Looking for a lot of color and variety in your garden that you can change year after year? Any or all of the annuals discussed in this article could be just what you're looking to find.
Annual flowers differ from perennials in that they die off each season and have to be replanted annually. This can be a bit more work on the grower's part, but there are advantages to this. Annuals allow you to change your mind season after season. You aren't stuck with the same boring perennial daisy year after year. In addition, if you aren't good at growing flowers, annuals can be nice because if you spend a lot of time plotting out a huge perennial garden and some of the plants die, your whole look is thrown off. With annuals, you have a brand new blank canvas each spring.
Planting any kind of flowers in the Midwest, however, can be challenging. The land can often be prone to extremes, not to mention cold winters and drier air. There can be late spring thaws or early frosts in the fall that throw off your plans and kill your plants. For all the cold worries, however, the Midwest can have brutally hot summers, sometimes with little rain.
But don't let this discourage you. Though Midwest planting can be difficult, with a little planning, you can find beautiful annuals to decorate your landscape. This article is a great place to start as a planning tool to discover the top five popular and hardy annuals that suit Midwest planting.
The big, bushy colocasia plants, which are commonly called Elephant Ears because that's precisely what they resemble, can grow up to 8 feet (2.4 m) tall. Though they are lacking a very colorful flower to last you through the season, these leafy plants can add a tropical feel to your garden.
These rapid growers, which can be rewarding to the novice planter who yearns to see results, thrive in wet soils but can live in almost any soil as long as it's not clay. Colocasia are popular annuals because they are easy to grow and require little attention throughout the summer, unlike a delicate flower that may need constant pruning, cutting back and reshaping.
Colocasia, however, are different from your average annual because they don't have to die off at the end of the season. They can, but they don't have to, like most annuals. In the Midwest, it gets too cold for these plants to survive the winter. However, if dug up before winter hits, the Colocasia can be stored in a cool, dry area until the spring [source: Central Florida Farms]. Because they have to be replanted each spring, these plants are considered to be annuals.
The Colocasia's can be a very dramatic, bold addition to any garden. There are a few caveats, however. Though it can survive in most types of soils, it still needs to be moist. This can require some work during hot Midwestern summers, so don't neglect watering your Elephant Ears. In addition, no matter how delicious Elephant Ear donuts are, don't eat these plants -- they're poisonous if eaten straight from the garden [Source: Dave's Garden].
If you're looking for something a bit more colorful and fragrant, check out Lavender on the next page.
If you thought Colocasia was a confusing annual, you might be scratching your head even more on Lavender. Often a small bush or shrub, Lavender is usually a perennial. However, certain species of Lavender, such as French and Spanish lavenders, are considered annuals [source: McCoy].
Lavenders are classified by their beautiful purple flowers and very fragrant blossoms. The annual species can grow 3 to 4 feet (.9 to 1.2 m) in height, but aren't always the hardiest plants -- one of the main reasons they are classified as annuals [source: McCoy]. Sun and moisture requirements can be particular for these plants. Their relative delicateness, though, is a tradeoff many Midwesterners are willing to make for the bountiful fragrance that can fill an entire yard -- and easily waft over to the neighbor's, as well. In addition, as much as humans love the fragrance, many pests do not. Pests from deer to ants find the fragrance too cloying and overpowering. Lavender serves as a natural, organic pest control, which makes growing it a bit easier.
Some planters feel that because these are delicate flowers, it might be best to start from the shrubs and transplant them to your yard. Others, however, prefer to start them from seeds because it helps them adapt to the difficult Midwestern environment from germination [source: Sink].
Lavender does more than just look good as an ornamental among your landscaping. French Lavender has a rosemary scent and is a popular element in potpourri. Spanish Lavender, meanwhile, has elegant oblong flowers that serve particularly well for dried or pressed flower arrangements. Both species let you enjoy these annuals long beyond their short growing season in the Midwest.
Angelonia may sound like a fancy name, but these flowers are simple beings when you learn their common name -- the Summer Snapdragon. And, like our previous plants, though this can be a perennial in very warm climates, in most places -- like the Midwest -- this one is an annual.
Blooming in blue, purple, white or pink, these pretty flowers can grow from 2 to 4 feet (.6 to 1.2 m) tall. These plants are perfect for the Midwest because they are drought and heat tolerant. Unless a drought occurs, these flowers can often survive merely on rainwater without any additional watering by you. This is not only a time-saver on your end, but a nice addition for the planet, as it helps conserve water.
Though Angelonia require well-drained soil, they don't need staking -- even though they grow tall for a flower -- or deadheading, which can become a tedious requirement on many flowering plants. In addition, these Snapdragons make a great cut flower, meaning they can be a beautiful addition to any bouquet or make a vibrant centerpiece for your dinner table, lasting for a week and half in the vase. Their scent has also been described as "grape soda," which could be a nice nostalgic reminder of summers past [source: Schoellhorn]. This flower provides many blooms throughout the season, typical of an annual plant and one of the many reasons people go though the work of replanting annuals year after year.
If you're looking for a single flower type to cover a multitude of your yard's needs, look no further than the Verbena. In need of a trailing flower for your rock garden or to drape over a trellis, Verbena's a good choice, growing to a diameter of 18 inches (45 cm). Want a mounding type of flower to form big globes of color in your flowerbeds and borders? Verbena can do that too. Looking for a flower in red, pink, peach, blue, purple or white? Do you need vibrant colors or do you desire soft pastels? Doesn't matter -- Verbena has all of those in its many forms.
Again as with our previous flowers, in the South it can grow as a perennial, but Midwesterners will have to settle for this versatile flower as an annual. Though you have to be sure to start planting after all danger of frost has passed, once they germinate, Verbena don't require a lot of care. And while they can be slow to start (you might have to wait more than a month after planting to see some results), Verbena are easy to plant from seeds, so they can be a cheaper addition to your landscaping design. These flowers also need a lot of water when planted from seeds. Once they become well established, however, you don't need to water often, only when extremely dry.
The one main caretaker task of Verbena is deadheading. After planting, you will need to cut off the dead and dying blooms continually in order for the plant to re-flower. However, as that is the only major requirement to take care of these flowers, many growers enjoy having a variety of these colorful blooms in their gardens.
Scaevola, also known as the Fan Flower for its fan-like shape, are quick to grow and very tough -- perfect for the Midwest. These flowers come in pink, blue or purple, and can flower from June to September with non-stop, fragrant blooms. The fan-like shape, however, means that it sometimes looks like only half of the flower has grown.
People often use them in pots or as hanging plants that can grow up to 3 ft (1 m) high. These flowers generally have so few problems once they begin growing that certain varieties have been termed "New Wonder" and "Blue Wonder." Similar to Colocasia, they can be taken inside during the winter and re-potted in the spring. Many growers, however, find this practice more difficult than simply replacing them once the frost has cleared the next spring [source: Missouri Botanical Garden].
Though the extremes of the Midwest can limit your plant choices, there are plenty of flowers to spruce up your yard. These top 5 popular annuals are a good place to start next spring for a summer full of blooms.
For more information on annuals and related topics, visit the links on the next page.
Using less water on gardening doesn't have to mean less of a garden. Learn how to save 30 percent of your gardening water just by watering at the right time of day in this article.
More Great Links
- Blodgett, Bonnie. "Midwest Top 10 Garden Guide." Sunset Publishing Corp. 2004.
- Central Florida Farms. "Colocasia." (Accessed 1/18/09) http://www.centralfloridafarms.com/colocasias.htm
- Dave's Garden. "Plant Files: Taro, Elephant Ear." (Accessed 1/18/09) http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/31781/
- Denver Plants. "Fan Flower." (Accessed 1/18/09) http://www.denverplants.com/annual/html/scave_won.htm
- Fernlea. "Scaevola." (Accessed 1/18/09) http://www.fernlea.com/annual/variety/scaev.htm
- Garden Guides. "Verbena - Garden Basics - Flower - Annual." (Accessed 1/18/09) http://www.gardenguides.com/plants/info/flowers/annuals/verbena.asp#
- Garden Party. "Annuals vs. Perennials." 6/30/06 (Accessed 1/18/09) http://gardeningnews.blogspot.com/2006/06/annuals-vs-perennials.html
- McCoy, Joe-Ann. "Lavender: History, Taxonomy, and Produciton." North Carolina State University. (Accessed 1/18/09) http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/fletcher/staff/jmdavis/lav.html
- Missouri Botanical Garden. "Scaevola aemula 'Blue Wonder.'" (Accessed 1/18/09) http://www.mobot.org/gardeninghelp/plantfinder/Plant.asp?code=A184
- North Carolina State University. "Colocasia: Characteristics." (Accessed 1/18/09) http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/poison/Colocsp.htm
- Proven Winners. "Angelface Blue." (Accessed 1/18/09) http://www.provenwinners.com/plants/detail.cfm?photoID=5713
- Schoellhorn, Rick. "Angelonia - the warm season snapdragon." Rick's Weed-Read. March 2002. (Accessed 1/18/09) http://hort.ufl.edu/floriculture/gpn/Angelonia.pdf
- Sink, Harold. "Hearty Mid-West Annuals for Your Garden." Associated Content. 10/10/07. (Accessed 1/18/09) http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/402636/hearty_midwest_annuals_for_your_garden.html?page=1&cat=32
- VAES. "Top Ten Plants from the 2005 flower trials." (Accessed 1/18/09) http://www.vaes.org.vt.edu/HRAREC/Trial%20Gardens/TopTen2005.htm