Here in the Land of El Sol, winter is the time to get outside and enjoy our gardens! It is also time to add splashes of color with bright annual plants. Annuals are plants that finish their life in less than one annum, or year. Arranged in large decorative pots, hanging baskets, or planted in the ground, annuals create cheerful color for us to enjoy for all the days of winter.
So Many Choices
Colorful flowers for our cool season include many of the best-sellers from “Back East.” Almost an entire alphabet of annuals can be planted right now. These annual plants can be found as seedlings in most local nurseries and even big box stores. October is too late in the season to plant from seeds.
List of Lovelies
Consider these lovely flowers: alyssum, bells of Ireland, bachelor’s buttons, blue sage, butterfly flower (schizanthus), calendula (also called English marigold), corn flower, dianthus, dusty miller, echinacea, foxglove, heliotrope, Johnny-jump-up, kale (flowering), linaria, lobelia, nasturtium, nigella, ornamental cabbage, pansy, petunias, pinks, rudbeckia, snapdragon, stock, sweet peas, toadflax, and violets. Note – if it is not on this list it will not do well here in the cooler months of a Southwestern winter.
Some soil preparation is needed if you plant in the ground. You will need to make a bed that is rich in organic matter, since none of these annuals are desert natives. A new bed should be one half compost and one half regular yard soil. You do not need to buy “top soil.” You already have soil, you just need the goodness of compost. Most of these annuals are shallow rooted, therefore digging to a depth of 8 to 12 to inches will be fine.
If planting in pots, a general potting soil is good. Don’t simply use soil from the yard though – the annuals will not thrive. Fill the container completely with potting soil. It does not help the plants to put rocks, pebbles, or anything else at the bottom of the pot. If you want place some window screen over the hole to help keep the soil inside the pot.
Planting Annual Color
When planning your beds or pots, there are a few design elements to bear in mind. Solid colors in separate clusters show up well. Usually similarly colored flowers look well together, or colors next to each other on the color wheel. Reds, yellows and oranges work well together. Alternatively reds, purples and blues. Orange, yellow and purple jumbled together tend to be jarring.
Accents of either opposite or related colors can be used. A sea of yellow could have a splash of red for accent. This would be using related colors. Alternatively, a sea of yellow could have an opposite color, purple as an accent. Rather than simply intermixing them, try bands of color. Or plant a big circle of purple pansies with some brilliant yellow calendula in the center. Blue and orange are also opposites on the color wheel. Move the pots around before the final planting. Experiment. You may find an unusual combination that you find pleasing.
Before you plant – consider the final height of the plants, usually on the label. Foxglove stands taller than most, as does bells-of-Ireland. Both form a good backdrop for shorter plants such as snapdragons and stock. Shorter still are nasturtiums, pansies, and calendula. A carpet of low growing alyssum or lobelia can be used to fill in at the base.
Colorful annuals are relatively inexpensive. Think about a nice dinner out and a show, or even just a movie. That can cost around a hundred bucks for a single evening. These flowers will be shining in your yard for months! Worth it! Annuals are colorful, and also fun and easy to grow. Give them enough organic matter in the soil, enough sunlight, and regular water. These obliging annuals will reward your efforts with cool color from now into the hotter days of April.
If you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my free lectures that I mention on my Facebook page. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including “Month by Month Gardening for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico” (Cool Springs Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there I will get a few pennies.
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