Annuals are plants that grow for one year.  Even though these plants have a relatively short life cycle, their versatility in the garden is beneficial in multiple ways.  Annuals such as impatiens, geraniums, petunias, pansies, and marigolds have been longtime favorites of gardeners for many years.  There are many types of annuals available and you surely will find ones that will work well in your garden.

Annuals are classified as tender, half-hardy, or hardy.  This classification depends on their tolerance to cold temperature.  Tender annuals such as petunias, impatiens, and geraniums have no tolerance for frost.  Half-hardy annuals such as snapdragons and dusty miller are also very sensitive to cold, but if self seeding occurs in late fall many of these annuals will survive the winter and germinate the following spring.  Hardy annuals such as sweet pea and dianthus may often survive the winter weather and thus return in the spring.  Pansies, a hardy annual, can be planted in early spring.  They tolerate cold spring nights that may even fall a few degrees below freezing.  This annual actually performs best in cool weather, which is one reason it is one of the first plants to be available at local nurseries each spring.

How an annual will perform in your garden does depend on a variety of factors such as sun, shade, and soil conditions.  Site recommendations are usually noted on the plant tag.  Use of a liquid fertilizer every two to three weeks is also helpful in getting your annual to bloom to its maximum potential.

Annuals are easier to maintain than perennials.  With such a short life cycle, they tend to have fewer pests.  They are excellent plants for the beginner gardener as they allow for experimentation and a chance to cultivate a sense of color combinations that go well together.  Annuals also lend themselves to experimenting with flower height and type.  If you don’t like your results, there is always next year when new combinations and plantings can be tried.

Annuals may also be planted in a new perennial bed where it may take a number of years for the perennials to reach their maximum growth.  In addition, annuals provide the summer long flowers that fill in the gaps when perennials are not blooming.  Some annuals such as alyssum and cosmos also help attract beneficial bugs to your garden.

Gardeners who have limited space can grow annuals in pots.  This form of container gardening may be easier for the elderly or those who have some physical limitations.  Annuals are a wonderful way to introduce children to the fun of gardening.  I’m sure many of us can recall the joy of seeing our first petunia in bloom.

Annuals provide that bright splash of color that lasts all summer long.

I also would like to address a few questions I have received.  Many people have expressed their frustration with growing marigolds.  Young, tender marigolds are a favorite food for slugs.  Growing these annuals where there is full sun will be helpful.  I also found slug bait to be beneficial in the early growing stages of the plant.  By mid June the marigolds usually aren’t bothered anymore.  Also continue to deadhead your marigolds.  The plants will then continue to put their growth into flower production instead of seed production.  Another question I have received numerous times is in regard to petunias.  Petunias benefit from deadheading.  By midsummer, which is now, they usually begin to look quite leggy with flowers just on the end of the plant.  By the end of July petunias should be cut back to a length of 4-6 inches from the base of the plant and then watered with a liquid fertilizer.  In a couple of weeks your petunias will begin to bloom again and they will look great right up to the first fall frost.

If you have any gardening questions you can call the Green County U.W. Extension at 328-9440.

Until next time. . . happy gardening.

Nina Binkley, U.W. Extension Master Gardener Volunteer