Some Annuals Are Not Annual

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Some summer annuals can survive winter.

So many annuals are actually perennials. They just get dug and replaced because they are not pretty enough during their off season. For warm season annuals, winter is the off season. For cool season annuals, summer is the off season. However, if left alone, many annuals that are actually perennials go dormant so that they can survive through their off season to regenerate and perform again for another season, or several seasons

Cyclamen and various primroses are cool season annuals that are in season now. Cyclamen will go dormant and defoliate as the weather gets warm in summer. Primroses do not defoliate, but get rather runty through warm weather. If planted with other light duty warm season perennials that take over for them, no one notices. For example, primroses are colorful enough now to distract from tired fleabane. By the time primroses fade, the fleabane takes over.

Chrysanthemums are among the flashiest of perennial annuals, but also have a short season. They typically get planted while blooming in autumn, but finish their bloom cycle before winter. After all the rain and cool weather . . . and then a bit of warm weather, some are already dying back to the ground; but closer examination might reveal new growth already emerging from the roots!

Nasturtiums can obscure regenerating chrysanthemums nicely. If the frost sets them back, they recovery quickly. They will bloom more colorfully by spring, and continue until summer gets too warm. By that time, the chrysanthemums should be filling out nicely to bloom by autumn. As the chrysanthemums finish, the nasturtiums will have sown their seeds, so that the process can start over again. Neither chrysanthemum nor nasturtium need to be removed while out of season. They only need to be pruned back and groomed accordingly.

Coleus, impatiens, fibrous begonias and maybe even polka dot plant that were only moderately damaged by frost might be salvageable if they can stay put long enough. That is the advantage of growing them in pots with other small perennials that will cover for them when they die back or need to be pruned back.

Fairy Primrose

41224The simple pink and white of ‘good & plenty’ candy is what fairy primrose, Primula malacoides, is known for. Pastel purple is also popular. Rosy reddish pink and deeper pinkish purple are somewhat rare. The small flowers are arranged in circular trusses that stand as tall as one foot, just above the softly mounding light green foliage. The rounded leaves are slightly fuzzy. All parts of fairy primrose are toxic, and to those who happen to be allergic to it, can be as severely irritating to the skin as poison oak!

Because they take quite a while to mature and bloom if grown from seed, fairy primrose are typically purchased as cool season bedding plants that are already blooming. Bloom continues through winter and into early spring. If not replaced by warm season annuals, some of the healthier plants can survive through summer to bloom again the following winter as short term perennials. When they do not get enough water from rain, they want to be watered regularly. Fairy primrose can tolerate significant shade.

Why Cyclamen Are So Popular

41224thumbCyclamen are everywhere! Some nurseries have more cyclamen than all other cool season annuals combined. Not all cyclamen are represented though. Almost all are white or simple red. Pink, salmon and other shades of red are noticeable scarce because they are not traditional colors of Christmas. The plants are mostly of impeccable quality, and outfitted with abundant flowers. While there is not much else blooming, the popularity of cyclamen is impossible to ignore.

The problem with cyclamen is the expense. Relative to other cool season annuals, they are large plants that are only available in four inch and larger pots, so naturally cost more. They can not be purchased in less expensive cell packs. Even though they are perennials that can last for many years, they are almost always used as disposable cool season annuals that get replaced when warm season annuals come into season. It can be difficult to justify such an expense for something that lasts only a few months.

The advantage to cyclamen is that they look good instantly, even if they do not perform as reliably during the next few months. This is something that the other cool season annuals have difficulty with. Only larger and more expensive annuals in four inch pots are so immediately colorful, and even they need some time to fluff out and get established in the garden. They just do not grow as fast now as they did earlier in autumn. The weather is now cooler. The days are now shorter.

This is why it was important to replace warm season annuals with cool season annuals earlier instead of later, even if some of the warm season annuals had still been blooming somewhat well. It gave the cool season annuals some time to mature before winter really slowed everything down. Even though they do not grow as actively now, they are already big enough to bloom impressively.

Pansy, viola, stock, Iceland poppy, nemesia, various primroses and ornamental cabbage and kale can certainly get planted now, but will grow a bit slower than they would have if they had been planted earlier in autumn. If necessary, it might be worth planting them a bit more densely than typical, or planting larger plants from four inch pots.

Florists’ Cyclamen

91218It is unfortunate that most florists’ cyclamen, Cyclamen persicum, are enjoyed as cool season annuals only through winter, and then discarded as they are replaced by spring annuals. They can actually survive as perennials for several years, with white, red, pink or magenta flowers hovering above their marbled rubbery foliage each winter. Foliage typically stay less than six inches deep.

Florists’ cyclamen are probably typically discarded seasonally because, after blooming through winter, they take some time to redirect their resources to adapt to their landscape situations as the weather warms through spring. During that time, they can look rather tired. Shortly after they recover, they defoliate for dormancy through the warmth of summer. Some do not survive the process.

When they regenerate through the following autumn, they are not as uniform as they were when first installed. This is probably not a problem where a few florists’ cyclamen are planted with mixed annuals or perennials that compensate for their irregularities as well as their dormancy through summer. However, it does not work well for the uniform flower beds that they are often installed into.

Chrysanthemum

41022Mild autumns and arid summers keep chrysanthemums on a different schedule here than in most other regions. They can get planted in spring to grow through summer and bloom through autumn; but because they can take a bit of work, they are more often planted while blooming in autumn. Although commonly grown as autumn annuals, they are perennials that can regenerate next spring, grow through summer, and bloom even better the following autumn.

Centuries of development in Japan have produced more varieties of chrysanthemums than can be documented. There are really some weird types grown for cut flowers or by hobbyists. Garden varieties are mostly limited to simpler flowers that do not need much thinning or staking. Color ranges through all sorts of hues and shades of yellow, orange, red, pink and bronze, as well as a few purplish colors, cream and white. Many have yellow centers. The aromatic foliage is alluring to some, but objectionable to others.41022thumb

October Brings Cool Season Annuals

41008thumbAs the name implies, ‘annuals’ need to be replaced ‘annually’. What is worse is that they do not even function for an entire year, but only for a specific season. Cool season annuals mostly work from autumn to spring. Warm season annuals mostly work from spring to autumn. Calendula is a popular cool season annual that may not last even that long, since it can mildew half way through winter.

Now that it is time for cool season annuals, it can be unpleasant to remove warm season annuals that are still performing well. In mixed plantings, new annuals can be phased in through autumn as older annuals deteriorate. Busy Lizzie (impatiens), wax begonia and other warm season annuals that are actually perennials can get cut back and overplanted with cool season annuals. The cool season annuals that temporarily overwhelm them can provide shelter from frost. As the cool season annuals finish next spring, the warm season ‘annuals’ can regenerate

However, not all cool season annuals need to finish next spring. Sweet William, cyclamen, chrysanthemum and the various primroses are popular cool season annals that are actually perennials. When the time comes, they can be overplanted with warm season annuals, so that they can regenerate the following autumn. In cool spots, sweet William and some primroses can actually perform all year. (Some people are allergic to primroses like poison oak.)

Alyssum and nasturtium really are annuals, but can function both as warm season and cool season annuals. They sow their own seeds so that new plants can reliably replace old plants without being noticed. The old plants only need to be pulled as they deteriorate. Alyssum is white, or pastel hues of pink or purple. Nasturtium is just the opposite, with bright hues of yellow, orange and red, with only a few pastel options.

Pansies and smaller violas are the two most popular of cool season annuals, since they function like petunias for cool weather. They lack few colors. Most have two or three colors. Ornamental cabbage and kale produce big and bold rosettes of pink, white or pink and white foliage. Kale has weirdly distinctive foliar texture. White, lavender, pink, purple and rose stock is the most fragrant of cool season annuals, and taller varieties are great for cutting. Iceland poppy has delicately nodding flowers on wiry stems. They can be pastel hues of white, pink, yellow, orange or soft red.

Johnny-Jump-Up / Violas

91016This is not an easily defined flower. There are hundreds of species within the genus of Viola. Many are known as pansies. Many are known as violas or Johnny-jump-ups. Many are in between. The main difference between these two major groups is that, although very closely related, pansies bloom with bigger flowers, and violas bloom with smaller, simpler and more abundant flowers.

Blue, purple, white and yellow are the most popular colors for viola. Formerly uncommon orange and rusty red have become more popular in the past many years. Colors may be monochromatic, or arranged in intricate patterns with another color or two. The abundant bisymmetrical flowers are only about an inch wide. Mature plants should stay less than six inches tall, and spread as wide.

Violas are technically short term perennials that are typically grown as cool season annuals here. They are unlikely to survive through the innately warm and arid weather of summer. If planted now, they slow down a bit through the coolest winter weather, and then resume for early spring. If planted later in winter to continue slightly later into spring, they last only until the weather gets too warm.

Annual flowers For Cooler Weather

91016thumbAll that unpleasant annual business of removing warm season vegetable plants to relinquish space for cool season vegetables applies to annual bedding plants too. Those of us who do not grow vegetables were spared the agony of pulling up tomato plants that might have still been producing a few tomatoes, just to make room for broccoli. Now, it is time to replace petunias with pansies.

There is a reason why annuals get removed this time of year. It is the same reason why those that get planted now to replace them will be removed later. Annuals are annual. They are expected to perform for only part of one year. True annuals naturally complete their entire life cycles in about a year. Those that have potential to be perennial are too unappealing to salvage through dormancy.

Removal of aging warm season annual bedding plants should be less distressing if they are already deteriorating. By now, most of them are. They tend to wear out faster than some of the warm season vegetable plants. Impatiens can be potted for next year, or, for mixed beds, cut down and overplanted. Most cool season annual bedding plants are already blooming when newly planted.

Because the weather gradually gets cooler through autumn, cool season annual bedding plants appreciate an early start. It is easier to disperse roots before the soil gets cool. Only those that are sensitive to warmth, such as cyclamen, get planted later. Ornamental cabbage and kale might bolt and bloom early at the end of their season if they get too warm at the beginning of their season.

Marigold and chrysanthemum are short term autumn annuals that work very nicely until it is time to plant cyclamen or ornamental cabbage and kale.

Pansy, viola (including Johnny-jump-up), stock, sweet William, Iceland poppy and various primroses are now in season. Some could have been started from seed earlier. Otherwise, it is most practical to plant these cool season annual bedding plants from cell packs. Cyclamen and ornamental cabbage and kale that get planted later are best as more expensive four inch potted plants.

Wax Begonia

90515Oh, how breeding complicates things. Many years ago, there were only six basic types of wax begonia, Begonia semperflorens-cultorum, with three choices for floral color, and two choices for foliar color. Bloom was white, pink or red. Foliage was either green or dark bronze. Although these choices have not changed, some modern hybrids are difficult to distinguish from other species.

Wax begonia can be either a cool season annual or a warm season annual, depending on when it gets planted. It can be grown as a short term perennial if pruned back in both early spring and early autumn. By spring, winter growth is tired of the cold. By autumn, summer growth is worn out from warmth. Exposed plants can get lethally frosted in winter or roasted by sunlight in summer.

Therefore, wax begonia prefers to be somewhat sheltered. It is more tolerant of full sun exposure in summer if mixed with other annuals or perennials. Too much shade compromises bloom. Wax begonia expects richly amended soil and regular watering, and is just as happy in pots as other annuals are. Potted plants can be moved to sheltered spots when the weather gets too hot or cold.

German Primrose

81114Just like African marigold that was featured earlier is actually Mexican, German primrose, Primula obconica, is actually Chinese. As odd as it is, the common name is an improvement from the former name of ‘poison primrose’, which was derived from the potentially irritating sap of the unimproved species before it was bred to be less toxic, as well as more colorful and prolific in bloom.

Here where winters are mild, German primrose is a short term perennial that is mostly grown as a cool season annual. Most of us do not bother to keep them alive as their foliage deteriorates in warm spring and summer weather. It is easier to plant new ones next autumn. They want rich soil and regular watering until rainy weather takes over. Deadheading promotes subsequent bloom.

Foliage should not get much higher than six inches. Flowers stand a few inches higher, and can get almost as high as a foot. Individual flowers can be as wide as an inch, and they bloom with several others in domed trusses that might be a few inches wide. Bloom can be white or pastel hues of pink, lavender, blue, peachy orange, salmon, rose or soft maroon, some with white edges.