DARREL KOEHLER: The Prairie Gardener — The Joy Of Annual Flowers

The beauty of annual flowers can last a lifetime in our memory. And there are lots of reasons to be enchanted with annuals.

Annuals don’t do anything just halfway. They are easy to grow, can turn a bare patch of yard into a mass of flowers in just a short time and bloom their hearts out until Jack Frost comes in late September or October, when colorful gardens become bare stalks.

Annuals are grouped in three categories. Tender annuals, such as impatiens and nasturtiums are most cold-sensitive. Half-hardy plants would be cosmos and marigolds. Hardy plants include alyssum and sweet pea.

You have two choices when it comes to planting annual flowers. You can either get seed packets or started plants, and you can use both in your garden. Plant bedding or started plants in visible areas of your garden and seeds in less visible areas.

(Besides annuals, you have biennials such as hollyhocks, which begin from a seed the first year and then bloom the second before dying. Perennial flowers come up year after year with little extra care.)

Annual flowers have always been a favorite subject for plant breeders. Some of my favorite new annuals include scarlet salvia and petunias of all colors and shapes, especially the variety “purple wave.”  Yellow nasturtiums, white marigolds and short sunflowers complete the list.

There are pastel inpatiens for shady spots, moss roses for sunny, sandy areas. Blue flowers are rare, so be sure to include them if you like that color. Consider blue ageratum and heavenly blue morning glories.

Annuals that you might not find in most gardens include cockscomb, flowering tobacco (a favorite of hummingbird gardens), spider flowers, wax begonias and snapdragons.

Sometimes, gardeners can save annual flower seeds for future gardens. These include zinnia, cosmos, hollyhock and marigold seeds. If you are a saver, dry seeds and place in a cool place to store over winter.

Some of my favorite annual seeds that I collect include hollyhock and sweet or dame’s rocket, which come up on their own. I also save cosmos and dill from the herb area of my garden for the next season. If the zinnias are ripe when I’m out, those are gathered, too.

You also can save regular seed from year to year. However, the seeds you gather must be a standard variety. Hybrid flower seeds may not produce plants like the original.

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