When it comes to gardening and wildflowers, patience is our friend. We’re also always looking for low maintenance, hardy plants that will come back season after season and last for the next 10 years. Most would classify these as perennials. What we usually forget is that from seed, perennials need to winter over after germinating before they will begin to bloom. So if you purchased an All Perennial wildflower mix and you think you're only seeing "weeds" the first year, don't panic. What you're really looking at are healthy perennial plants that will be ready to burst with color next season.
Wait a minute..... A whole year with no flowers? Now that's no fun! That's why we all secretly love annuals (or at least I do!). Whether in a wildflower meadow or more formal garden setting, annuals can be beneficial and add an instant splash of color.
Annuals can provide beautiful, quick color the first growing season while your perennials are establishing root structure. A wildflower mix that contains both annuals and perennials are popular for this exact reason. Flowers such as Sunflowers, Cosmos, Poppies, Zinnias and Plains Coreopsis add vibrant colors to your wildflower meadow during that first growing season. Then the following season your perennials burst into bloom and at the same time getting introduced to whole new palette of colors and flowers.
Annuals are also great for extending color during the season or using as "fillers". Looking to fill the void between the blooms of your perennial Lupines and your Rudbeckias? Why not add some Papaver rhoeas – Red Poppies or African marigold.
They also help in keeping unwanted visitors to the garden such as grasses and weeds by occupying space with their root structures. Sure you can suppress weeds with mulch, but why not a few annuals instead? It's more colorful and more fun.
One of the great benefits of annuals is that their life cycle is completed in one growing season. If you loved the annuals that you planted, there is very little end-of-season maintenance. If you want to try something different, it's easy to convert the area to another species for next year. There are no extensive root structures to deal with, no dead heading or dividing. Just let them die back and mow if you'd like to try dispersing the existing seed.
Now if you live in an area where you get cold winters, most annuals will probably not re-seed and come back. It's just too cold or the energy-packed seed gets collected for winter food by foragers such as mice, chipmunks or squirrels. If you live in a climate that experiences mild winters it’s not unusual for annuals to re-seed and produce new flowers the following year. But remember it's not the same plant coming back; it's seed that was dropped from plants the year before.
When consulting with a homeowner looking to establish a wildflower meadow, the conversation usually begins with, "I want flowers to come back year after year." I interpret this as "they want perennials." But once I educate them on the different lifecycles of plants we usually end up with a mix of wildflowers that includes both annuals and perennials, as I mentioned earlier. After that first growing season, you would be amazed at how many phone calls, e-mails and pictures we get from people that just fell in love with the first year color they got from their annuals. Most will end up purchasing an All Annual Mix the following year to add to their perennials that are now beginning to flower that second season. I always encourage them to spot till and plant small patches within their perennials to allow the annuals to flourish.
So whether you looking to add some quick color into your perennial beds, want the instant gratification from the hard work that went into installing your wildflower meadow or just enjoy the colors that they provide, you really can’t go wrong when it comes to annuals!