Annual…Perennial…It’s okay if you can’t seem to remember which is which – that’s our job! So, for all of you that are perennially (haha) confused and would like to finally get it straight, here’s the scoop:
Annual: one of those go-to plants that you put out each year – for example in your planters – (annually) a geranium, or begonia perhaps. Annuals give you a lot of bang for your buck in one fell swoop – but, when they’ve exhausted their blooming period, they are finished, kaput, done. This also applies to fall plants such as pansies and violas. We call them cool season annuals because their blooming period – (before they’re finished, kaput, done,) is the cool season, or winter. Cool season annuals just can’t take the heat, so when they’ve given it up we plant out summer annuals – think zinnias, begonias, caladiums, coleus, fan flower…all the pretty plants we buy in our frenzy of spring fever.
So, maybe that helps a little bit? Put another way, you plant annuals in the Birmingham area annually (each year – spring and fall.) Some annuals for spring/summer planting become available early in the spring and others show up a bit later and really need the heat turned up to do well. Annuals also provide lasting color – useful for the long summer season…typically, annuals in the Birmingham area begin to play out and look “tired” by mid-August though, even with the best of care. August is one tough month!
Here’s a small sampling of some great annuals for Birmingham and surrounding areas – this is just the tip of the iceburg, however. For more inspiration, check out our Facebook page too, or better yet, stop in!
Dragonwing begonias – sun or shade, with adequate water they get huge!
Caladiums – traditional shade plant, now many selections are available for sun too. Pretty mixed with asparagus or other ferns, begonias, Sunpatiens, torenia or any other flowering annual that compliments the color of their leaves. They’ll do best if you wait to plant in garden beds until the ground is warm, usually by May.
Coleus – beautiful colors! Another that used to play only in the shade, now many varieties are used in full sun plantings. Very useful as an accent foliage in beds or containers, they can get very large! It’s quite easy to keep them at whatever size you’d like, though. Simply pinch when young or cut them back if they get out of hand! Check the tag for sun tolerance.
Gomphrena – This one may not be familiar to you. A heat lover, it has globes of purple, orange or sometimes pink flowers, and is long lasting and tough. It never looks like much in a pot so you’ll have to trust us on this one – but if you do, you won’t be sorry …and they’ll still look good in August!
Zinnias – There are many varieties of zinnia from the tiny flowered narrow leaf zinnia to the more open Profusion and Zahara zinnias, and they all love the heat. Don’t be afraid to cut them back if they become rangy mid-summer. If you do, they’ll also still be looking good in the latter part of the season.
Vinca – this one is the absolute easiest, most fool proof annual to use for a lot of color in hot spots. Plant them and don’t baby them with too much water. They’ll reward you with loads of pretty blooms in clear colors. There’s also a trailing vinca as well. As with caladiums, don’t plant too early in the ground.
Sunpatiens and New Guinea impatiens – these are the types of impatiens that are resistant to downy mildew which is affecting bedding plant and double impatiens in our area. They are only available in larger pots, but you don’t need as many of them since you can space them further apart in your beds. In containers they make quite a show too!
Pentas – the butterflies love pentas and these come in so many colors. Bright red, white, light and dark pink, lilac – there’s a color for everyone! To maintain pentas, you need only keep them deadheaded – keeping the old blooms cut off. If you haven’t tried these, you’re in for a treat!
Lantana – The old stand-by for sun and heat. There are many good selections of lantana now and growth habit varies – some will get enormous, (tall and wide) while others will stay more mounding and compact, so always check the tag for size. Particularly nice for planters are the trailing varieties which come in bright yellow, white and lavender. They take a while to take off, but once the heat sets in they spread like crazy!
Angelonia – Sometimes called summer snapdragon because of the shape of the bloom, angelonia is a good choice to add some height in beds and containers. Strongly upright in growth, but loose enough to not look stiff, it’s a welcome addition to our summer plant palette. Hybridizers have been working overtime improving color, bloom size and heat tolerance, making these beauties one of the newer go-to plants for summer plantings, adding shades of purple, pink, lilac and white.
Strobilanthes/Persian Shield – This foliage plant is an excellent annual, like the caladium, that is useful as a foliage accent in plantings. In the ground or in pots, it is gorgeous!
Rex Begonias – Another great foliage accent in many leaf patterns. Good for shade planters primarily. Technically a houseplant, but I couldn’t resist putting another foliage option in this post!
We’ll discuss perennials (they’re the ones that come back if they’re in their happy spot.) in a future post. Meantime, maybe there are one or two annuals on this list you haven’t tried – maybe it’s time!
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