I have a confession to make: I love annuals! Ever since I started working in a nursery, at age 14, annuals have had a special hold on me. There’s nothing like driving by a mass planting of petunias or vinca (Catharanthus roseus) – the sea of color just grabs your eye and captivates your attention.

Impatiens walleriana

In the right garden setting, impatiens can make quite an impact.

Photo Credit: Felder Rushing

Pansies in baskets

Winter annuals, like these pansy baskets, add a punch of color to an otherwise dull landscape.

Photo Credit: Daniel Overcash

Of course, annuals only last one season and you have to replant them every year (compared with perennials, which you plant once and only maintain from year to year). But I’ve always reasoned that you get the most color from annuals.

Depending on your climate, annuals may bloom from mid-April to late October – that’s six months of continuous color! On the flip side, you can choose almost any perennial, and you’ll be lucky if its bloom period will last for even one month. Just think of those amazing tulips that you see at the first sign of spring – they don’t last long. Or how about those beautiful flowering cherry trees? You may get a cherry blossom season as short as a couple of weeks. There’s no argument that perennials and ornamental trees have aesthetic value – it’s just that the extended bloom time of plant-them-every-year annuals deserve recognition for the colorful reward they offer you, your efforts and your garden!

Another feature of annuals is that many climates can enjoy year-round color. Pansies and ornamental cabbage and kale can survive frosty temperatures – even a light snow. (And there’s little that can brighten up a gloomy winter day better than the face of a happy pansy.)

For the best display of year-round color, even the proudest gardener must exert a degree of discipline to rip out healthy plants so that the next crop can get established. I use the following schedule and have had good results:

In spring, I like to wait two to three weeks after the last frost date to remove my winter annuals (pansies, ornamental cabbage and kale) and make way for my next season of colorful show-stoppers. This is the hard part, because the pansies would probably look great! But alas, the spring annuals need time to get established, and that won’t happen if you wait for the pansies to fizzle out when the heat of summer rolls in.

Similarly, in fall, about one month before the first frost, remove your summer annuals to make room for the winter ones. It’ll be hard to pull all those healthy plants up, but go ahead and bite the bullet – winter annuals need to get established before it gets too cold.

Don’t forget to take notes and pictures of your garden throughout the year. It’s much easier to rely on a reference than your memory from season to season. Your notes might include what you liked, what didn’t perform well (including any guesses as to what the problem might have been), height or spread of different plants, and maybe a list of seeds collected. Just remember to take your notes before the seasonal transition.

Perennials, vines, shrubs and trees all have their place in the landscape, but it’s the annuals that offer the most color for the longest season, making them a worthwhile “annual” investment for you and your garden!