Now that spring is here, we can begin to think about the plant material for our landscapes. One of my favorite activities in the spring is heading out to the garden center and choosing new flowers for my garden. I like perennial plants because I can plant them one time and they will continue to come back every year. However, I also really enjoy annual flowers. They have fun colors and bloom throughout summer.
Marigolds are an old favorite flower of many gardeners. They are very easy to grow, making them a great choice for youth or for a new gardener. Marigolds come in many color options in the orange and yellow spectrum. Three new varieties were All American Selection winners for 2019 for the Heartland region, which includes Nebraska. Big Duck Orange and Big Duck Yellow are large, longer blooming varieties. Garuda Deep Gold is a great choice that lasts with intense flower color much longer than the competition and will last up to 10 days as a cut flower. Marigolds have a lot of different varieties for single and double flowers but mostly all in the yellow-orange color range.
Snapdragons are one of my favorite annual flowers and the 2019 National Garden Bureau annual flower of the year. They come in different colors and sizes and can be added to any container garden or landscape bed. Check which size you choose before you purchase to make sure that you don’t pick an annual that grows larger than the plants behind it. Remove spent flower blossoms through the season to maintain flowering throughout the summer months.
Calibrachoa is another of my favorite annual flowers due to the long list of colors and color combinations from many varieties. Calibrachoas are also sold as “Superbells” or “Million Bells” and resemble a small petunia flower. These plants have a growth habit similar to the wave petunia, where it spills over the edge of a container. They are also quite drought tolerant and will do well on their own for a few days if you are out of town for a weekend. It was the 2018 annual plant of the year for the National Garden Bureau. The hardest part of growing calibrachoa is deciding which varieties to plant.
Sunflowers are always a great annual flower choice. There are so many great varieties now that it is difficult to decide which ones to plant in your garden. You may think that the sunflower is too large, but there are some smaller plants that only grow up to 2 feet tall. There are also some new varieties, like “Red Wave” or “Chianti” that have deep burgundy-colored flowers, or “Fun N Sun” that is a mix of yellows, oranges, and red-colored flowers. Sunflowers are great pollinator plants and they can provide you or the birds with a snack later in the season.
Lantana is a fun annual that will grow well in hot locations. It will bloom through the summer and into fall with no deadheading necessary. The common variety is a flower cluster that is red on the outside, transitioning to yellow flowers in the center, but there are varieties with pink and yellow and straight white clusters of flowers. It is a low-maintenance plant for many garden spaces and can be utilized in a container or in a landscape bed.
Annual plants can be planted in the ground or in a container. I like to use them around perennials to provide more color, for a longer period during the growing season. For the most part, they are easy to care for; some may need to be deadheaded to remove spent blooms and allow new blooms. The plants listed in this article should all be planted in full sun. The best part of using annuals in the garden is that they are typically less expensive than perennial plants and if a disease or insect problem occurs on them, you can just pull them out and you might even have time to replant.
There are always new varieties of these flowers for improved flowering or new, unique color combinations or better disease resistance. Go to your local garden center and find the perfect choices to fit in with your landscape and container gardens.
Nicole Stoner is the Gage County Horticulture Extension Educator. She can be contacted at (402) 223-1384, email@example.com, or by visiting the Gage County Extension website at www.gage.unl.edu. Like her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/NicoleStonerHorticulture, or follow her on Twitter @Nikki_Stoner.