Extend Your Garden Season With Hardy Annuals

As we look for more ways to extend the color and interest in our gardens, try adding hardy annuals as they do well in the cooler temperatures of spring and fall.  These plants get their name because their natural life cycle is one growing season. A great characteristic of these annuals is they last longer than tender annuals, in fact, they actually thrive in cooler weather.

In cooler climates, you can start growing these plants from seeds indoors in early spring and then planting them outdoors when they have leaves on them.  You can also buy starter plants from your local garden center or online.  They can be planted before the last expected spring frost in your area of the country.  Remember they are tough and can handle the cool weather.  They do not need any special protection.  If you live in a warmer climate, where there is little to light frost, you can plant these hardy annuals in the fall and they will grow through the winter.

Pansies and Snapdragons are some of the more well-known plants you will find in this group. Sweet peas can be added to this list in slightly warmer regions.

Here are eight of our favorite hardy annual plants: 

Bells Of Ireland – This plant has been cultivated since 1570.  It is known for its showy, cup-shaped green calyxes compared to its tiny white flowers.  The plant reaches 2 – 3 feet and blooms in the late summer. It makes a great cut flower, fresh or dried.  You can start the seeds indoors in the winter and then plant them, while the soil is still cool or sow the seeds where you want the plants to grow in your garden in early spring, as soon as the soil can be worked.  

Calendula – Calendula is also known as pot marigold. It is an annual herb that also has daisy-like flowers in bright orange or yellow with pale green leaves. The plant grows 1 – 2 feet tall. Calendula is a low maintenance plant. It isn’t particular to any soil type and requires limited watering with, of course, consideration of the season. It is drought-resistant and frost tolerant.  Every 2 – 4 days harvest the flowers to keep the plant full and abundant. While it looks great in the garden it also has culinary and medicinal benefits.  The plant is used to heal wounds and is effective in treating burns.  The culinary benefits are many including treating heartburn and boosting your immune system. 

California Poppy – These flowers are fast-growing and reach their peak blooming time in spring but may bloom later in cooler regions.  They will certainly brighten up any garden.  Mainly known for their bright orange flowers, you can also find them in pink, and gold.  They will grow up to 12 inches in average to poor soil.  The soil does need to be well-drained.  For best results, plant them in the full sun.  In warmer climates, they will not survive the summer heat. Sow the seeds directly in the ground. If the flower is happy where they are located, there is a very good chance they will seed the ground on their own and sprout up year after year. 

Larkspur - This annual flower is easy to grow and is closely related to Delphinium. After frost is no longer a concern in your area you can plant the seeds and you’ll have blooms that last all summer long.  If you want to add some height to your garden, try adding this flower. They grow from 1 to 4 feet. Larkspur flowers come in blue, lavender, pink, purple, and white.  Larkspur prefers rich soil with full sun conditions. It does best where nights are cooler and in warmer areas of the country, they may flower better in the fall. One drawback to this plant is that most varieties require staking or some form of support. This plant is also a great choice for bouquets.

Nasturtium – One of my favorite flowers.  The leaves and flowers on this plant are edible. The bright green leaves with the vibrant colored flowers are eye-catching. You can plant them in a container or use them as a groundcover.  They also look great as a trailing plant in a hanging basket.  Plant nasturtium seeds in early spring in moist, well-drained soil in the full sun. If you plant them in partial shade, they do not bloom as well.  This plant also prefers poorer soils and does not need to be fertilized unless the soil is extremely poor.  Fertile soil will produce fewer blooms and more foliage.

Strawflowers - This may be the quintessential dried flower but it is attractive in fresh flower arrangements too. They have long stems and retain their bright colors even after being dried. Seedlings are not generally available in garden centers so it typically has to be started by planting seeds. They prefer soil that is well-drained with a sandy texture. It prefers full sun and is quite tolerant of hot, dry conditions. They require no staking and are generally free from pests or diseases. They grow 1 to 3 feet tall and come in a wide array of colors.

Sweet Alyssum - Sweet Alyssum is a hardy annual flower that makes excellent filler plants in containers as well as an edging and bedding plant. Plant it in a window box and its pleasant honey-like odor can permeate a room. It is easy to grow from seed and it is not particular about soil conditions. Its flowers are white, pink or purple and if you cut the flowers back in mid-summer it will bloom all over again. It does well in part-sun to full sun conditions.  If you plant it in just the right spot it will self-seed and come back year after year.

Wallflower - Wallflowers are hardy annuals in cooler hardiness zones.  They prefer cooler temperatures and moist soil that drains well. They come in colors that include orange, yellow and red. They are a great plant to combine with spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. When planting the seed it should be spread on the soil surface and then pressed into the soil but not covered. The seed requires light to germinate. It can take 2 to 4 weeks for the seed to sprout. Some varieties also have a pleasant fragrance which is an added bonus.

Let us know if you have any favorite hardy annuals. 

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