Reliable Annuals

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

Annuals are happily planted out in late spring and early summer into our garden beds, into containers or hanging baskets. They give us a splash of colour which lasts through most of the season and are often referred to as bedding plants. There are some annuals that are grown for their foliage, such as dusty miller and coleus. They are generally free of disease and pests and other than the benefits of deadheading and the application of fertilizer every couple of weeks to keep them healthy and blooming throughout the season, they are very easy to grow!

Botanically speaking, an annual is a plant that grows from seed, blooms, sets seed, and dies, all in one season. Many of them are actually tender perennials that could be left in the landscape all year if we lived in a much warmer climate than we experience here in the Peterborough area. If you have ever visited a subtropical country, you would notice geraniums that are several feet tall. A few years back I visited Madeira and marvelled at the poinsettias that were the size of shrubs!

During my father’s time, annuals were very popular and most of the garden centres sold more annuals than perennials. As a child, I remember many visits to Edwards Gardens in Toronto, which is now located in the Toronto Botanical Garden. The garden beds were spectacular and featured extensive displays of impatients, petunias and geraniums. (Impatients were hit by downy mildew a few years back and have gone out of favour to other more hardy bedding plants). I have always enjoyed the use of annuals, not only in containers, but also planted throughout my garden to give me some constant summer colour. They can also be very useful in order to encourage pollinators to your vegetable gardens.

Here are three of my favourite annuals that are blooming in my garden this year:

GERANIUMS (PELARGONIUM)

GeraniumGeraniums, which are part of the Pelargonium family are perennials in their native region of South Africa, but here in Peterborough they are treated as annuals, although you can overwinter them in the fall. You could try the ‘pot it up and put it in the window’ method or the ‘bare-root’ method. This Mark Cullen article gives you detailed instructions.

The familiar annual flower in red, pink, purple or white blooms with thick, pleated leaves are not really geraniums at all, but rather members of the Pelargonium genus. True members of the Geranium genus are the hardy perennial plant also known as cranesbill. Originally, they were both part of the Geranium genus and are still known by this common label.

They are a favourite for containers or hanging baskets, but I enjoy planting some throughout my perennial bed. There are more than 200 species, but the most common are Pelargonium x hortum, where the flowers are generally solid tones and the leaves are oval; Pelargonium paltatum, which is the ivy-leaved geranium which has a bit of a trailing habit, and Pelargonium domesticum which is the scented-leafed geranium with smaller insignificant flowers and various leaf shapes.

JEWELS OF OPAR (TALINUM PANICULATUM)

TalinumTalinum has fleshy lime green leaves with delicate, wiry flower stalks. The flowers are hot pink followed by carmine-colored seed pods that are showier than the flowers. It is related to Portulaca and has a tuberous rootstock.

I got this annual about 3 years ago and was surprised to see that it self-seeds in the same area each year. They are easy to remove and replant in other areas if desired.

They prefer full sun and grow to approximately 18 – 24 inches. It is a pollinator magnet and I love the bright colour of the leaves at the front of my perennial beds.

ZINNIAS (ZINNIA)

ZinniasZinnias grow in a variety of brilliant shades and come in various types, such as single, double, ruffles and pompoms. They are a reliable annual that are, without a doubt, one of the best cut flowers you will ever grow in your garden! They attract many bees and butterflies and are easy to grown from seed. They also come in a variety of sizes, from 8” to 36”. Each flower blossom is just as perfect as the next, delightfully supported on attractive green stems with stunning colours that are ideal in any fresh bouquet.

Zinnias have pointy seeds, shaped like little arrowheads and they require only basic garden prep to sprout. Give them a well-drained soil in full sun and you will have little seedlings in days. Zinnias are low maintenance and because they are fast-growing, they shade out weeds. They don’t require much in the way of fertilizing (just an occasional well-balanced mix), and they don’t need mulching. Deadheading will help to produce more flowers.

Because zinnias are native to the grasslands of the southwestern states, Mexico, and South America, they know how to handle the hot, dry conditions such as the heat we experienced this July.

 

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