The traditional definition of an annual is a flower that grows, blooms and dies in one season. Local climatic conditions, the development of new cultivars and new uses for specific flowers have blurred the distinctions between annuals, biennials and perennials. Some of the best-performing flowers grown as annuals, such as impatiens and snapdragons, are grown as perennials in warm climates. Many annuals are suitable for sunny spots or shady garden areas.
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The best-performing hardy annuals are calendula, pansy, foxgloves, sweet alyssum, stocks, viola and dianthus. These annual flowers are cold tolerant and continue to bloom through light frost and winter's first freeze. They are planted in the fall or spring and do not tolerate high summer temperatures. In mild climates, both purple and white sweet alyssum drop seeds which regerminate during the following spring. Dianthus is a small mound-type annual plant with pink or white flowers that also do well in partial shade.
Marigolds, impatiens, nicotinia, begonia, celosia, Vinca and zinnia are reliable annuals that provide bright colour during the summer months but do not thrive in cold temperatures. Impatiens perform very well in shady garden spots. Marigolds and zinnias are widely used as bedding plants in summer. Their growth and bloom cycle is fast and both are disease resistant. Marigolds perform the additional service to the garden of exuding a substance into the soil that kills harmful nematodes.
The best-performing cool-season annuals such as geranium and snapdragon thrive in mild temperatures between 21.1 and 26.7 degrees Celsius. Snapdragon cultivars such as Kim Primrose and Montego Orange Bi-Color bloom in spring and early fall and grow well in sun or partial shade. Snapdragons have low drought tolerance and should be grown where the water supply is consistent. Viola is a strong-performing shady-spot annual often used as a border plant. It blooms in the cooler months of spring and fall.
Pentas perform well in the hot summer months, blooming abundantly from summer to fall in a sunny location. They are an excellent cut flower that grows on a bush-type plant that reaches 12 to 36 inches in height. Pentas bloom in lilac, red, violet and white and are a moderately drought-tolerant plant. Sunflowers and their many hybrids perform very well as warm-season annuals, blooming for four- to six-week periods in mid- to late summer. Newer sunflower hybrids include an all-white flower, a bicolor red dwarf sunflower and a frilly petalled bright-yellow sunflower.
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