Columbine

90529Colorado is another state that was able to designate one of the most excellent wildflowers of North America as the Official State Flower because it happens to be native there. Rocky Mountain columbine, Aquilegia caerulea, however, did not contribute as much to the breeding of the many modern hybrid varieties of columbine as did common European columbine, Aquilegia vulgaris.

Most are short term perennials that are more often grown as biennials or, if they do not continue to perform through the dry warmth of summer, as spring annuals. Seed can be sown directly earlier in spring, but new plants may not bloom until the following spring. Plants that are grown in a greenhouse through winter, as well as self sown plants that grow though winter, should bloom in spring.

The famously spurred flowers can be just about any color; white, blue, purple, red, orange, yellow, pink and even pale green (fading to white). Most are combinations of two colors. Some varieties proudly bloom with frilly double flowers. The thin flower stems stand about a foot tall, with flowers facing slightly downward. The trifoliate and delightfully lobed leaves are like big lacy clover leaves.

Some Annuals Are Really Perennials

90529thumbAnnuals are plants that complete their entire life cycle from germination to death within a single year. Biennials complete their entire life cycle in two years, mostly by developing vegetative growth during their first year, and then blooming, producing seed and then dying after their second year. Perennials are the many herbaceous plants that survive longer than just a few years or indefinitely.

As simple as these definitions seem to be, the plants that they describe are a bit more complicated. Some biennials can regenerate from the roots of plants that have already bloomed and died. Stems of some annuals can root where they touch the ground, to form new plants that survive for another year. Some annuals seem perennial if they replace themselves with their own seedlings.

Of course, none of that matters for the many biennials, perennials and self perpetuating annuals that get grown as mere annuals. At a time when ‘sustainability’ is a fad and trendy buzz word, it is ironic that so many bedding plants that could contribute more if given the chance to do so, continue to get discarded as soon as their primary season finishes. Most have more potential than that.

Self perpetuating annuals like sweet alyssum and nasturtium might only need to be groomed of old plants as new ones take over. Young nasturtium are rather efficient at overwhelming their own parent plants to some degree. Of course, subsequent generations will revert to feral plants. Fancier nasturtium will eventually become basic orange and yellow. Sweet alyssum will be plain white.

Many annuals that are actually perennials might survive through their off season if just overplanted with more seasonal annuals, and then regenerate when the weather becomes more favorable. For example, primrose from last season might be left in the ground as petunias take over for summer, but when the petunias finish next autumn, the primrose can regenerate for another season.

Such perennials regenerate more randomly than they grew in their primary season, and will need some degree of grooming and perhaps mulching.

Annuals Just Might Be Perennials

70614thumbAnnuals come and annuals go. There are cool season annuals for winter. There are warm season annuals for summer. Really though, there are all sorts of annuals that are not annuals at all. Most are some sort of perennial that has the potential to last longer than a single season. Only a few popular ‘annuals’ would necessarily die after blooming and producing seed, within a single year.

To be clear, true annuals last only a single year. They probably germinate from seed early in spring, and grow quickly. They then bloom in spring or at least by summer, and subsequently produce seed. Once their seed has matured and been dispersed, their job is done. They finally die in late autumn or winter. Annuals from deserts are even faster because of the harshness of the weather.

Many large-flowered sunflowers are true annuals. They are finished once their seeds mature. They will not bloom again. Even if they wanted to, they would not survive through winter. Petunias should be annuals, because they also die over winter. However, it is possible for them to survive winter in a semi-dormant state, and regenerate and bloom again the following spring and summer.

Realistically, it is not practical to salvage petunias for a second year. It is easier and more efficient to plant new ones. Yet, it sometimes happens, particularly in mixed plantings where old plants can get cut back while cool season annuals dominate in winter. Alternatively, lanky old stems can get buried with only their tips exposed. These tips might grow as new plants the following spring.

Cyclamen are cool season annuals that have been dieing back for summer. They usually get removed by now. However, in mixed plantings, some of their fat tubers can survive through summer to regenerate next autumn. For what they cost, they are worth salvaging! Primrose, chrysanthemum, impatiens and the various fibrous begonias are all worth salvaging through their off seasons.

Fibrous begonias may not know what their off season is. Those that bloomed through winter might be looking tired by now. If pruned back, they could regenerate as warm season annuals. Those planted in spring might look tired by the end of summer. If pruned back early enough in autumn, and protected from frost, they might grow enough before winter to work as cool season annuals. Cutting them back and waiting for regeneration may not be much more effort than replacing old plants with new ones, and is less expensive.