Pep Up the Perennials – Use Annuals


What is all the fuss on planting annuals?

“Annuals require too much water, fertilizer and care? Annuals are “unnatural” because they are only around for one season.”

Not a valid argument because wild landscapes are made up of perennials and annual plants. Annual plants happen in nature too. Fertilizer? I use compost and manure in the garden, but will use slow release on containers though.


Beginner gardeners usually start out with annuals.

A few years later, they move on to perennials. A few more years, they rediscover the ease and utility of annuals once again, but this time to fill in the gaps left by perennials done for the season.

Our dry spring and summers have been making annuals all the more attractive and useful. Beautiful bulbs like daffodils and tulips lasted mere days when we went from almost freezing jumping right into 80° F weather. From the freezer to the furnace!


Dry, hot summers mean perennials bloom either earlier or for shorter duration.

Will that perennial be flowering on a 100-degree day in late July? The marigold, petunia and dahlia will be thriving in full flower. We just had 87° F, dry weather on Friday. Is this a sign of things come summer?


Too perfect, flowers too large, plants too short, and blooms too colorful.

Most annuals used in the trade are raised for maximum impact and I think that is what bristles the neck hair of some gardeners. But when perennials wane, annuals earn their keep.

It is a myth that insects shun annuals.

Insects will nectar and find pollen on many annuals. It is a myth that they require too much water in many cases. For these reasons, annuals have been destined to containers.

I do use annuals in containers, but mix them with perennials I divide in spring. Below the Petite Pink Gaura is a perennial in my zone 6 locale, but mixes nicely with annuals Saucy Red Salvia and Silver Stream Lobularia. Bees will like the tightly planted combo.


Of course, it depends on what one plants because there are a lot of annuals for dry, hot climates that come from Mexico, Africa and South/Central America and they prefer it drier.


Sweet Black Cherry Dianthus, a tall perennial, but looks great skirted with annual dianthus and longer blooming spreading verbenas.

Annuals are used to getting by on less if…

They have their origins in hot and dry or tropical regions. The pansies in the garden are a newer variety for full sun and have done well in our week of elevated temperatures and blazing sun.


Patio Sky Blue Salvia

I do have Salvia Patio Sky Blue (annual) planted in with the pansies (reseed) which will take the heat when the pansies finally fade.


More and more annual salvias are finding their way into gardens, such as blue Salvia farinacea shown above. I use this variety each year.


Verbena (annual) is liked by insects. I have many self-seeding plants that would be considered annuals like Verbena Buenos Aires, Myosotis, Flax and others. Spreading Verbena shown above.


Annuals are real troopers in their short life, where perennials have no hurry because they stick around for the next year. Perennials spend much time getting established in the garden, rather than pushing to producing more plants. Many make up for it after three years though.


My garden is heavy in perennials, but annuals are added to please pollinators when the perennials take their nap, and annuals meet their needs.


All plants in this post are in the May garden.

We take a risk planting this early, but the way the weather has been after our cold beginning to spring, it is like we missed spring altogether.

Keep an eye on GWGT these coming weeks. I will keep posting my garden for you to see what may lie ahead in Toronto for the Garden Bloggers’ Fling. Much is blooming and more should be by June 5. Keep watching….

To see the four previous years bloom in my garden on June 5, see, Garden Bloggers’ Fling 2015 – What Will Be Blooming?

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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33 Responses to Pep Up the Perennials – Use Annuals

  1. aussiebirder says:

    What a beautiful cavalcade of colour Donna, spring has certainly arrived there!

  2. Mike says:

    Terrific article and beautiful photos!

  3. I use lots of annuals in pots and hanging baskets. I wish I could add them for punches of color in the landscape but our clay doesn’t make for easy planting and certainly not worth digging in to place annuals so into the pots they go. I find they are great in supporting pollinators such as hummingbirds and butterflies that are migratory. Really looking forward to the Fling and seeing some gorgeous gardens and plants.

    • I have very heavy clay soil too, but I heavily amend the soil each spring, so tilling is easy then. When annuals are reduced to 50% in July, I purchase some to add if necessary. Then it is like digging in concrete. I do hope the Fling is fun with many pretty gardens.

  4. One thing you didn’t mention is that perennials are cheaper in the long run. Instead of buying them every year, they spread. I probably don’t use as many annuals as I might because they can get pricey. But landscapes with a lot of annuals do look spectacular!

  5. I am way too busy, in the spring to go out and purchase not to mention plant annuals. My beds are too full anyway. But in Maine in the summer I have a lot of fun experimenting with annuals in containers. Because they are temporary I am a lot more experimental with colors and textures and it is fun to crowd them.

    • My beds are very full too, but before the perennials really pop, the annuals look nice, like the pansies. Alyssum, pansy and many other annuals reseed in the garden as I mentioned in the post, so not all are bought and planted. Creating containers is fun, they just take a while to get that greenhouse look. The few I showed in the post are in 20″ ID containers and the plants are only 6-8 inches tall right now. It takes a month or more before they make a show.

  6. Indie says:

    Especially with having new gardens, annuals are necessary to look like I have something going in the garden! Eventually the perennials will grow larger and produce more blooms, but there is something great about having a plant that blooms for most of the season. The main thing I don’t like about annuals is how expensive they are to buy – it just doesn’t seem like a great investment monetarily to me since I usually need a bunch of them. But growing annuals from seed? Definitely worth it!

    • Very true on newly installed gardens, annuals are needed. I like having color for the whole season and the annuals do that. Perennials continue to color the gardens, but the annuals have their place as well in those gaps, especially the spring blooming perennials that don’t rebloom after cutting back. I don’t seed the garden, but depend on annuals that seed for the next year.

  7. The color combinations are such a pleasure for the eye…Love your photo series.

  8. alesiablogs says:

    Thank you! Thank you ! Thank you! I love purple and you had so many flowers that are purple in this post!!! By the way, I love the ideas you share here about adding annuals…it is such a beautiful way to bring color to what can be in my case so much green and not enough colors Donna..

  9. I love annuals too.My mother was always planting them from bought reasonably from a local grower. Maybe we need more of those !

    • My mom did that too. Sometimes the growers have great bargains. I deal with quite a few in my area. I have a post coming up on local growers. It was scheduled, but I have been delaying it.

      • Ahh, our mum’s and their love for plants! Look forward to your post but a long way for me to come! But must definitely put seeing the Wild West and the green spaces and gardens of the States on my list!

        • Ha, I know very few bloggers could patronize our local growers, but the post is more on understanding their business practices. Bloggers complain a bit too much on how growers grow their plants. I get tired of all the griping and decided to make a post on them to continue my Gardening Matters series.

          • Sounds good and we have a local grower, a young couple but they can’t make ends meet and the supermarket and bigger chains get the passing trade.

  10. I am a huge believer in mixing annuals in with the perennials. I like tall annuals like Tithonia and Sunflowers, and shorter ones like compact Zinnias and French Marigolds. They definitely make for a much more lively garden.

  11. I couldn’t agree with you more on all points in this post. I use both annuals and perennials in the ways you describe, and I appreciate all of them. I do hope you don’t get the cold air we’re experiencing now. We had a heat wave like the one you describe, yet tonight I had to cover many of my tender plants because of a threatened frost. I don’t remember the roller coaster being quite so pronounced as it has been this spring. Looking forward to meeting you at the Fling. 🙂

    • I am looking forward to meeting you as well, Beth. We share many garden philosophies. I may be covering a few salvias tonight too. It is maybe 38° F tonight, but in the city, more like 40°. No frost, but cool for some of the plants. It has been a roller coaster weather-wise. We hit record highs for a few days in a row. I suspect this summer will break many records. nWe broke the snowfall record this winter too. Anyone not thinking there is on-going climate change, must be in some sort of daze. Something is definitely changing.

  12. What a beautiful garden, so colourful ! I love the mix of colours 🙂

    • Thank you. I love all color and the garden gets brighter as summer goes on. I like the softer colors in spring, but they wash out in summer, so a garden needs a little punch in the color department as the season progresses.

  13. rose says:

    Thank you for this post, Donna! I have a couple of gardening friends who turn up their noses at annuals, but I think they are such an important part of the summer garden, especially if you want color all season–which I do. I was one of those beginning gardeners who started with annuals, but even after focusing more on perennials, I still plant lots of annuals. Victoria Blue and the other annual salvias are one of my long-time favorites–they just keep going and going all season. Zinnias and cosmos, which I plant from seed, are other favorites, and they’re just as popular with the bees and butterflies as some of the native plants. You have some beautiful combos!

    • I know people that are perennials snobs too! It is why I wrote my Perennial Peter post. I love all plants and plants do have there place no matter what they are – even plants we find a nuisance. They just need to be where they belong, not everywhere else. Last year I too had seeded zinnia, annual poppies and cosmos, but not this year. If I add any of them, it will be by plant plug. When I went to Europe, I forgot to cut down certain perennials and they seeded all over the garden by the time I got back. I had to use Preen this year so my garden would not be all goldenrod, butterfly weed and Agastache (natives, no less).

      I have been harping for a long time how native and non-native plants both entice pollinators. I find certain non-native plants get the most insects too – Caryopteris and Russian Sage to name a few. Eventually, gardeners only depending on perennials will see the value of annuals.

      As the climate changes, a number of perennials, even native ones, will succumb to new conditions. Then what we have as annuals may be our new perennials. Likely after I am long gone, but I have no doubt one day dahlia will be blooming here with out lifting for winter. To many ways climate change can happen, so it seems likely one will.

  14. So many things I didn’t know and how useful!!! Thank you, my dear Donna! 🙂

  15. A.M.B. says:

    I’ve often heard that insects avoid annuals, but I’ve never understood why that would be true (thanks for setting the record straight). Gorgeous photos, as always!

  16. Jet Eliot says:

    Enjoyed your annual/perennial discussion and the flowers in your photographs here are so vibrant and profuse. 🙂

  17. I am crossing my fingers we don’t get another May frost…had one about a week ago and 2 very cold days and nights this week….but I love annuals for containers and my veg garden….discovering so many to grow from seed and for cutting.

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