5 Annuals for the Northeast

Marigolds, calendula
Marigolds thrive in the northeast. See more pictures of annuals.

­Aside from the occasional harsh winter, the climate of the Northeastern United States is pretty mild. In fact, following the last frost, the Northeast has a climate that's agreeable to a number of beautiful annuals. The most popular of these will come as no surprise to those who spend a good amount ­of time in their gardens. Even those who spend little to no time gardening will most likely have heard these names before.

The truth is, there are a certain number of annuals that are popular all over the world and those same annuals are popular in the Northeast. The list is made up of what we might call the "all stars" of the annual family: pansies, geraniums, snapdragons, impatiens and marigolds.


Almost all of these flowers are known for their wide array of vibrant colors. They have beautifully large flower heads, and some are known for their pleasant fragrances. The only flower on the list that doesn't fit into either of these generalities is the marigold. Its color is right in the name and its scent is rather pungent.­

­With their overwhelming popularity, any of these annuals can be picked up at your local nursery or gardening center, but for the gardener who wishes to get a little dirty, they can also be sown from seeds.

Some need large amounts of sunlight while others can thrive in shaded areas. They all require moist, well-draining soil, and when it comes to watering, moderation is the key. Most of these flowers need to be watered regularly, but over-watering can damage them easily.

Annuals should be planted following the last frost of the year. To get a jump on the flowering most of them require being seeded six to eight weeks before the date of the last frost. Annuals grown and cared for correctly can be a beautiful addition to any garden, adding beautiful colors and pleasant scents.

5. Pansies

Bold, brilliant color and sharp focus on these blue pansy flowers
Pansy flowers

­It comes as no surprise that pansies are one of the most popular annuals in the Northeastern United States. They're easy to grow, incredibly adaptable and have one of the widest color ranges of any garden annual. Known as a cool weather flower, they're hardy and perfectly suited for Northeastern gardens.

Pansies can grow up to 9 inches (22.86 centimete­r) in height and their bloom may be anywhere from 1 to 4 inches (2.54 to 10.16 centimeter) in size. They have a single bloom with five rounded petals and one of three basic color patterns. The first of these patterns is a single solid color. The second is also a single color, but with black lines spreading out from its center. The third and final color pattern has what's known as a face. This is simply a dark center in the bloom, which may have up to three colors surrounding it. Their color range includes red, yellow, orange, blue, purple, pink, white, lavender, bronze and apricot, just to name a few.


If planning to sow the seeds yourself, it should be done indoors about six to eight weeks before setting them out. Use a soilless germinating mixture with a temperature of about 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5-18.3 degrees Celsius) and an air temperature of around 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (21.1-23.8 degrees Celsius). Sow the seeds about 1/8 inch (1/3 centimeter) deep. Water the mixture thoroughly with a mister or fine spray. Be gentle. The pansies will need darkness to germinate. One technique used by experienced gardeners is wrapping the container with plastic and then covering it with damp folded newspaper. It should be checked daily to make sure it isn't drying out and if everything goes according to plan you'll have green shoots in 10 to 20 days. As soon as you do, uncover the container and place it in a cool area with ample light [source: Plant Answers].

For those who prefer instant gratification, you can pick up a flat of pansies at your local nursery in a variety of colors. When choosing, look for plants with a lot of buds and just a few blooms. Pansies will thrive in a garden that receives plenty of morning sun and well draining soil.

Pansies can also add fragrance to your garden. They seem to be most fragrant in the morning or just before nightfall. Yellow and blue pansies are also known for having a stronger aroma. Also keep in mind that the more concentrated they are, the more likely you are to smell their scent.

4. Geraniums

Ivano Confalone/Getty Images

­Th­e geranium might as well be called "old reliable." It's one of the most popular annuals around. In fact, you can pretty much plant it anywhere, but its ability to withstand wind and rain, combined with an aversion to temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32.2 degrees Celsius), make it a perfect fit for gardens of the Northeast.

There are somewhere around 250 different species of geraniums in the world. Within those 250 species, there are more than 10,000 cultivars. How's that for variety? All geraniums fit into one of four basic types. There are common or zonal geraniums, ivy geraniums, scented-leaf geraniums, and show, regal or Martha Washington geraniums [source: UVM].


The focus of this page will be on common or zonal geraniums since they're the most popular type used in gardens and home landscaping. With their large flower heads and wide variety of colors, it comes as no surprise that they're so popular. Geraniums can bloom in every flower color except blue and yellow. Some even have leaves with bright edges of color such as burgundy or coral. Fittingly, they're called "fancy leaved geraniums."

When planting geraniums in your home garden you should keep the following things in mind. Geraniums generally need six to eight hours of direct sunlight throughout the day. This is important because they won't bloom as abundantly without it. Growth can also be damaged by an early frost so make sure to wait until that danger has passed. Late May is generally a safe bet for planting [source: URI].

Geraniums are available as rooted cuttings or seedlings in plastic trays. They should be planted at approximately the same depth they were growing in their pot or tr­ay. If you plant them too deeply, they could be killed by stem rot. Depending on the amount of rainfall your garden soaks up, geraniums should be watered at least once a week. The key is to allow the soil to dry in between waterings. One way to check is to stick your finger into the soil. If it's dry two inches (5 centimeters) down, it's time to water again [source: Flower Gardening]. Make sure they're planted in a rich, well draining soil. Also, be careful not to soak the leaves of the flower. If it's unavoidable, you should water them early in the morning so they have plenty of time to dry before nightfall.

If you're looking for a low maintenance flower to brighten up your garden, you can't go wrong with geraniums.


3. Snapdragons

Snapdragon flowers in a field.
Snapdragon flowers in a field.
Nathan Blaney/Getty Images

­Native to the Mediterranean, snapdragons are another cool weather plant making them both popular and suitable in the Northeast. As far as the name goes, the blossoms of the flower can be snapped open and closed with your fingers, and they resemble -- that's right -- a dragon.

Like most other annuals, snapdragons are appreciate­d for their large flower heads and variety of vivid colors. What sets the snapdragon apart is its height. While some dwarf varieties of the plant only grow to 10 inches (25.4 centimeters), most reach heights of 18 to 36 inches (45.72 to 91.44 centimeters). One variety has even been developed that grows up to 5 feet (1.52 meters) tall, but it must be staked. Snapdragons can add a new dimension to any garden, literally.


A single snapdragon plant can produce up to seven or eight spikes of blossoms during the summer. They can be sown from seed or planted as cut flowers. Interestingly, this wasn't always the case. Breeders were forced to develop a shatterproof strain of snapdragon that could be planted as cut flowers, because the blossoms had a tendency to drop off very quickly after being fertilized by bees [source: Garden Guides].

When sowing snapdragons from seed, be sure to do so indoors roughly eigh­t weeks before the last frost. Sow the seeds on the surface of the soil about 6 to 12 inches (15.24 to 30.48 centimeters) apart depending on the variety. As soon as you're ready to work your garden bed, you can move them outside. Also keep in mind that snapdragons grown in a carefully controlled environment are likely to bloom sooner than those grown at home so you may just want to pick them up at your local nursery.

Snapdragons should be planted where they'll receive plenty of sunlight, but not where the temperature remains high for long periods of time. The soil needs to be rich and well drained. This seems to be a common factor among annuals of the Northeast. Pick the spent flowers regularly; this will advance the growth of new blossoms [source: Planet Natural].

Snapdragons bloom in a variety of colors including red, orange, yellow, violet and white. They also have a faint fragrance that's very pleasant. If you're looking to take your garden to new heights, snapdragons are the way to go.

If your yard is lacking light, read on to find a good annual for your needs.

2. Impatiens

A close-up of the flower, pink Impatiens
Pink Impatiens

­Impatiens are one of the most popular annuals in the entire world. There's nothing that makes them particularly suited for the Northeastern United States; they're simply popular everywhere. Impatiens are colorful, dependable, they bloom all summer, and they require very little maintenance.

Most notably, impatiens d­o very well in light shade. They can be planted in areas that other more light, dependent flowers can't. The average flower grows 6 to 24 inches (15 to 60 centimeters) tall, while the flower heads measure 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 centimeters) across. They bloom in a wide assortment of colors including red, maroon, purple, pink, white, orange, salmon and mauve. Some have a contrasting color in the center of the bloom called an "eye," while others have a bi-color star pattern of white in the center that streaks out to the end of the petals. There's even a newer type of impatien, called a "picotee," that's edged in pink [source: Yardener].


Your local nursery will likely have a wide variety and selection of impatiens, but if you'd like to grow them yourself, you can do it. Start eight to 10 weeks before the last frost. Use a moistened seed-starting mix. It should be damp but not wet. Scatter the tiny seeds of the impatiens over the surface and pat them down lightly. Cover the container or flat with a clear plastic bag. Set them somewhere where they'll get plenty of indirect sunlight, sit back and relax.

In one to two weeks you should have sprouts. Remove the plastic cover and water regularly but not too often. When the seedlings have plenty of new leaves, they're ready to be transplanted. If your garden isn't ready for them, put them in individual cell pack containers until it is [source: Flower Gardening].

If you plant impatiens close together, they'll grow taller, so if you want them to spread out more, make sure to plant them 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 centimeters) apart. Keep in mind that although they can be planted in the shade, you'll want to be careful about planting them too close to large trees. It's OK to do so, you'll just have to make sure they get enough water. Large tree roots tend to soak up all the moisture in the ground.

Lastly, learn about marigolds and why they're perfect for the Northeast.

1. Marigolds

Marigolds, calendula

­Marigolds can be grown in all but the coldest climates. They're perfect for the Northeast following the danger of the last frost. They're also easy to grow and have a long flowering period.

There are two common types, the African marigold and the French marigold. African marigolds can grow up to 40 inches (10­1 centimeter) tall, while French marigolds reach a maximum height of only 16 inches (40 centimeters). Both have rather large flower heads. French marigolds can be up to 2 inches (5 centimeters) in diameter and the African marigolds can be up to 3.5 inches (9 centimeters). There are also color differences between the two. African marigolds only come in shades of yellow and orange. French marigolds, on the other hand, are often multicolored in shades of orange, yellow, mahogany and crimson [source: Garden Guides].


After they've been seeded, marigolds need 45 to 50 days to flower. If this is done in late March or early April they should be ready to plant around May 15. Seeds can be planted in seedbeds or flats. Place seeds on the surface of the soil and then cover with a quarter inch of perlite. The soil should be kept moist and warm. If everything goes as planned your seeds will germinate in just a few days.

When leaves appear on the plants, it's time to transplant them to individual containers. Put them in the shade for a couple days and the plant will become established. When this happens, it's time for full sun. When the l­ast frost has passed, it will be safe to plant your marigolds. It's also possible to sow marigold seeds directly into your garden. The soil should be moist and well drained [source: WVU].

As flower heads become spent, they should be removed. This will allow for continuous flowering throughout the season. The only real downside to marigolds is their fragrance. Some people find it quite unpleasant.

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Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

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  • Flower Gardening Made Easy. "Growing Impations from seed." (accessed 01/16/2009)http://www.flower-gardening-made-easy.com/impatiens-from-seed.html
  • Flower Gardening Made Easy. "Growing Geraniums, Great in the Garden and in Pots." (accessed 01/16/2009)http://www.flower-gardening-made-easy.com/growing-geraniums.html
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