Annual Flowers Aim to Please

Annual flowers like the lisianthus make for great cut flowers.

You can’t beat an annual plant for its desire to please the gardener. It has one season to live and it puts all of its energy into producing flowers. If you plant a seed, either indoors or directly in the garden, some annuals will germinate and grow to maturity, producing a flower in as little as eight weeks. Cut that flower and it takes it as a mandate to produce more flowers. Give it average soil and it’s okay with that. Not picky.

Strictly speaking, many plants we call annuals are actually tender perennials. In much warmer climates they survive year after year, but in our climate they die as soon as the temperatures dip in the fall or winter. Plants that are tender perennials but are treated as annuals here in Zone 6 include: Lantana, dianthus, and coleus.

Annuals are a great addition to the garden for several reasons. Once they start to bloom, they bloom continuously throughout the season. In the early fall many annuals get a burst of growth spurred on by cooler temperatures. Many reseed so you can be assured of new plants next spring.

Annuals make great cut flowers. One of my favorites is lisianthus, which resembles a rose. I’ve never tried growing it from seed but I buy small plants at Petersen’s Nursery in Patterson and put them in the ground early in the season. Flowers are either white or pink and they are blooming in my garden now. They like well drained soil and full sun.

If you can, it’s best to cut your stems in the early morning or early evening to avoid wilting. Conditioning helps extend the life of your fresh cut flowers. To condition, put the stems in a bucket of warm water and recut the stems under water. Use a sharp cutting tool so the edge of the stem is not jagged, and cut at an angle to improve the uptake of water. Remove leaves that will be below the water line to prevent bacteria, and put your bucket in a cool dry place for a few hours as the stems take up water.

Annuals and container gardening go well together because you can count on a pop of color throughout the season. Plants grown in containers need a little extra care since they have a finite amount of resources at their disposal compared to a plant growing in the ground. Pay close attention to their water needs, nutrients and pests. At the end of the growing season you can leave your annuals right in the container and toss them in the compost heap the following spring, no fall cleanup is needed. If your containers are made of ceramic, however, you may need to wrap them or move them to your garage to prevent cracking.

This past spring I sowed cleome seeds indoors. I planted the seedlings out in the garden as soon as I knew there was no more possibility of a frost (late May). Cleome is sometimes called a spider plant and has white and pink-and-white blossoms. This majestic plant in my garden has already grown to four feet in height. I’ve been told they self sow so effectively that they can be a nuisance, so I’ll collect the seeds and start them indoors again next spring. That way I can have some control over where they pop up.

In some ways annuals are more work than perennials because you have to keep planting them each season. Is it worth it? I say yes!

For more images of annuals growing in Dorian’s garden or in containers visit the Curious Gardener blog at online.

Dorian Winslow is the owner of Womanswork, Pawling NY, ( Email your gardening questions and comments to