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The Best Annuals for Beginners

By: Hannah Hegdahl, IBG Greenhouse and Nursery Coordinator | 06/17/2022

Have you ever heard a plant described as an “annual” and had no idea what that meant? Most people are afraid to ask what they would consider an “obvious” question, but there are no right or wrong questions when it comes to gardening. With that in mind, for those who don’t know – an annual is any plant that completes its entire life cycle in one growing season or less. Annuals are great for the impatient gardener, but beginners can benefit from starting with a few annuals as well. They are typically inexpensive and, because they grow quicker and bloom longer, annuals can provide confidence for a newbie as they pop up in glorious color.

Annuals can give near instant gratification and are the wonders of any flower garden. Some like to be deadheaded or removed of old blooms to create more; some like to self-shed or have the blooms naturally fall off. Whatever annuals you choose for your garden, you will not be disappointed by them. I believe, the top five easy annuals for beginners are zinnias, cosmos, nasturtiums, coleus, and fuchsia.

(Pictured: State Fair Zinnia) 

Here in the Treasure Valley, we have our inevitable extreme summers, which means we’re working with hot and dry for an extended period of time. Taking the climate into account, a great option would be the most well-rounded annual out there – the zinnia. Zinnias are known for producing excellent blooms that can be enjoyed outside and inside, often in a floral arrangement. They vary in colors such as whites, oranges, green, and so many more. Zinnias are annuals that like to be deadheaded on a constant basis. This will help create stronger blooms that produce more for the whole growing season. Another bonus of the zinnia is that it is deer resistant: this is great news for those of you living near the Boise foothills.

(Pictured: New Choco Cosmo)

How about cosmos? Just like zinnias, cosmos thrive in full sunlight and need little water. They come in unique colors ranging from a deep chocolate brown to a light yellow to a pink gradient. You will not have any shortage of Cosmo blooms since they branch off on their own to create more for you. These blooms, as well, make great work for a cut flower arrangement. They also grow well in both beds and containers – so if you are left to choose just one method that you prefer, you won’t have to leave them out!

Nasturtiums are an edible flower that create vivid blooms all season long. This is an easy to grow and maintain plant. Flowers and foliage can be added to any dish for a little spice and color during the growing season. Nasturtiums are a self- caring plant; no deadheading or clean-up is required for this luscious plant. A fun fact about the nasturtium is that it is a self-sacrificing plant, meaning it attracts pests to itself instead of the plant it is companioned with.

Are you on the lookout for some shade loving annuals with more than just a bright bloom? Coleus is one of the most diverse plants, in my opinion. From their striking foliage to the unique colors, coleus can provide a new take on the shade garden. Most people think of annuals to produce beauty in their blooms all year long, but what about the aesthetic of the foliage? Coleus can grow with several colors on one leaf, and sometimes a fun, frilly texture on all of them. Don’t get me wrong, coleus can produce tiny blue to white flowers, but they are mostly grown for their unique foliage. And if you fall in love with coleus like I have, you can enjoy them as houseplants all year around. If you’d like to see coleus in action, some coleus, the “Fishnet Stockings” variety, have been planted just outside the Administration building here at the Idaho Botanical Garden.

Another beginner-friendly, shade loving annual is fuchsia. Most everyone has heard of fuchsia referring to the shade of color itself, but may have not considered putting the plant in their garden. The fuchsia plant produces blooms that are bell-shaped and the petals drop downwards. Most of them consist of a pink or purple flower – thus, the color you think of when hearing “fuchsia.” The bloom only lasts a couple of days, but the plant remains always producing more for your pleasure. If you’re a fan of variety, you’ll be excited to know that there are more than a 100 species of this plant and even more varieties today. Fuchsias and coleus are some of my favorite shade annuals to pair together for the growing season.

From your heat-lovers to the shade-dwelling annual – whatever type of annual you choose to put in your growing garden, I am sure it will bring you joy! Don’t be afraid to try and try again before you are satisfied with your garden space – with all the options out there, you are sure to find something to your liking. One of the greatest parts of the gardening experience is the journey taken to find the arrangement that just feels right, even if it means participating in plenty of trial and error along the way. Happy planting!

(First published in the Idaho Press: June 13th, 2022) 

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