Versatile Annual PlantsHome owners use annuals in their gardens as bedding plants, borders and focal points for color and beauty. Annual plants are also widely used in public parks, on medians and roadside plantings which are often done as volunteer community projects.
The most widely grown and highest on the list of summer annuals are marigolds, petunias and zinnias.
Petunias are usually available in flats of seedlings large enough and ready to transplant out. Marigolds and zinnias can also be bought in flats or potted seedlings, but will readily and quickly grow from seed so long as the planting area is kept reasonably moist.
Annual plants can be started indoors from seed, but rarely do as well as when sown directly outside where they are to grow.
Other popular and common summer annuals include cosmos, cornflower, portulaca, morning glories, salvia, strawflowers and of course sunflowers. All of these should be planted where they receive full sunlight to partial shade.
Annuals that require less light and like to be grown in cooler positions and part shade include pansies, impatiens, snapdragon, pinks and coleus. These will do best in spring to early summer, but will suffer or die off in the heat of summer especially in southern zone 9 to 10 locations.
With the possible exception of cosmos and cornflowers, annuals are heavy feeders and benefit from regular applications of water-soluble plant food. Fertilize cosmos and cornflowers lightly when plants are about 4 to 6 inches tall to give them a good start. Don't fertilize after that or the plants will put out lots of foliage and not many flowers.
In order to extend the blooming season as long as possible, spent flowers should be removed from the plants so that they do not go into seed production. Cutting off (deadheading) of withered bloom will encourage the plants to send out new growth producing many more blossoms.
Near the end of the season and while there is still time for seeds to ripen, let a few flowers go to seed. You can then collect these for use in the following spring. Some annuals, especially those with tiny seeds such as impatiens and portulaca will self-seed and you will have volunteer seedlings coming up next season provided there is sufficient moisture and direct contact with the soil.
If you are hoping for self-starting seedlings next season, don't use mulch in your flower beds.
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