Top 5 Annuals for the West

Field of sunflowers
Vincent van Gogh isn't the only person to be starry-eyed over sunflowers -- they're a popular annual in gardens throughout the West. See more pictures of annual flowers.

­So you've got full sunlight, lots of butterflies … and limited precipitation. What's a gardener in an arid climate to do? The sun-scorched earth of the West might make gardening difficult in this area, but it can be done. For gardeners with more than maintenance on their minds, and an interest in water conservat­ion and bright blossoms, annuals (which go into the ground each year) offer the perfect solution.

One thing to keep in mind when adding colors and plants to your yard is that planting in the dead of summer isn't going to give your plants the best shot at establishing roots that will last for the entire season. For these hot areas, you want plants that can maintain their color and durability, so their roots need a chance to find the water that's down deep. Planting in the spring will allow these hardy annuals to do just that. And because water becomes more important as the days grow longer, giving your plants additional nutrients can make all the difference in the world. Adding mulch, or using your veggie scraps or lawn clippings as compost can help parched land retain some of its moisture and ease the stress of hot days [source: Fosdick].


Taking these precautions and planting annuals will give you a garden that grows bright and bountiful all season with the most basic amount of work and effort. In this article we'll cover the basics of some strong annuals: Salvia, the California Poppy, Lantana, Sunflowers and Angelonia. From shrubs that welcome deer to the fun of snapdragons and colossal colors of sunflowers (who said they had to be yellow?) these annuals are beautiful and hardy enough to color any canyon out west.

Let's start by taking an in-depth look at Salvia.

5. Salvia

A macro photograph of piece of a Salvia plant against a green background. Taken 20 Dec 2007 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Salvia doesn't thrive in cool spots. So make sure to plant your salvia plant where it can get plenty of sun.
Cliff Parnell/Getty Images­

­This hardy plant has been around for millennia, and its many varieties blossom (and smell great) in full sun. There are more than three varieties of salvia growing in today's gardens, but two of the most inspiring are those with red and blue blossoms. Red salvia, which is also known as the "red hot Sally," can be grown from New Orleans to New Mexico, and when blossoms are wilting, pinching the dying blooms off of the plant -- a practice called deadheading -- will allow it to keep on flourishing (this also works for the other varieties) [source: Tucker]. Actually cutting the plant down will force it to grow back, and with each cut, expect more blossoms for color throughout the season.

For growing this "sage" plant, there are few things to keep in mind. Because the plant doesn't do well in cool spots, make sure it has full sun and lots of water at least once a week after the roots have had a chance to establish themselves. Just don't overwater them! Your salvia will grown to about a foot ( 1/3 m) high, but if you want bigger plants, there are varieties that reach 20 inches (1/2 m) or more [source: Garden Guides].


4. Lantana

Blooming Lantana
Able to withstand both drought and deer, lantana is a perfect plant for the western U.S.

Able to withstand both drought and deer, this shrub blooms in a variety of colors, welcomes butterflies and comes from­ the subtropical regions of North and South America. If you want to add a lot of color and a substantial space-filler to your yard or hedges, lantana is the plant that can handle that.

This shrub is a relative of verbena. And for a plant that can turn into a big, bushy mound of blossoms and butterflies, Lantana is a quick and easy grower with plenty of bang for your buck. With some plants reaching heights of 6 feet (1.83 m), one of Lantana's many varieties is sure to fit into your landscape quite well.


When planting this annual, choose a spot that will drain well and stay warm. And besides attracting butterflies, this broad-leafed plant is a perfect border-patrol plant that will repel deer from your yard as easily as any chemical might do [source: Borders and Beyond].

Though deer might normally "help" in the trimming of your shrubs, since they're not fond of this plant, you'll have to trim it yourself. Just like salvia, once it is cut back, lantana will grow vigorously again, and because it can grow so large, you may need to cut it back frequently. Don't worry about trimming off a lot of the plant -- it can be cut down to a third of its size and still come back rapidly.

­Lantana is a very drought resistant and strong plant, which makes it perfect for tough climates. But under certain conditions, this plant isn't without problems. One of the problems this a­nnual (and sometimes perennial) plant has when planted in shady areas is mold. This is why you need to make sure it's habitat is well drained and not over watered [source: Texas Cooperative Extension].

3. California Poppy

The orange poppies of California
The "Golden Poppy" is the state flower of California.

­Their yellowy-orange color and strong roots make this young poppy a solid choice for the home owner with a gravelly garden. New varieties are currently being developed but for now poppies are not yet available in a variety of colors.

It's been more than 100 years since the "Golden Poppy" took the title of "State Flower" for California, and because of its beauty and ability to withstand the sometimes harsh heat of the state, it's no surprise that this plant is one of the top 5 annuals for the West. What c­an be surprising, however, is that this plant, which is considered an annual, can also pop up again next year, uninvited and completely unexpected. That makes it a perennial too. But if you do want to see these flowers pop up again next year, be sure to save a few seed pods from this year's plants and spread them over the land you'd like to set aglow for next year. This plant will grow with little care, and can handle the worst of terrain [source: Christman].


The California Poppy has earned the plant the nickname of "flame flower.­" If you truly want to set your yard ablaze with some instant, easy color, this plant is hard to beat [source: California State Library]. Blossoms are 2-3" (5-6 cm) in diameter, and usually grow about a foot high (about 1/3 m), although hybrid species (which don't necessarily like hot weather) can grow to be nearly as tall as an average-sized person.

When choosing a place for your poppies, it's best to remember that this flower came from sandy rocky areas like the Mojave Desert and the embankments of California dunes, so it's best to leave those shady soft spots for other plants who can't handle extremes.

2. Sunflowers

Field of sunflowers
Vincent van Gogh isn't the only person to be starry-eyed over sunflowers -- they're a popular annual in gardens throughout the West.


­The picture perfect Sunflower enters many daydreams of sunny summer days. This strong plant grows up to 15 feet high and blooms in reds, whites and yellows. A favorite in many western states already, it is sure to fit right in with any other type of sun-loving annual.


Throughout the years, sunflower hybrids have hit the market with lots of bright colors, but for giant ­sunflowers that capture the imagination and spark images of sunny summer ­roads and long days,­ the traditional yellow "sun" of the sunflower is your best bet for big blossoms. Known as "seed heads," these giant blossoms host the seeds that will lead to next year's crop. If you have a particularly large and lovely blossoms saving seeds (just like the pros do) might bring back look-a-likes of this flower next year [source: Formiga].

To give your sunflowers the best chance to grow, make sure they get six to eight hours of sun a day. They're called sunflowers for a reason, you know. Plant in a well-drained area, and if you can add some sort of nutrient and fertilizer to the soil, all the better. Sunflowers will use a lot of nutrients throughout the season, so giving them a healthy dose of it at the beginning will be just as beneficial as adding more nutrients later on.

The sunflower has been documented as a source of dye, oil, medicine and food, among other things. When Native Americans wanted a flavored drink, they boiled the hard, outer shell of the seeds (known as hulls) to brew something resembling coffee. Rope and building materials were made from the plant's woody stalks [source: Caster]. You might not be able to build a house from your stalk, but you can certainly enjoying a handful of tasty and nutritious sunflower seeds. ­

1. Angelonia

Group of purple angelonia
Angelonia, also commonly called snapdragon, can be cut from your garden and enjoyed in a bouquet in your home.
Medioimages/Photodisc/Getty Images

­Orchid-like yet hardier, this snapdragon-like plant is a favorite of many. With stalks that can reach 2 feet (61 cm) in height or more (with lots of heat) and more than 30 species on today's market, this plant is a natural mix for your hot-weather garden. Although growth habits will vary by species, you should make sure your angelonia has lots of sunlight and lots of space -- up to 16 inches (41 cm) from other plants is just about right. This plant will do well as a clipping starter by trimming a bit and replanting. With­ proper care, you should be able to get Angelonia all year long. Angelonia likes warm weather, and expecting it to do well in a greenhouse can sometimes lead to trouble [source: Schoellhorn].

Some of the varieties include:


  • Angelface Blue or Pink Angelonia -- vibrant pinks or deep, deep blue blossoms
  • Serena Purple Angelonia -- regal purples on long stalks
  • Angelonia Lavender or Pink -- pale purple or pink characterize this newer beauty

Now that you have a handle on annuals for the­ Western way, plan your diagram and dig in! One of the best ways to plan for a hot-weather garden is to know your terrain and plan for it. Knowing that some plants like shade or soft soil can help you decide where to plant, and what to put there. Using our guide to the Top 5 Annuals for the West will help you in that, but one of the best ways to see what grows (and how well it fairs) in your area, is to check out the yards and professionally-done landscapes around you.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

More Great Links

  • "Angelface Blue." Proven Winners. (1/03/09)
  • Burt, Jonathon. "Biography of the California Poppy. San Francisco State University (01/17/09)
  • "California State Flower." The Flower Expert. (01/17/09)
  • Caster, Shannon. No task too tall for the sunflower." The Christian Science Monitor. 06/12/07. (09/17/09)
  • Christman, Laura. California Poppies add Golden Touch to Hillsides, Roadsides. Home and Garden TV. (01/17/09)
  • "Environmental Enhancement with Ornamentals." University of Georgia. (01/17/09)
  • "Greenhouse Crops and Floriculture." UMass Extension. (01/17/09)
  • Holmgren, Milena. "Extreme Climactic Events Shape arid and semiarid ecosystems." The University of New Mexico Extension Service (1/02/09)
  • Begeman, John. "Flowers for Spring and Summer Color." College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, University of Arizona. (1/02/09)
  • Damiano, Jessica. "Growing Salvia in the garden- sometimes a controversial trip." (01/17/09)
  • Dunne, George, W. "The Sunflowers." Forest Preserve District of Cook County (Illinois). 9/8/73. (1/02/09)
  • Elenbaas, Adam." Saving Salvia." Conscious Choice. (01/17/09)
  • Formiga, Alice. "Growing Giant Sunflowers." Renee's Garden. (01/17/09)
  • Fosdick, Dean. "How does your garden grow?" ABC News. 03/31/08 (01/17/09)"
  • "History and Culture- State Symbols." California State Library. (01/17/09)
  • "Home Garden Plant List Details." America's Anniversary Garden. (1/02/09)
  • "Kentucky Flowers." Department of Horticulture, University of Kentucky. (01/17/09)
  • "Lantana and Verbena." Texas Cooperative Extension. (01/17/09)
  • Mahr, Susan. "California Poppy." University of Wisconsin. (1/02/09)
  • Oster, Douglass. "Experts Share their best choices for annuals and perennials." Pittsburg Post-Gazette. 4/21/02 (1/02/09)
  • Pollock, Candace. "Ohio State Plant Trials Bring out Best in Annuals." Ohio State University Extension. 4/4/05 (1/03/09)
  • "Police bust Poppy grow-op in Calgary Backyard." CBC News. (01/17/09)
  • "Poppies." Home and Garden Television. (01/17/09)
  • "Plants that Repel Mosquitoes." Alderleaf Wilderness College. (01/17/09)
  • Rice, Graham. "Eschscholzia." Annuals A-Z. (1/02/09)
  • Richter, Cheryl. "No Deadheading Zone." Backyard Living. 1/02/09)
  • Sagers, Larry A. Heat Tolerant Annual Flowers." 06/24/05. (1/02/09)
  • Salman, David. "Planting Those Really Hot Spots." High Country Gardens. 05/08 (01/17/09)
  • Salvia." Clemson University Extension. (1/02/09)
  • "Salvia or Scarlet Sage." Garden Guides. (01/17/09)
  • Schoellhorn, Rick. "Rick's Weed-Read." Univsersity of Florida. (01/17/09)
  • "Suggested Plant and Tree List." Borders and Beyond. (01/17/09)
  • Tucker, Janice. "Seeing Red." (01/17/09)
  • "Water-wise annuals." University of Utah Extension Office. (1/02/09)