ANNUALS AND PERENNIALS FOR THE GARDEN
by Jerry Parsons, Ph.D.
Horticulture Specialist, Texas Agricultural Extension Service
in San Antonio
Our gardening counterparts across the Atlantic
are years ahead of the United States in using color in the
landscape. Of course they have been gardening in Europe for
a few more years than we have, but there is no reason why
we can't borrow some of their zest for beauty.
There are three major sources of color --woody
plants, perennials and annuals. The woody ornamentals include
trees, shrubs and vines. Perennials refer to herbaceous flowering
plants that grow and bloom year after year. Annuals include
the flowering plants that are grown for one season, discarded
and new ones planted next year. Many times the broad term
bedding plants is used synonymously with annuals.
To utilize annuals in the landscape effectively,
there are a few rules or concepts. Annuals must be planted
and replanted through the year. No one species of flowers
will last from spring through fall. In San Antonio we plant
annuals four time: spring, summer, fall and winter and there
are specific annuals that are best for each season.
Annuals must be planted in mass to make a strong
statement in the landscape. Take one or two species of annuals
and fill the flower bed. Don't plant one of this and two of
that and expect to stop traffic with your landscape.
In designing a flower bed remember to take
advantage of color combinations. Complimentary colors, such
as pinks and reds or oranges and yellows, give a soft, soothing
air to the landscape. Contrasting colors, like whites and
reds or yellows and purples, make a strong, bold statement.
Beginning now until about June, cool season
annuals will thrive. Planting of begonias, petunias, and dianthus
now will reap loads of blooms in May and June. Buy large transplants
from the nursery to get an instant effect in the landscape.
In May, summer plantings will be started. The
best heat tolerant annuals are periwinkles, purslane and portulaca.
If you have a shady landscape, the best annuals are impatiens,
begonias, caladiums and coleus.
Perennial plants are those which endure or
persist from year to year. Although once a prominent part
of nearly every landscape, perennials have been overlooked
but are now making a comeback.
Perennials can be highly useful and attractive
in the home landscape. They not only persist for many years
but usually require less maintenance than annuals. Most times
you get more bloom for your money with perennials than annuals.
Remember though, the best landscapes have a combination of
annuals and perennials for color in the landscape.
The perennial border (a long flower bed) is
an important gardening concept in England and many other areas
of the world. It can provide succession of bloom throughout
the growing season and enhance the overall landscape development.
If a perennial border is more than you care
to attempt as your initial experience with perennials, try
adding a few to existing plantings. Many perennials have attractive
foliage and are an asset even when not in flower.
Here is a list of a few perennials that are
guaranteed to grow well:
Early spring bloomers include Daffodil, Bearded
Iris, Shasta Daisies, and Day Lily.
Summer bloomers include Blue Shade (Ruellia), Canna, Gladiolus,
Lantana, Perennial Phlox, Plumbago, Rosemary and Verbena.
Some perennials that will bloom 7 or 8 months
of the year are Autumn Sage, Fire Bush, Blue Sage and Mexican
GROWING ANNUALS AND PERENNIALS IN CONTAINERS
If you've got a small yard, a deck, a patio
or even a balcony, you can create a rich and colorful garden.
Thanks to container gardening, even urban dwellers with little
more than a few feet of space can experience the beauty of
their own private oasis.
Container gardens come in all shapes and sizes,
from the patio brightened by small shrubs in carefully arranged
wooden barrels to the balcony dressed with window boxes and
In fact, container gardening isn't restricted
to those who don't have a lawn or flowerbeds. Some gardeners
with small yards prefer to plant their annuals in containers,
so they can easily rearrange the garden whenever they wish.
With container gardening, redesigning your home landscape
is as simple as moving and regrouping your containers, or
as adding in new flowers and fresh colors.
Container gardening can be built around flowering
annuals, bulbs, roses, vegetables and even small fruit trees
and shrubs. Container gardens don't require a lot of extra
work. They simply require well-drained potting soil (mix),
appropriate sunlight, protection from strong wind, fertilizer
and moisture, much like their counterparts in the soil.
Take advantage of container gardening by placing
plants and flowers in a way that hides unsightly views. Brighten
your day by giving yourself something beautiful to look at,
whether it's a well-screened garden outside your bathroom
or a colorful window box perched on the ledge of your kitchen
As you plan your container-grown garden, think
of your space as having a vertical dimension as well as a
horizontal one. If your garden is on a walled?in patio, think
about mounting pots on the walls or building pots on the walls
or building small shelves to hold baskets of flowers. If your
garden is on a balcony with an overhang, scatter hanging plants
or encourage ivy to wind through the lattice work of the wood.
When you determine where you will place your
containers, consider your plant's light requirements. If your
plants receive uneven sun, rotate the planters every few days
so the flowers will grow in an even and upright way. Remember
to keep larger plants in the background and flowering varieties
in a spot where the light is best suited for them.
This doesn't mean you have to be restricted
in your placement of container-grown plants. If the perfect
spot for your sun-loving plant is in a shady place on your
balcony, you can always move it into a sunny area for a few
hours each day, or choose shade-loving plants.
The following are some of the toughest summer
plants which should be grown in a full sun area:
Purslane: If your planting location is extremely
hot, dry and sunny, the best annuals to use are purslane or
portulaca. Purslane is available in many colors and produces
a mass of color. The large purslane flowers close at 5 p.m.,
on cloudy days and after watering. Portulaca differs from
purslane mainly because it is available only in mixed colors,
has a smaller, rose-like bloom and has smaller-leaf foliage.
Verbena: The best perennial verbena is named
'Princess' with 'Blue Princess' being the first in the series.
The only way to kill this verbena is to plant it in the shade
or keep it too wet. The plants also prosper from periodic
abuse -- cut or shred back large plants to remove old blooms
and invigorate plants. After such a harsh treatment, the plants
may look bad for a couple of weeks. You will reap the rewards
of a traffic-stopping bloom display after they regrow and
begin to bloom again.
Marigold -Marigolds love hot weather and, except
having spider mites occasionally, they are easy to grow. If
mites attack, use diazinon, Cygon, Kelthane or disyston to
spray the undersides of leaves once a week for three consecutive
weeks. One can apply a persistent soil insecticide containing
disyston (Systemic Insecticide) after transplanting has occurred
to provide prolonged protection. Follow label directions.
Vinca (periwinkle): If full sun conditions
exist, vinca is a choice. Vinca thrive in well-drained mixes
where liberal amounts of organic material have been added.
Water plants during the day and allow them to dry. Water sparingly.
If the periwinkle foliage turns yellow, reduce the watering
interval and treat plants and soil with iron chelate or iron
Lantana: If you want a perennial plant for
an extra hot location, try Lantana. The variety named New
Gold won't become weed-like as will most of the lantana. New
Gold lantana produces sterile flowers that never form seed-bearing
berries and continually blooms without shearing. Lantana is
also a good plant for a hanging basket in a sunny location.
Though Lantana is known as a drought tolerant plant, it requires
Firebush: The Firebush is a perennial used
in the same manner as lantana. Tubular, red blooms which hummingbirds
for miles around covet cover the plants. When touched by the
coolness of fall, the foliage will turn red as the bloom continues.
The first hard frost of fall will kill the plants if not protected.
Newly established plants seldom grow taller than three feet.
Firebush performs best in the hotter-than-possible conditions
of a sunny exposure. It will not bloom if shaded at all.
Some of the best shade tolerant annuals are:
Impatiens: Impatiens is one of the favorite
shade annuals for its ease of care. Survival rate of transplants
in the summer correlates with denseness of shade in which
they exist. Impatiens have the characteristics of tolerating
some sun (morning sun), preferring a moist but not wet soil,
and having flowers that do not need to be removed as they
fade therefore lowering maintenance.
Coleus: For something different in the darker
shaded areas, try the bright foliage markings and variegations
of coleus. Pinch off flower spikes in late summer to insure
continuous plant bloom.
Begonia: The begonia is the most adapted and
spectacular blooming plant that can tolerate full sun but
does best with morning sun?afternoon shade. Many times plants
over-winter and provide a second year of bloom. Seed begonias
are available in many colors with even different colored foliage
(red and green). The Vodka begonia has been the standard of
the red-leaved, red-flowered varieties.
Container-grown plants do require more water
than plants grown in the ground. The sun beats down on all
sides of the container, and the plant is less sheltered from
winds. Also, the roots can dry more quickly since the soil
is not as deep. The shallow levels of soil in containers cannot
retain as much water for the plant as can the deeper soils
of a lawn or garden.
Check the surface of the soil frequently, and
water when it feels dry to the touch. Place containers on
bricks or pieces of wood to aid with air circulation and to
be sure that the soil is well-drained.
Frequent watering calls for frequent fertilizing.
Use a water?soluble plant food every other week at half strength.
Assure strong healthy plants by using a potting mix and incorporate
the amount of Osmocote slow?release fertilizer pellets recommended
for the container size.
Everyone should have some container?grown plants.
Regardless of the choice you have to make because of the growing
conditions available, flowering annuals and perennials properly
planted and nurtured can become a containerized vision of
beauty. Containers full of blooming beauty add a definite
touch of class to any landscape.
"Plant containers"-- we usually think
of clay pots, planters, barrels, and window boxes.
But, how about containers that don't look like containers?
Plants on the Wall
Materials: chicken wire, wire staples or nails,
decorative mounting board (barn wood).
Directions: Roll chicken wire into a cylinder,
folding up a pocket at the bottom. Nail or staple chicken
wire to the mounting board.
Fill the chicken-wire pocket with moist sphagnum peat moss.
Plant annuals into the moss through the chicken wire. Plant
closer together than is recommended for garden bed planting.
Water thoroughly. Leave horizontal for about 10 days to establish
Check watering needs daily. Hang planter vertically on the
wall, and continue to water as needed. Use water soluble fertilizer
according to package directions.
Its In the Bag
Materials: 3-cubic foot bag of soil mix, 12
bedding plants with a bushy, spreading shape such as petunias,
ivy geraniums, impatiens, fibrous begonias, coleus or lobelia.
Directions: Position the bag where it will be
growing or put it on a board or tray to make it easier to
move once planted. Cut 6 X-shaped holes in the bag about 3
to 4 inches across and 3 to 4 inches apart. Cut 6 1-inch V-shaped
holes in the lower sides of the bag for drainage.
Plant 2 bedding plants in each X-hole. Water thoroughly in
each of the X-holes. Check watering needs regularly. (Since
the bag is enclosed, it will not dry out as quickly as open
containers.) Use water- soluble fertilizer according to package
directions. Plant larger or smaller bags according to the
Fill a large garbage bag with dampened leaves.
Top with 4 to 6 inches of potting soil. Plant in the open
top or close with a twist?tie and plant through X-holes cut
into the soil area as described above.
The leaves create growth?stimulating heat as they decay and
eventually decompose into mulch to add to the garden next
Materials: 2 pieces of galvanized fencing, fence
posts to secure, plastic lining material, bedding plants
Directions: Set the fencing 3 to 5 inches apart.
(You may also attach an additional piece of fencing to an
existing chain link fence.) Line the gap between the fencing
with plastic, leaving the bottom open for drainage and the
top open for watering. Fill the gap with good growing soil.
(Commercially available potting soil has the advantage of
being disease and insect free. Garden soil should be mixed
with organic material such as peat moss or compost to about
25% of soil volume.)
Cut X-holes in the plastic to insert plants through the fencing
and in the top of the gap.
Space plants closer than is recommended for garden planting.
Water from the top as needed. Use a water-soluble fertilizer
according to package directions.
Materials: chicken wire, wood for frame and
a solid base, staple gun, sphagnum moss or plastic lining
material, bedding plants.
Directions: Build a box, pillar, or other shape
of your own design, and staple chicken wire around it.
Line it with sphagnum moss or plastic lining material. (If
you use plastic, poke drainage holes at the bottom.) Fill
it with good growing soil. (Commercial potting soil or garden
mix; see above.) Cut X-holes in the plastic to insert plants
through the chicken wire. Space plants closer than is recommended
for garden planting. Water from the top as needed. Use a water?soluble
fertilizer according to package directions. Note: This is
the basic method used to create the intricate topiary animals
at such places as Disney World. To preserve the shape of your
sculpture, plant low, spreading plants and prune as needed.
Make Your Own Rock
Materials: water, cement, sphagnum peat moss,
and either builder's sand, perlite or vermiculite. Cardboard
or wood forms, or sand and plastic for free-form molds.
Directions: add water to mix a heavy paste using
equal parts cement, peat moss and one of the following: sand,
perlite or vermiculite. Make a wooden or cardboard mold or
dig a shape into sand and line it with plastic. Reinforce
the mold with chicken wire or galvanized wire mesh. Spread
mixture thickly inside the mold, covering wire. Insert wooden
plugs through the bottom for drainage holes. Remove from the
mold when thoroughly dry for a unique, natural looking "rock"