Who’s already thinking about spring? Have the seed catalogs started filling your mailbox? Perhaps you’re starting a new garden, or you’re a new gardener. With that in mind, let’s tackle some of the easiest annuals to add to your garden.
The easiest annuals to grow from seed are those that sow themselves. Alyssum, calendula, cosmos, larkspur, nocotiana, nigella, and poppies will all come back the following year as long as you leave some seed heads and the seeds fall on receptive ground*. With this group, you only have to plant once. I’ve had good luck with dianthus as well.
The next easiest are those whose seed is large: marigolds, nasturtiums, sunflowers, and zinnias. Annual phlox is also a reliable choice, as is portulaca (moss rose).
Bear in mind that larkspur, nigella, and poppies are cool-weather germinators, so if you’re starting from scratch, be sure to sow their seeds as soon as the ground can be worked.
No matter how quickly they grow, annuals need a couple of months to make it to blooming size, so if you want them to flower in summer you’ll need to choose things that get growing in early spring, well before the last frost. The list is short but there are a few, including annual poppies, annual phlox, larkspur, nigella, silene, and bupleurum (a little-known but valuable bouquet filler that looks a bit like chartreuse eucalyptus). For best results, plant the seeds in fall the way the flowers themselves do. They will sprout in spring when conditions are right.
If you don’t mind waiting until late summer for your flowers to bloom, the list can be expanded to include calendula, rudbeckia (black-eyed Susans), and asters. These need a bit more warmth to germinate or, in the case of the asters, a longer growing time so they don’t start flowering as soon as those listed above; but they don’t mind light frosts and can (usually) be relied on for color in September and October.
*Receptive Ground: as it relates to self-sown seed, receptive ground is nothing more complicated than reasonably loose soil that has room at the surface for something new to take hold. It need not be weed-free, or as soft and smooth as soil that has been thoroughly cultivated and raked. All that is necessary is an occasional bare place; the seeds will take it from there.