It’s that time of year again when homeowners swarm garden centres in search of colourful, annual plants to grow in pots and around their landscape for the summer. And just in time for the arrival of warmer spring temperatures, finally, and hopefully here to stay.

Annual flowers, which complete their life cycle within a growing season, are revered by gardeners for their instantaneous and season-long colour lasting until autumn frost. This year when plant shopping, don’t waste time trying to decide what annuals to fill your cart with or be lured into purchasing desirable flowers that don’t meet your needs. Consider the following before heading out to the garden centre this weekend.

First, determine what lighting you have

We all want colourful flowers to beautify our homes, but if your garden is on the shady side, annual flower selection is limited, especially since the infamous Impatiens walleriana, which succumbs to downy mildew, is no longer available. Popular, brilliantly coloured annuals like zinnias, zonal geraniums, dahlias and petunias all require a sunny site to be floriferous, so don’t buy them with the hopes they’ll be fine unless you have the sunlight conditions they require, typically five hours daily.

Thankfully, there are shade-loving tuberous begonias, which have gorgeous rose-like blooms with petals that are offered in blazing reds, yellows, and oranges as well as in creamy white. Other shade-tolerant plants to try are torenia, an underused annual with bright purple blooms and a trailing habit or plants with colourful foliage such as coleus.

Next, decide the annuals’ location and function

There are annuals for every style and purpose. Some are best suited for containers and others grow optimally when planted in the ground. Most annuals with a tidy growth habit, such as alyssum and fibrous begonias, are perfect edging around garden beds or as fillers in pots, whereas taller annuals like Cleome, dahlias, and tall verbena look best when grouped in the centre of flower beds. Canna lilies’ bold foliage and bright, tropical flowers make them ideal in large planters or in the ground around entranceways or wherever focal points are needed. Vining annuals such as thumbergia or morning glory function as attractive screening for unwanted views.

Limit your colour palette

Less is more when in comes to colour so limit your selection: one colour will have more impact in your front yard than a hodgepodge of different colours. Also, repeating the same flower colour in your containers and in flower beds will help unify your outdoor space.

Measure and count

How many flats of annuals do you need to buy? Know how many should fit snuggly into your containers and know your flower bed’s approximate measurements. More is more when it comes to the number of annuals so don’t skimp. Read plant labels, which should provide information on proper spacing, ultimate height and growth habit so you buy enough.

How much maintenance can you handle?

Many annuals require regular deadheading to prolong blooming and prevent them from going to seed. Look for ‘self-cleaning’ annuals if you can’t see yourself digging up their self-seeded babies and snipping their dead heads — but you may still have to pick up the old flowers they shed. Provide them with the proper soil and regular fertilizer to perform their best especially if grown in pots.

After you have put some thought into what annuals you need, their colour, quantity, and location in the garden, go out with your list and try to stick to it.

Happy plant shopping.

Elaine Sanders can be reached at

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