Do you want more colour in your garden, for a longer bloom period than many perennials offer?

Annuals and bedding plants are a great choice! For your money, you get long season interest from summer flowering annuals with their good colour and easy care. Adding long-blooming annuals to garden beds or on their own as a bedding display can bring a lot of vibrancy to the garden. Read this article to find out more about buying, planting, designing and caring for your summer annuals.

Buying summer flowering annuals

Buy plants that are not in flower, but are instead packed with unopened buds. Choose the stockiest plants in the group, rather than ones at might look relatively leggy or stretched out. Choose plants based on their cultural requirements. Are you growing in full sun or part shade? Are you planting during the cool season or want annuals for the hot summer months? Find all this information on the plant tags accompanying annuals at your local garden centre.
Design with height in mind. Choose lower growing plants with a fine texture for garden bed edges, plants that are up to 15 cm tall. Try alyssum or lobelia for edging plants. Choose a selection of mid-height plants, such as marigolds, salvia, or nicotiana that are up to 60 cm tall to fill in the middle portions of your flowering display. Tall feature plants can be used to dot the garden beds and add a lot of interest. Try Canna lilies or something grown on standard, which looks like a miniature tree version of your favourite summer annual. Fuchsia are often found groomed into little trees.
Design for colour as well, using tried and true colour palettes (monochromatic shades of purple), complementary palettes of two or three contrasting colours (blue and orange; or chartreuse green with purple and red), or a polychromatic palette featuring the colours of the rainbow intermixed with white blooms for a meadow-like effect.

Types of annuals and bedding plants

There are varying degrees of hardiness among bedding plants. Some lend themselves well to cool season growing as mentioned above. Examples include myosotis (forget-me-nots), pansies and snapdragons which are all fairly frost hardy so they can be planted for a show in early spring or fall, both before and after summer annuals are used for colour. Most annuals grown for summer displays are not hardy in frost. These greenhouse-grown plants are rather tender in colder climates. Hardy biennials can be seed grown, and are usually spring blooming. Seeding these plants yourself can be very cost effective. English daisy, wallflowers and forget-me-nots do a wonderful job of complementing your bulb displays in early spring.
Half hardy exotic perennials make fantastic feature plants in the garden. Canna lilies, Tibouchina, Agave, Bouganvillea and Banana can be grown out in the garden in summer. Bring them indoors at the end of summer into a greenhouse, or wrap and insulate them using burlap and an insulating material if they are to be left in the ground. Hardy perennials, on the other hand can be cleverly used as anchors in a bedding plant display, and will return year after year. Leave perennials in annual display beds to provide a foundation that complements your annuals.

Year round interest can be added to the garden by using a succession of flowering annuals, as in the calendar below.

January- March: kale, pansy, primula March: Myosotis (forget-me-not) April: wallflower, pansy, English daisy Note how March-April coincides with flowering bulbs (tulips, daffodils) May 24th: all chance of frost has passed, plant out all other types of annuals October: risk of frost returns October: pansy, kale, mums, primula

Planting Annuals and Care Tips for Bedding Plants

By far the most important tip I can share is to water your annuals evenly. Keeping your garden soil moist throughout the season is ideal. Try to avoid the pattern of swamping annuals with water and then letting your soil dry out for extended periods. That said, geraniums like to dry out between waterings and make a good choice for gardeners who need to have drought tolerant annuals, for those long weekends away at the cabin.
When planting annuals, be brave and remove the blooms (not the buds) that are in flower. It is essential to give the plant a chance to establish roots at the beginning of the growing season. To encourage good root growth, pinch the roots on two of the bottom corners of the root ball. This will cause the roots to branch out and prevent the plant from being root bound.
Feed your annuals and hanging baskets with an overall fertilizer formulation (such as a 20-20-20) every two weeks between May and August. You will notice the plants respond with vigorous growth and copious amounts of blooms.
Deadhead spent blossoms by cutting off the flowers at the base of their stems. The more you cut out dead flowers and pinch the plant, the more it will respond with new blooms and growth.
Remember to take pictures, keep plant tags and take note of your successes. Repeat next year, and enjoy! In the meantime, pull up a lounge chair and take time to enjoy your gorgeous garden and some sunshine.