To ensure attractive healthy annuals all season, choose full, well-branched plants with good foliage color and - on flowering annuals - an abundance of buds. Don't go for the biggest plants or most open blooms, these are more likely to be leggy and burned out too soon. If the latter is all you find, you can improve their appearance and longevity by pruning them back by about one third to encourage branching and fresh growth.
Combinations of different annuals are a quick way to set the mood of any outdoor space. The possibilities include calming or energizing, tropical or desert, cottage soft or architecturally edgy. Coordinate or contrast colors and textures for the desired “feel" in beds or containers.
Annuals in containers can really focus in on a desired style and look most stunning when a mix of heights and forms are used – the classic thriller, filler, spiller formula:
Upright (thriller, vertical) plants add vertical interest and a sense of height to planting arrangements, making them more lively and dynamic.
Mounding (filler, anchor) plants are used to create stability in planting arrangements. They bring a sense of balance to even the boldest combinations.
Trailing (spiller, spreading) plants are the final "accessory" in planting arrangements. They fill in gaps, soften edges and tie all the elements together for a truly finished look.
Be sure to match by water and sun needs when mixing annuals in a planting, so all can be at their healthiest. If your plant selections have similar sun requirements, but differing water needs – plant them in individual containers that can each be watered separately. You can then arrange a mix of containers and easily rearrange or change them out as season progresses for a fresh look.
Maintaining the Glow
Annuals need regular and consistent feed and water and a touch of cleanup to keep up their dazzling displays. Liquid feed, with every other watering in containers or once a month in beds, or slow-release feed twice per season work for most varieties.
Containers should be checked daily for water needs. When you do water, it may run freely from the bottom of a basket or container before the potting mix actually starts absorbing any, especially if it has been allowed to dry out completely. Think of how a dried out kitchen sponge can need a good soaking before it stops repelling water and starts to take it in. Do not use water flowing out the bottom as your only indicator of enough water! Instead, feel the mix to confirm it really did get moistened or check for heaviness before and after watering - as a thoroughly watered container should have some weight to it.
Many varieties are considered self-cleaning and quickly drop their spent blooms. For those that don't, remove the finished blooms and any seed heads that start to form so the plant can direct energy to new flowers. Annuals being grown for foliage can have any flowers buds that form removed, with no threat to the plants health.