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Select and Care for Annuals and Perennials

Planting flower beds of annuals and perennials is a yearly ritual for many gardeners. The variety of blooms and colors are almost endless. If you are not hooked on gardening with annuals and perennials yet, it is only a matter of time.

Garden with annuals and perennials

What are Annuals & Perennials?

perennial flowers - Threadleaf coreopsis

Perennial - A plant that survives for many years. Some take more than one season to mature. At maturity, perennials will produce fruit or flowers and seeds. There are two types of perennials:

  • Herbaceous perennials that die to the ground after each growing season and grow back each spring. Examples include asters, iris, phlox, daylilies and Oriental poppies.
  • Woody perennials that survive intact from season to season. They enter dormancy in colder climates. Deciduous varieties shed their leaves, evergreens do not. Examples are trees and shrubs.

Annual - A plant that completes its complete life cycle (germinate, flower, produce seed and die). Some annuals grow back from dropped seed; otherwise they must be replaced every year. The list is long, but some examples include geraniums, impatiens, zinnias, marigolds, petunias and pansies.

Biennial - A plant with a life cycle that spans two years. During year one the plant germinates and grows. The second year it flowers, produces seeds and dies. Examples include foxglove, black-eyed Susan and hollyhock.

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Planning a Garden

Front yard garden idea

You can garden with annuals or perennials on any scale — large or small. With a little planning, you’ll have many seasons’ worth of gardening enjoyment ahead of you. Lay out the design of your flower bed before purchasing plants. Any size area has potential. 

You need to consider several things:

Color - Use colors that complement each other and your home itself. Colors are either warm or cool, depending upon the hue. Red and yellow are warm. White, blue and violet are cooler. Complementary colors (violet and yellow, blue and orange, red and green) tend to intensify each other. Plant neutral or subdued hues between brilliant colors to prevent clashes and make the brighter colors more prominent.  A color scheme that combines warm and cool colors or intense hues and paler tints will create visual movement in the garden. When choosing colors also look at bloom times. Combining plants that flower at different times ensures a full season of color.

Size and Texture - Use contrasting heights and plant shapes to add even more dimension to the flower bed. Do not forget foliage plants — some of your best choices may not have blooms at all. Remember to follow the tall-to-small rule by planting smaller, more delicate plants in the front, and larger, sturdier plants in the back.

Fragrance - Keep aroma in mind when choosing bedding plants.  Some fragrant annual examples include stock, four-o’clock, petunia and sweet alyssum; perennials include peony, bee balm and phlox.

Sun or Shade - Choose your bedding plants according to the amount of natural sunlight available. From full sun (6 - 8 hours a day) to dense shade (practically no sun), you still have planting options. However, remember that most flowering plants need a lot of sunshine.

Garden Design Ideas

Front yard garden idea

Use perennials as the "permanent" framework for the flower bed.

Experiment with different combinations of annuals each season.

Add containers planted with annuals to the flower bed for movable color and accent. The containers can also fill in bare areas until transplants naturally fill in.

Use foliage plants. Many leaves offer shades of gray, blue, silver or gold. Color contrasts among foliage are often as striking as those among flowers, and they last longer.

Planting Annuals and Perennials

How to plant a garden

Whether using seeds or transplants, planting annuals and perennials properly is an important factor in successful growing:

Soil - Prepare planting beds by digging the soil to a depth of at least 6 inches. Work in plenty of peat moss or compost to ensure good drainage.

Spacing - If you sow seed directly in the beds, thin seedlings to give them adequate spacing. Be sure to allow plenty of room for plants to grow to their mature size. Keep in mind those areas of your garden that may receive more water or light and plant accordingly.

Food and Water - Feed your flowers regularly during the season for best blooms. Use a fertilizer suitable for flowering plants and follow the instructions on the package. Provide 1/2 - 1 inch of water per week, if rainfall is not sufficient.

Grooming - Spent blossoms need to be removed (called deadheading) to make room for new blooms. If you want seeds for replanting next year, leave the withered blossoms to produce seed.


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