Guide to the Hardiest Low Maintenance Annuals

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"Guide to the Hardiest Low Maintenance Annuals"
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An annual is a flower that is grown for one season and doesn't return. Many annuals produce seeds, and for a savvy gardener, saving seeds can be a wonderful way to save money in subsequent years. Some annuals are very easy to grow and will look great with relatively little care. Here are some suggestions.

Impatiens is without question, the best choice for shady border areas. Once planted, impatiens spreads in a ground cover like fashion. Regular water is necessary, of course, but other than the need for water, impatiens pretty much takes care of itself.

Portulaca, commonly known as moss rose is another annual requiring little maintenance. It also grows in a ground cover like fashion, but it's also a good choice for hanging baskets and pots - especially when planted as a garden in a container. Unlike impatiens, moss rose grows best in full sun. It is also very tolerant of drought and high heat conditions.

Geraniums are always very easy to grow. They typically don't require much in the way of maintenance and will do best in sunny conditions. To ensure that a geranium continues to bloom for as long as possible, it's a good idea to cut off the dead flowers. Some varieties of geraniums such as the Vancouver Centennial, for example, are equally attractive for the foliage as they are for the flowers.

Morning glories are very easy to grow and require little maintenance. Although they do require some sort of support, they can be grown in hanging baskets, and that's a good option. One drawback to morning glories is that they dump seeds everywhere around where they are planted. Unless they are contained, they will spread wildly enough to strangle other plants and flowers around them. They only bloom in the morning and only on sunny days.

Petunias are very easy to grow. They are sun lovers that are especially well suited to window boxes and containers. They require very little in the way of maintenance, but once again, pinching off dead growth will encourage more blooms. Petunias are an ideal choice for a beginning gardener because they grow so reliably.

Coleus is very easy to grow. Although it does produce flowers if the growth isn't pinched back, the plants are more attractive when they are encouraged to grow full rather than tall. Pinching off new growth from time to time will encourage full growth and prevent the plants from flowering. Coleus comes in several varieties, all featuring different foliage colors and patterns. Coleus makes a very good houseplant - especially for areas with limited light. It's a shade lover, to be sure, and it is well suited to growing in containers or as a bedding plant.

New Guinea impatiens is a different variety of impatiens requiring completely different growing conditions. It is best suited to full sun and very hot conditions. Other than water, it will require very little in the way of maintenance. New Guinea impatiens grows taller than traditional impatiens, and is well suited to growing as a bedding plant, although it's probably more often seen when grown in a container.

Nasturtiums are a wonderful and easy to grow annual. With interesting and unusual shaped leaves and edible flowers, nasturtiums do best in sunny conditions. They are also quite tolerant of heat. Although they can be grown in the ground, they are well suited to containers. Nasturtiums are often planted as a companion plant around tomatoes because they are said to repel root knot nematodes.

Pansies and violas are both very easy to grow. In the south, many people grow pansies all winter long because they are best suited to cooler weather. Elsewhere, they may be grown in the ground or containers to provide some color early in the season when most other annuals aren't ready to plant yet.

For foliage, consider caladium. A member of the same family as Elephant Ears, their leaves are similarly shaped, but they are much smaller. Caladiums typically don't grow very tall. They require shade and when planted in beds with other shade loving plants, the added touch of color is a welcome site. Plant them with other plants that need to be watered frequently.

Cleome is a lovely annual that is quite easy to grow - even from seed. One of the tallest growing annuals, this sun loving and exotic looking flower is best grown in beds. Although it grows quite tall, the stems are sturdy enough that supports aren't necessary. It also makes a nice cut flower. It is a welcome addition to a wildflower or cottage garden.

Cosmos is another easy to grow annual. Although it prefers full sun, it will grow in almost any type of soil and is quite drought tolerant. There are several varieties of cosmos and the flowers come in multiple colors. The newest variety to appear on the market is 'Double Click.' It's a really lovely and fun flower. Cosmos is a wonderful low maintenance flower because of it's ability to survive and thrive even when neglected.

Marigolds are among the easiest to grow and least demanding of all annuals. The giant marigolds look quite different than the traditional ones, but are equally attractive. Marigolds require very little maintenance other than the removal of dead flowers. Some gardeners will plant marigolds around tomatoes as another companion plant to lure beneficial insects and repel the destructive ones.

No list of low maintenance annuals would be complete without mentioning zinnias. They are wonderful, easy to grow flowers that once established can survive with relatively little maintenance. The newest variety to be introduced is 'Profusion,' and it was created to adapt to hot and dry conditions. It is an ideal annual for hot Texas summers. For anyone wanting to plant flowers suited to cutting, zinnias are ideal and the cut flowers last quite long in water.

Cornflowers are also easy to grow annuals. Although the name 'cornflower' may seem unfamiliar, this flower is better known as 'bachelor's buttons.' It is very easy to grow, requires very little maintenance and is typically seen in wildflower mixes and cut flower collections. The cute flowers grow on stems that are about 12 to 18 inches tall.

Four o'clock is probably one of the easiest of all annuals to grow. Most four o'clocks grow to about 2 feet in height and prefer full sun. The flowers don't open until dusk and then close by the next morning. They are known to attract butterflies. They produce huge amounts of seeds, and although they don't require much in the way of care, unless you are vigilant about harvesting the seeds, they will self seed themselves anywhere and everywhere and like Morning Glories, can and will become invasive unless they are contained.

My all time favorite annual is Gazania. A full sun lover that is ideal as a border flower or in places where it's difficult to grow other annuals, they can and do thrive in hot and dry conditions. They tend to spread, but that fills in empty spaces. Plant them 6 to 8 inches apart. They also do well in containers. The flowers are spectacularly beautiful and the 'tiger stripe' variety is a must have. Gazania is the perfect flower for hard to fill places, between rocks, borders, containers, lining a pathway or anything else.

If you want to provide food for birds in your garden over the summer but don't want to put feeders out, consider planting sunflowers. Birds will eat the seeds, and the flowers are very attractive and cheerful. Although they grow quite tall and may need some sort of support, they don't demand much in the way of care and provide some valuable nutrition for birds. With any left over seeds, you can harvest them and use them to plant the following spring, or you can put them in suet you make yourself so the birds have some extra nutrition over the cold winter.

This is just a small smattering of annuals that don't require a lot of maintenance. There are so many more different annuals that it would be impossible to list them all here. When looking for low maintenance annuals, look for the old standards, and as tempting as it may be to experiment with new and interesting flowers, stick with choices that are known to be successful and have been for years. If you want to try something different, that's fine, but don't go over board. One thing is certain with gardening; that is, it's a never ending process of learning.

More about this author: Susan Klatz Beal

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