Defy frost, and get your garden started early, with these hardy annuals
Extend your growing season by mixing hardy annuals in with your perennial plantings. An annual is a plant that is grown from seed, blooms and then goes to seed all in one year. Some annuals appear to be perennial because they reseed readily. By planting hardy annuals in cooler climates, you can extend your growing season by weeks early in spring and then again late in autumn.
Following is my list of favorite hardy annuals:
Pansies - I just love pansies with their sweet little faces. They definitely scream spring, when I see them first in the garden center. But they don't have to be just a spring flower. New colors in orange, black and deep purple are perfect for autumn as well. Plant them in a shady spot in your garden and trim them when they get leggy and they will bloom nearly all year. Keep them well watered during drought and you could be rewarded with blooms from the same plant well into cooler weather.
Violas - Native to Spain, violas have a similar flower as the pansy, just in a smaller size. They reseed readily, so plant them where you won't mind if they come back year after year. Treat them as you would a pansy, plant in shade to part-shade, in moist, well draining soil and cut them back when they get leggy.
Snapdragons - Snapdragons are so easy to start from seed and are ideal for winter sowing, in case you'd like to give that technique a try. I usually plant snapdragons in the spring along with all the rest of my annuals, but they don't really look their best until the fall, when they really seem to take off. They can get to be 12"-18" tall, depending on variety and prefer a full sun to part-sun location with moist, well draining soil.
Calendula - Also known as 'Pot Marigold' or 'English Marigold', these orange or yellow flowers are very similar to marigolds, but with one exception. They seem to thrive as the season progresses and they don't mind a light frost or two. They come in tall and short varieties and love the sunshine and compost rich soil.
Sweet Alyssum - Beautiful tufts of tiny little flowers that smell delicious, that's sweet alyssum. I love mixing these in with hanging baskets so they can spill over the side. Plant in full to part sun and allow them to fill in between other plants to create a blanket of white, lavender or pink.
Dusty Miller - This soft foliage plant is actually hardy in warm climates, but makes an excellent annual that looks good well into the autumn months. I've even had it overwinter under a foot of snow. Dusty Miller mixes well with all plants and adds that grayish color that most gardens are lacking. I especially like pairing it with white and purple flowers.
Gazania - I use this plant instead of Gerbera Daisies. They are easier to grow and don't mind frost. In fact, they bloom endlessly when dead-headed regularly. Flowers open during the day and close at night and on really cloudy days, but the green grass-like foliage is pleasant mixed with other plants. Great in hanging baskets or directly in the garden, plant these beauties in full sun. Primarily in shades of orange and yellow, new varieties are emerging in white and shades of pink.
Geranium - Geraniums scream summer, but they can handle temperatures down to about 30 degrees and cooler if given some protection during early frosts. They come in so many varieties these days; some with variegated foliage and smaller blooms, to plain green foliage and huge pom pom type blooms. Plant in full sun in any type of soil and once established in the ground for a few weeks, they can handle short bouts of dry weather.
Verbena - I love growing verbena in hanging baskets and I never knew they could withstand frost until we had one and verbena was the only thing left in the pot looking just as good as it did the day before. In fact, the cooler weather seemed to bring on more blooms. It's really a great plant and the butterflies like it too. Plant in full sun in good quality potting soil and you will be rewarded with spreading blooms all spring, summer and autumn long.
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