose or white flowers but there are also bicolors and soft peach shades.
Additional Bachman’s Information
Commonly Grown Annuals
Petunias, Old and New