True annual plants will germinate, flower, set seed (inside of flowers or fruits), and then die, all in one season. Some seasons are short, while others are long! Some annuals prefer the warmer months while others prefer the cold! Annual gardening is planning for these needs, and choosing appropriate varieties that are right for your climate.
Types of annual plants
Fruits and veggies, flowers and herbs, there are so many different types of annual plants! But generally, they can be divided into four groups:
Hardy (cold season) annuals
Pansy, snapdragon, calendula, forget me not, and more! These are plants that can tolerate cold season fluctuations. Many will also tolerate light frosts without the need for any protection.
Warm season annuals
Marigolds and petunias are subtropical plants so they tend to require heat to thrive, and flower. You can start them indoors in cold climates, but they won’t tolerate frost without protection. It is better to wait for late spring to plant them, or keep them potted so they can be brought indoors if needed.
These are annual plants which will tolerate a wide range of temperatures. They don’t need protection from frost, and are some of the first to flower which is great for the early foraging bees. These plants do well in early spring, and late fall, when there are more unpredictable fluctuations.
Annual edible flowers
These are so much fun! Since they are short-season plants you can experiment with colours or themes from year to year, with no long-term commitments. Edible annual flowers look wonderful and provide support for local pollinators. Alyssum, marigold, sunflower, chives, calendula, pansies, borage, bee balm, squash/pumpkin blossoms, hyssop, honeysuckle, nasturtium and more! All of these are annual plants which bring a pop of colour to your garden while protecting the soil and creating diversity!
By increasing the diversity of flower types and colours, you effectively increase diversity in pollinators! Different insects are adapted to the different types of flowers based on colour and their ability to forage. Some insects need a deep flower because they have an elongated proboscis (see here ), while others have a short proboscis and need shallow flowers (see here ). Not only will this assist in setting higher yields in any fruit and veggie crop you may be growing, but there are many beneficial insects like braconid wasps which act as natural pest control for you.
This helps maintain a natural balance in your garden without the application of pesticides! So… Plant with diversity in mind!
Annual kitchen garden
The kitchen garden is very personal because you generally want to grow what you eat! Not only do your taste buds dictate this space, but you also need to be careful to choose the correct varieties for your climate. For example, if you love watermelon but you live in a very cold northern climate you’re going to need to buy seeds for a short-season variety.
The Charleston Gray Watermelon takes 100 days to harvest, while Sugar Baby only takes 65 days. The size of the fruit or veg may be considerably smaller on short-season varieties, but these may also be perfect for people with compact growing space too!
Some of your favourite kitchen garden annuals include beans, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, cucumber, eggplant, lettuce, kohlrabi, onion, peas, radish, spinach, squash, tomatoes, zucchini, and peppers. It’s important to note that annual kitchen gardens need crop rotation so the soil can rest. See here for more info on crop rotation https://hort.extension.wisc.edu/articles/using-crop-rotation-home-vegetable-garden-0/
Fill in the blanks!
If you have gaps in your garden because you’re waiting for larger trees or bushes to start filling out, annual flowers should be your go-to! They bring beautiful colours and they put all of their energy into producing those blooms! Tip: if you “deadhead” flowers, you often extend the life of your annual plants! See here.
Using annual plants to fill in gaps is also a great way to restore or regenerate the soil. These annuals build biomass and protect areas from drying due to sun and wind exposure. They also stabilize soils while their roots are creating necessary pathways for water and oxygen exchange. Annual clover varieties are perfect for this job. These annual varieties provide nitrogen to the soil, a natural fertilizer, and once they die off at the end of their season they can be replaced by other plants.
It is common for small and large-scale farms to use annual cover cropping for this very reason! It’s also a great way to fill in patches of bare lawn for those of you who do love to keep a lawn space for kids or pets. Tip: Clover lawns also reduce the amount of water you need to keep the area green and reduce brown spots from dog urine!
Saving seeds from annuals
Annuals will go to seed once they have reached the end of their cycle. These can be collected or allowed to “fall in place” so they may self-seed for the following season. Seed collection will vary depending on the plant variety, so you’ll need to do research on each plant.
Store the seeds in labelled glass containers, once they’re totally dry, and keep them in a cool place! When you save your own seeds, you’re building genetic resilience to your local climate! Check out these youtube shorts which show you just how easy it is to collect your own seeds!
Whether you are planting a kitchen garden, cover cropping, farming, supporting pollinators, or just want some pretty flowers to look at, there are many annuals to fit your needs! So plant a diversity of annuals, edible or otherwise, because it’s simply a win-win for you and your garden. This is how you build resilience, reduce the need for pest sprays, and reduce the amount of water needed to keep your garden healthy. Have fun with it, and enjoy the yield!