This is a question that many home gardeners assume they know the answer.
And in a way and from one perspective they are correct.
Sure if you compost them after the season rather than save them indoors for next year (geraniums come back larger and with fuller bloom saved – I saved one for 5 years and it was the size of a large shrub) they might become a total loss. If you bed them out, it will cost you a bundle. If you mix them in a perennial bed like I often advise or is shown in this post, you get to save money while keeping color all season long.
If you use a pre-emergent weed preventive that inhibits seed growth, you lose the chance for those that self seed. Instead, reconsider annuals that may pay for themselves over and over, year after year by self seeding. Initially, annuals are cheaper since you can get a big tray of annuals often for the price of a one gallon container perennial. Let them self sow and it can be a windfall.
Free plants!!!! Who does not like free plants?
Perennials being divided after a few years to make more plants and self-seeding annuals are quite similar in this regard. Some plants seed quite a bit too and will keep a non-believer from wondering, “Why should I plant a flower that is just going to die?” So you can just collect the seed for next year, or let it drop to self-sow, it is your choice.
You can get some interesting varieties for imaginative combinations using annuals from seed. There are many to pick from and so many plants will grow from one pack of seeds. The only disadvantage to seeding is having to do it yearly if the varieties don’t self-seed.
The group below of perennial and annual plants will all self-seed. Sure they may not pop up where you want them, but when weeding the garden, they are easily removed. I suggest pulling most Myosotis after the big bloom flush because you will not want them everywhere. Leave a few plants for next year.
All the pansy seed doesn’t survive our hard winters, so let them all go to seed so you get a decent show. Just supplement them with a tray of new starts if you just get a smattering. A cold spring with late hard frost might be the end of them.
Annuals are pretty darn useful in the garden because they can be planted in so many different ways, borders, containers, baskets, in sun, shade, just about anywhere. Pop them in just like you would a perennial. Pop them in with perennials, either in the garden bed or in a container in a garden bed.
They make the perennials even prettier. especially when the perennials are not yet in flower.
Containers look rather bleak after the perennials finish blooming, so adding annuals is smart. And annuals don’t have to be just petunias and geraniums either. The red Cosmo above is small, but stands tall and airy and will have many identical friends as the season wears on.
Cosmos are great self-seeders. Having petunia in the garden does add a lot of color though, planted with spreading verbena, it makes a nice colorful partnering. Petunia has self-seeded in my garden, but never in any abundance. It takes it too long to grow to a good size and by then, the season is over. Below, the Felicia Daisy is also an airy plant.
Some perennials I use in containers have no bloom.
I added blue hosta and Japanese Painted Fern to a mophead hydrangea with the annual, Summer Wave Blue Torenia – an annual for shade (above). Great for shady spots.
New Annuals Always Coming to Market
New annuals are always coming to the trade and you never have to see the same flowers in the garden if you choose. I like to experiment with unusual annuals for both the wildlife and how well they partner with perennials. Used this way, it is hard to differentiate an annual from a perennial, especially if they are not commonly used annuals. That is why I especially like the tall sage, Salvia farinacea ‘Blue Frost’.
Are Annuals More Work?
There’s no work dividing or pruning with annuals. Many perennials need dividing, otherwise they’ll get too big and unruly. They may need pruning for healthy growth. Some annuals are self-cleaning and don’t need dead-heading, lessening a garden chore. Annuals just might give you more time to enjoy your garden, not just work in it. Just choose your annuals wisely.
Annuals are bright and colorful, partly because blooms need to attract as many pollinators as possible to reproduce before season’s end. Annuals can be placed in the garden earlier than when perennials come into bloom to feed those early pollinators. Salvia ‘Black and Blue’, below, is a great pollinator plant with so many species visiting.
Above, Salvia ‘Black and Blue’ with butterfly weed and below, late spring with forget-me-nots.
Trial Gardens Are Where New Plants are Tested
I always look forward to the annual trials in Buffalo each year to see what plants are or will be new to the trade.
Just remember, I live in zone 6B and you probably don’t. I have a micro-climate in my garden with all the masonry and stone which bumps me up to 7A in certain beds, so conditions will vary on all the annuals and their ability to self-seed. I am always cautionary recommending plants because if you read my post on soil you will understand that conditions vary even only miles away. Too many gardeners think if a plant is fine for their zone, they can just pop it in the ground. The plant may rebel or sulk to where you put it. So when you read plant profiles, think of all the things I talk about here on GWGT. It will save you money and maybe even the life of the plant.
And some annuals for pollinators are:
- four o’clock
And of course you want the list of self-seeding annuals right? Let’s just call them Flowers that Plant Themselves. Why profile one plant when you can sing the praises of two plant groups together? I hope I gave you some ideas of how to better use annuals. Better gardening is using all that is available! Why not make your garden sing all season long?
- Asclepias speciosa
- Alyssum seeds easily.
- Amaranthus caudalus
- California Poppy
- Centaurea cyanus
- Clemome spinosa
- Delphinium ajacis Larkspur
- Four o’clock
- Foxglove – A biennial like a perennial. Re-seeds well. Flowers every two years.
- Gloriosa daisy
- Johnny Jump-Ups
- Morning Glory
- Rudbeckia hirta reseeds, R. fulgida ‘Goldstrun’ is perennial and spreads aggressively.
- Silene armeria
- Sweet Pea
- Sweet William flowers from seed following year.
- Verbena bonariensis Re-seeds readily and loved by Tiger Swallowtails.
- Zinnia, but I never had them do that in my garden. I add them because they do self seed.
In the previous post, I mentioned how many annuals are useful in hot and drier climates. Not all annuals are fussy or are water hogs. You just might try a few if you have a colorful cottage garden.