All About Growing Annual Plants

Photos (left to right): ‘Sir Jimmy Shand’ sweet pea, California poppy, and ‘Candy Cane’ zinnia

While some gardeners dislike annuals, I find that it’s hard to beat their appeal or their many benefits. Annuals are popular because many require almost no maintenance apart from routine deadheading, watering, and fertilizing. They’re also known for flowering almost nonstop during their lifespan, and they make the perfect container plants. And what could be easier than chucking a faded plant into the compost bin at the end of the growing season? For all of these reasons and more, annuals are often the most purchased plants at garden centers during spring and summer. It’s hard to argue that they don’t have a permanent place in North American gardens.

But what do we mean when we say “annual”? This term can refer to two different things. Strictly speaking, an annual is a plant that dies after one growing season. This includes many classic plants like zinnias (Zinnia elegans cvs.), annual sunflowers (Helianthus annuus cvs.), and marigolds (Tagetes erecta and cvs.) However, tender plants that are perennials in warmer regions are often referred to as annuals by those of us who garden in colder areas and only use them for one season. This would include plants like dahlias (Dahlia spp. and cvs., Zones 7–11), verbena (Verbena cvs., Zones 9–11), and coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides cvs., Zones 10–12).

Articles describing diverse selections of true annuals are listed below. You’ll find new and exciting annuals to explore, from new cultivars of classic plants like zinnias and sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) to species you’ve never heard of before. Discover cool-season annuals for spring and fall and ones for the heat of summer. And lastly, explore annuals that are easy to start from seed, that can be bought as transplants, or that self-seed on their own. Whether you use annuals as the backbone of your garden or sprinkle them as highlights here and there, get the biggest bang for your buck this season with these tips.