Gardeners looking for vibrant bursts of color and dramatic blooms often turn to annuals. Annuals are flowers that must be planted every year to grow and bloom since they don’t survive the winter conditions in many zones. While they require more tending than hardy perennials, they dazzle with their showy displays and offer colors and varieties that are well worth the effort.
Celosias are exciting additions to any garden or planter and are easy to grow. They need fertile soil with good drainage and moderate water. They’ll also need to be deadheaded, meaning the dying flowers will need to be removed to keep the plant perky and neat. If you’re starting your celosia by seed, it’s best to sow directly outside, since the plant doesn’t always take well to transplanting. It likes full sun or partial shade and is resistant to most pests. The pests that do attack the plant, such as mites, can be managed by adding natural predators like ladybugs.
The best environment for larkspur is a location with cool, moist summers. They can grow in USDA zones two through 10 and needs full sun to partial shade. For the seeds to germinate, larkspur seeds need to be pre-chilled in the refrigerating them for about two weeks. They enjoy cool temperatures and should be planted in early spring in light soil that stays slightly moist. They’re pestered by only a few critters, notably aphids, slugs, and snails. Physically removing these bugs and introducing predators that kill them can revolve any pest problems.
Dahlias are a stunner in any garden. When started early enough, they’ll start blooming in late spring and continue up until frosts begin. They’ll do well in pots as long as they have enough space to grow in rich, well-drained soil and can be regularly fertilized and watered. They need full sun and might need to be staked; many varieties can grow up to 5 feet tall. If you live in a cold area, you can lift your dahlia bulbs - called tubers - out of the ground before the first freeze and stored in a dry area to be replanted next year.
Ranunculus is a perennial in USDA zones eight through ten but can be treated as an annual in cooler climates where the winter will kill the bulb. For a ranunculus to grow, the soil must be well-drained, and the plant must receive full sun. It needs to be watered regularly, but too much water will cause rot. If you live in a cold climate and are treating your ranunculus as an annual, start the bulbs 12 weeks before the last frost or plant outdoors in early spring after the chance of a freeze.
Snapdragons are stately stalks of flowers that are grown as annuals in most zones cooler than USDA zone seven. They can be sown indoors eight to 12 weeks before the last frost and then transplanted outdoors once they have a couple of sets of leaves. Snapdragon seeds need light to germinate, so don’t cover them when pressing them into your seed started or vermiculite mix. They enjoy full sun and can tolerate light afternoon shade. Snapdragons can be grown in containers and should receive about an inch of water per week, not counting rainfall.
The best begonias are grown from tubers and receive light, dappled sun. They’re grown not only for their spectacular blooms but also for their complementary leaves. They do well when started from tubers eight to 12 weeks before the final frost. The tubers may need help warming up after winter dormancy, so keep temperatures around 70 degrees Fahrenheit and give them indirect light. They enjoy shade more than direct sun, especially in warmer climates, so they can successfully be grown in shady gardens with morning light. Begonias need moist soil without too much water.
Poppies are great annuals in cooler climates. While they only flower for a short period in areas that warm quickly, northern zones with extended cool spring temperatures can enjoy poppies for longer. Be sure to find a variety that blooms well in your zone. Poppy seeds don’t like to be transplanted, so sow them directly in the ground about a month before the last frost. Alternatively, you can sow poppy seeds in the fall to grow during the next spring. Full sun and well-drained soil make for excellent blooms. Poppies naturally reseed, so poppies may scatter enough seed to send up an entirely new bed of flowers next season.
Petunias can be grown either from transplants or seeds, with transplants being the more rewarding option. Petunias bloom best in full sun and should have organic matter mixed into the soil before planting. They need to be fertilized weekly with a water-soluble fertilizer to maintain their health. If you decide to sow from seed, do so about ten weeks before the last frost in your area. Petunias need a lot of light to germinate and will flower about six to eight weeks after doing so.
If you have dry soil or deal with droughts in your area, sunflowers can give you beautiful blooms in almost any condition. The one thing sunflowers can’t tolerate is waterlogged soil, but they do well in hot weather. They take 80 to 120 days to bloom after germination. The seeds need plenty of water to germinate but only require about an inch of water every week once they sprout. Many pests can affect sunflowers. Planting sunflowers later in the season and letting wasps, praying mantises ladybugs, and other natural predators into your garden beds can keep rest populations at bay.
Zinnias, like dahlias, enjoy the warm weather of summer and will bloom profusely with full sun and temperatures between 74 and 84 degrees Fahrenheit. When growing from seed, zinnias only take about four to seven days to germinate. They’re easy to grow and make great cut flowers. Zinnias don’t like to be transplanted, so plant them directly into the garden bed after the danger of frost has passed. Make sure you mix compost or rotted manure into the soil before planting to help your seedlings thrive.