Easy Annual Flowers Deliver Summer-Long Color | Midwest Living

Easy Annual Flowers Deliver Summer-Long Color

In cutting gardens or borders, inexpensive annuals like zinnias bloom in explosive color all summer long—and come fall, leave parting gifts of seeds for next year.

Red, pink and yellow zinnias, with marigold ‘Giant Orange’, and plumed and crested celosia.

Red, pink and yellow zinnias, with marigold ‘Giant Orange’, and plumed and crested celosia. Photo: Sugar Hill Photography/Courtesy of Pepperharrow Farm

Mother Nature built annuals like zinnias, strawflowers and cosmos to be bloom-making machines that run almost nonstop. Alyssa and Brandon Burns of Ohio seed company Circa Plants explain:

One and Done Unlike perennials, annuals have just one year to leave their genetic mark on the planet, so they grow fast.

Hey, Good Lookin’ They also need to produce a lot of seeds. So, like male peacocks unfurling their royal feathers, they attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds with alluring shades of scarlet, orange, gold and magenta.

Defense Mechanisms These annuals have evolved (and in some cases, been bred) to be fighters. They’re pest-resistant and weather-tolerant. And if you cut off their flowers for bouquets, they’ll eagerly produce more.



From left: Zahara Starlight Rose, 'Queeny Lime Orange’, ‘Zowie! Yellow Flame’; photos by Kritsada and courtesy of All-America Selects

Grown by the Aztecs, zinnias vary in size from 1 to 4 feet. Some newer varieties are mildew-resistant, but sunny, well-drained spots are still best.

Tried & True 
Giant Series: Large, double, dahlia-like flowers.
Lilliput Series: An old beehive zinnia.
State Fair: A popular mix with daisy-like blooms.

New & Now
Zinderella Series: Tufted peach or lilac blooms.
‘Zowie! Yellow Flame’: Yellow and hot pink bicolor.
‘Envy’: A green double and semi-double that likes partial shade.
Double Zahara and Profusion series: Mildew-resistant.



From left: Sundaze 'Flame', Dreamtime 'Jumbo Rose', 'Mohave Fire'; photos: Marty Baldwin and Denny Schrock

These papery flowers can be a tad fussy as seedlings (preferring wetter conditions than they will once grown), so some pros like to just buy plants.

Tried & True
Tall Double Mix: Back-of-bed height and red, yellow, pink and white double blooms.
Tom Thumb Mixed: A dwarf version with 15-inch plants.

New & Now
Sundaze Golden Beauty: Compact, heat-loving plants with generous blooms; ideal for containers, hanging baskets or borders.
Dreamtime ‘Jumbo’ Series: Large, abundant blooms in rose, white, yellow and red.



From left: Double Click Mix, ‘Sea Shells’, Sensation Mix; photos courtesy of Ball, Bob Stefko, courtesy of National Garden Bureau

Drought-tolerant and content in bright sun and poor soil, cosmos are easy to direct-sow and are available in a wide range of sizes, from 1 to 6 feet.

Tried & True
Sensation Mix: A variety of pink single blooms with yellow centers.
Bright Lights Mix: Yellow and orange semi-double blooms that draw butterflies.

New & Now
Double Click Mix: Red, pink and white double and semi-double blooms.
Sea Shells Mix: Unusual, tubular, shell-shape petals.
Cupcakes Mix: Flower shape evokes cupcake wrappers.
Sonata Purple or ‘Lemonade’: Newer, unusual hues.


How to Save Seeds for Next Year

Let the flowers dry fully in the garden. Collect the seed heads and lightly crush them in hand to release next year’s seed crop. Store in envelopes in a cool, dry place. Keep in mind that hybrids’ seeds will yield more varied results than those from heirlooms.


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