By Vicki Spencer, Master Gardener
It wasn’t long ago that our early season perennials, such as crocuses, hyacinths and tulips, were poking through the soil in Colorado. While perennials are valued for blooming year after year, it’s hard to deny the benefit of adding instant color with annuals.
If your shade garden consists primarily of green foliage, impatiens are a lovely way to add color. Their nonstop blooms spread quickly and require little care. In spite of their need for moisture, I find them to be reliable when planted under shade trees and bushes. You can choose from a wide variety of colors to brighten up beds and borders, or you can choose a mixture of colors to design interesting patio containers.
Four-o’clocks are another annual that are perfect for patio areas where you like to spend your evenings. They earned their name because their trumpet-shaped blooms respond to changes in light and temperature. They open in the cool of the evening and tend to stay open until dusk. The main reason I like to plant them near the patio is that they are wonderfully fragrant and attract hummingbirds. They are available in magenta, yellow, pink and white, and sometimes you can find several different colors on the same plant.
Zinnias are a sun loving annual that are guaranteed not to disappoint. They come in different sizes and three different flower forms: single petal, double petal and dahlia petal. Their blooms are amazingly bright and colors typically range from yellow to red. One of the benefits of zinnias is that the more you cut them, the more they bloom. This means you can have beautiful bouquets in your house and lavish flowering plants outside.
Vincas are a reliable border plant with delicate looking flowers ranging from white to pink and red. They thrive in poor soil and don’t require a lot of water. This makes them ideal for adding color to a Colorado Xeriscape.
Some old standbys for summer gardens are petunias and marigolds. My mother’s gardens always were the most colorful in the neighborhood, partly because her petunias spread abundantly. I haven’t forgotten their visual impact and always rely on petunias wherever color is lacking. One year, I alternated red, white and purple for a wonderful Fourth of July display that earned many compliments.
Marigolds are a favorite because they are hardy and grow rapidly. You can find them in yellow, orange, red or a delightful mixture of these colors. They have a distinct odor that some find distasteful, but to me it is a familiar summer scent.
Although stores start stocking annuals as early as April, seasoned Colorado gardeners know it is too early to set out annuals. In July, annuals go on sale and you can plant them wherever you want color for the rest of the summer.
Gardener Vicki Spencer has an eclectic background in conservation, water, natural resources and more.