Adding Annual Plants to the Garden

Annual plants can add much to any garden: providing seasonal color for cutting or enjoying in place, discouraging weeds, preserving soil moisture, and feeding birds while growing easily and requiring only as much space as the gardener chooses to commit.

In addition, annuals can fill spaces in the garden temporarily or annually. That’s a priority for me, as I see areas in my garden that need brightening or just something interesting for next spring’s planned garden tour.

The easiest and least expensive way to add annual color to a garden requires simply choosing seeds from the garden center’s rack of packets, and planting the seeds according to directions on the packet. There are many options and planting is very easy. It’s almost as if the seeds plant themselves.

Wait, that’s actually what they do!

In my garden, this process becomes more complicated because of geographically organized beds. The area that needs the addition of annuals is the California/Mexico beds.

The obvious choice would be California wildflowers, but there are hundreds of them, and very few can be found among garden center offerings. A fine mail order supplier is The Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants ( ) a non-profit organization in southern California. This group offers seeds for a wide range of California native plants, individually and in mixtures.

I have ordered the Coastal Mixture, which includes annuals and perennials of various heights:

  • Arroyo lupine (Lupinus succulentus) – 12–15” annual, purple & violet.
  • Beach Suncups (Camissonia cheiranthifolia)  – 6–12” perennial, yellow;
  • Blue Thimble Flower (Gilia capitata) – 15” annual, lavender blue;
  • Dune Poppy (Eschscholzia californica maritime) – 6–8” perennial, yellow;
  • Miniature Lupine (Lupinus bicolor) – 3–4’ annual, blue & white;
  • Mountain Phlox (Linanthus grandiflorus) –12–24” annual, pink & white;

Annual plants from Mexico that I’m considering include

Four O’Clock Flower (Mirabilis jalapa) – 36” perennial, various colors on the same plant. A popular garden plant that has been naturalized in a long list of countries of the world. A friend has provided seeds for this “pass-along” plant.

Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) —72” annual, Orange-red with a yellow center disk. This is a spectacular plant that I have grown before. It rises to full height in 85 to 90 days. Seeds are available online.

All of these plants would grow best when direct-seeded, but I will start the Four O-Clocks and Mexican Sunflower seeds in peat pots, so they could be placed in the garden by design without disturbing their roots.

This should be an interesting spring season! Consider annuals for your own garden.

A Note about Invasive Plants

In a recent column on pruning, I shared a photo of a Red Clusterberry (Cotoneaster lacteus) in my garden and mentioned that I had scheduled it for pruning. A reader advised that this plant is invasive and recommended warning readers of that fact. After checking, I agree and am glad to recommend against adding it your garden. This plant’s invasiveness is based on its vigorous growth, root-sprouting, and proliferous production of fruit. I have observed strong growth, seen only occasional sprouts come up from the roots, and watched birds feasting on the berries. Very few seedlings have appeared under the shrub, but the birds might have deposited seeds in their countless branch offices, out of my view. My garden has the more popular Orange Cotoneaster (C. franchetii) that has produced many more seedlings but has not been described as invasive. If you can’t abide such seedlings, get these plants out of your garden.