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Annuals in the Landscape

Annuals are plants that are alive for one growing season only. Either they naturally complete their lifecycle in 1 year, or they are killed by weather at the end of the growing season. When you need a quick, intense dose of color in the landscape, annuals are a good choice. 

The most interesting and resilient landscapes often have a mix of plant types: herbaceous perennials, shrubs, trees, and annuals.

Here are some tips to using annuals in your landscapes:

  • Adding seasonal color to containers
  • Adding color to perennial border gardens in periods where there isn't much blooming—this is common in early spring, winter, or fall
  • For large displays of intense color in beds
  • Cut flowers or companion plants in vegetable gardens
  • Providing habitat to beneficial insects
  • Color contrast with perennial plants
  • Plant options for tough, droughty locations

Some annuals thrive in cooler weather, but others are adapted to hot weather. Species will vary in their need for water, but in our area all will need some sort of irrigation. Most annuals do better planted in good soil with a couple inches of organic mulch material.

Red and yellow flower plumes on celosia
Red and yellow flower plumes on celosia


Purple-leafed basil growing in a garden
Purple-leafed basil growing in a garden


Zinnia with orange flowers
Zinnia with orange flowers

Growing Annuals in the Mountains

High elevations such as Mammoth Lakes and Aspendell have a very limited growing season. Frosts and unexpected weather make planning difficult, but on a positive note: the cooler temperatures make plants just as happy as people!

Generally, you can plant any cool-season annuals in the summer in the mountains. Certain warm-season annuals also do well once summer weather arrives. Good warm-season choices include petunias, marigolds, geraniums, and annual salvia. Cool-season plants have some more exciting choices: larkspur, snapdragons, pansies, stock, salpiglossis, osteospermums (bone daisies) and fuschias like our high-elevation summers. Be ready to protect any annuals from surprise cold snaps or hail. In all cases due to the short growing season, try to use plants already in bloom.

Thankfully, if the plants are destroyed, they do not comprise a permanent part of your landscape and can be easily replaced. You would do that annually anyway!