Why Do It?
This idea is easy and cheap to do, you don’t need a lot of space to try it out, and it can be a really quick job.
You can get very creative with different colours and textures, and you won’t need to wait too long to enjoy the results, with some varieties flowering just weeks after sowing.
It’s also a great project if you’re new to gardening or don’t want to invest too much time or money. After all, seeds are easy to buy and don’t need to cost much at all – you can even do some seed swapping with friends or neighbours.
It’s a great thing to try in a new garden when you’re still not quite sure about the layout. And it’s also great if you’re renting somewhere and want to enjoy some flowers without investing in perennials, bulbs or bedding plants.
Annual flowers are also a very useful option for smaller spaces and even a small yard or balcony garden. If you don’t have access to a flower bed or border, simply sow into pots or containers in spring and you can quickly cheer up any sunny spot come summertime.
Most annual flowers will grow happily in any sunny spot, whether that’s in a flower bed, or a patio container, or even just a hanging basket or window box.
And don’t forget to look out for new wildlife that might visit your new flowers. Growing annual flowers is a great way to help pollinators like bees and butterflies.
You Will Need
- Hardy Annual Flower Seeds (recommendations later)
- A sunny place to sow your seeds
- A Garden Rake
- (optional) Some planting containers / compost / potting mix
Before You Start
What is a Hardy Annual Flower?
So let’s just start off with a quick definition then – what exactly is a hardy annual flower? Well, hardy annuals are basically plants that complete their entire growing cycle within one year – hence the name ‘annual’. And so this means that, in the case of annual flowers, you plant the seed, the seed germinates and grows into a plant, the plant flowers and then afterwards the plant dies away, and all of this happens within one year.
So, while annual flowers don’t necessarily come back year after year like a perennial or bulbs might do, they do generate new seeds from the dying flower heads, which will then scatter into the soil and could potentially then come up the following year wherever they land.
The word hardy, just basically means that they can tolerate cold weather and in most cases that includes freezing conditions or in other words, you don’t need to worry about frost.
When to Sow Annual Flower Seeds
Now, because of the nature of annual flowers, it does mean that you are a little bit restricted as to when you can actually sow hardy annual seeds. In general, it’s something you need to be thinking about by around the beginning of the spring time here in the UK – so ideally this is a job for late March, April or May. Beyond the end of May, you’re probably going to find that you’re a little bit late and even if you do see some flowers, it’s going to be pretty late on in the summer.
If you’re really organised, many varieties can actually be sown in the autumn. Their hardiness means that they should withstand the winter, and sowing them early in this way could mean earlier flowers the following year. For an extended flowering period, you could even do both – sow some in the autumn and then do some more in the spring.
Where to Sow Your Seeds
Of course, you might already have a fixed spot in the garden that you’d like to brighten up with some flowers, but before you start planting it’s worth just having a quick think about what’s going to work the best. And for starters, it’s worth noting that many annual flowers will need plenty of sunshine, and so if you have a shady spot (or if you’re North facing or planting under a tree for example), then it means you can still potentially try some annual flowers – like Violas or Lobellias – but you’ll be much more restricted on which varieties are going to work for you.
Provided you have somewhere with plenty of sunlight, then you’re spoilt for choice. You can either plant up a whole flower bed or sow around some existing plants that you already have. Otherwise, you could simply sow into containers and position them where you like later on.
In general, it’s usually best to sow annual seeds where you want them to grow. While you could start them off in pots and grow them on, I’ve found that it’s usually more hassle than it’s worth.
The whole idea around this project is that it’s quick and simple. Once you’ve sown the seeds, then you can pretty much forget about it and just wait for the flowers to appear. So I’d recommend just choosing a spot to sow your seeds where you want them to flower and then sow them directly.
1. Prepare the Soil
Once you’ve got yourself some seeds (and we’ll talk about a few varieties to try in a moment), you’ll just need to quickly prepare the soil.
If you’re sowing into a bed or border, then just grab a rake it you have one and lightly rake the soil over – ideally you’re looking for a nice crumbly layer to sprinkle the seeds into.
Of course, if the soil’s not great then you could top-dress it with a bit of compost first – just spread that out nice and evenly and make sure it’s a nice fine texture.
If you’re planting in containers, then this might just mean adding some suitable compost or a good potting mix. Add some gravel or stones in the base of the container first to improve drainage and then fill it a little shy of the top, allowing space for watering.
2. Sow Seeds
You’ve got two options really when it comes to sowing your seeds. ‘Broadcasting’ is a term that basically just sprinkling the seeds fairly randomly around the chosen area.
For a little more order, you could sow in what are called ‘drills’ – which basically just means making some tiny little troughs with the back of a rake or a trowel. These drills only need to be an inch or two wide, and you simply sprinkle the seeds as evenly as possible along each drill.
And as I once heard Alan Titchmarsh say, it’s really just like sprinkling salt over your fish & chips, so you don’t need to be too scientific about it!
3. Cover Lightly & Water Carefully
Once you’ve sprinkled your seeds, cover them very lightly with the soil or compost, soak with a watering can – and you need to be careful not to wash the seeds away at this point so it’s best to use a fine rose attachment and water them gently.
4. Thin Out Seedlings as they Grow
And that’s it, you can sit back and wait for the seedlings to appear – hopefully within a few weeks. As the seedlings begin to grow, you might need to thin them out slightly – which means to remove a few of the weaker ones, so that the stronger ones have more space to thrive. Check your seed packaging for the ideal spacings.
3 Beautiful Hardy Annual Flowers to Try
There are literally hundreds of different types of flowers that you could try, and of course, there’s no accounting for taste here, so you might have a preference for certain colours or shapes or using different heights in a border for example.
So, we’ll keep it simple and just give you three really broad suggestions to start off with. And all three of these are really easy to find – you’ll get them in garden centres or online – we’ll add some links in the notes – or you’ll perhaps even see them for sale in the big supermarkets.
We’ll start with an old English classic favourite, which is the Cornflower. I love Cornflowers, they’re bright and cheerful, they tend to grow quite tall, and so they’re great for putting at the back of a border or to make a bit of a statement in a container.
They’re native to the UK, so really easy to grow – in fact they were actually considered to be a weed of sorts in years gone by where they would grow wild on agricultural land.
Traditionally they’re often blue in colour, but these days there’s lots of different colour options from pinks to purples and whites, and they usually have these tall green stems that wave around in the breeze, so they create a nice bit of movement as well. They really are a great place to start when it comes to annual flowers.
Second up, we have Pot Marigolds – or Calendula as they’re sometimes called. And again, these are quintessential English garden flowers – great for containers on a patio or in large drifts in a flower bed. They’re usually a deep yellow or orange colour and come in different shapes and sizes, so you can find a variety that works with your other planting.
They also look stunning in a cottage garden or for planting around a vegetable bed. In fact, the petals are edible, so you can use them in salads or as a garnish around the plate when you’re cooking. I’ve also heard that some people use them instead of saffron to colour things like rice dishes.
And last but, by no means least, our third recommendation is the Californian Poppy. These are sometimes even easier to grow as they’ll tolerate even poor soils and can be quite drought tolerant. So if you have a sunny patch that’s looking a bit sparse and needs cheering up a bit then these are a great thing to try.
They’ll also do better than most in those tricky areas like along the edge of a path or driveway where perhaps the soil isn’t the best, or you could use them around a rockery to add a splash of colour there. They usually grow to around 30cm tall, so it’s easy to fit them in even the smaller spaces around your garden. There’s many different colours to choose from too – generally pinks, oranges, yellows and whites are common.
The great thing about annuals is that they’re very low investment. It’s not like planting a tree or spending out on shrubs and perennials .
You can reinvent spaces from year to year and if things don’t quite work out the way you wanted, it’s no big deal – you can just try something else next year!
- Hardy Annual flowers are cheap, quick and easy to grow
- They’ll germinate, flower and die within one season
- They’re resilient against cold weather so you don’t need to worry about frosts
- All you need is a few seeds and a sunny patch of soil or a container to sow them in
- A fun and low-investment way to test out new themes and experiment with different colours and shapes in your garden
- Attract wildlife, such as bees and butterflies to your garden
- To start off, try Cornflowers, Pot Marigolds and Californian Poppies – but there are hundreds of other varieties to try!
Which annual flowers will you try in your garden? What are your favourite varieties and colours? Let us know in the comments!