Annuals Aren’t Evil: Reasons to Grow Annual Flowers

petuniasQuestion: I’ve read some opinions on different blogs stating that annuals aren’t a great choice because the methods of producing them aren’t always ecologically friendly and because they take a lot of water and fertilizer to grow well. Your thoughts?

Answer: The reasons behind this point of view seem to be sweeping generalizations. There are annuals that are drought tolerant, so they don’t require excessive supplemental watering. There are annuals that prefer lean soil, so they don’t need weekly fertilizing. There are greenhouses that have adopted eco-friendly growing methods, and small operations that propagate annuals without fancy equipment or chemicals. Gardeners who are concerned about the environmental impact of greenhouse growing and long-haul shipping of annuals also always have the option of propagating their own annual plants or seeking out local growers. Also, many annuals will self-sow after one season, if allowed, and thus come back as seedlings the next year.

Annuals serve great purposes in the garden. Here are some reasons they should be grown:
1. In a young garden, annuals can be planted between small, young perennials and shrubs, making the garden look fuller and more mature in its first couple of seasons.
2. Flowering annual plants can bridge any gaps that may occur in bloom as early-blooming perennials fade and late-blooming perennials have yet to ramp up. In this way flowering annuals are key in creating a garden that blooms for most months of the year. In warm climates, winter, or cool-season, annuals can keep a garden blooming year-round.

3. Flowering annuals are an important food source for bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects.

Annuals also satisfy a gardener’s curiosity and desire to change things up in different years. They give you the chance to try something new without a long-term commitment. Annual plants are a part of nature, and they make a great contribution to gardens, as well.


Learn how to grow a healthy garden of common and unusual annuals with Horticulture Presents: Gardner’s Essentials: Annuals CD.

Plan and grow a year-round flower garden with The Gardner’s A-Z Guide to Growing Flowers from Seed to Bloom.

Use the Scatter Garden Seed Canister for a rainbow of vibrant annuals.

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15 thoughts on “Annuals Aren’t Evil: Reasons to Grow Annual Flowers

  1. What an absolutly incendiary title to this silly article: Are Annuals Eee-vil??? Somehow, I also expected a screen capture of Dr. Evil holding a 6″ pot of Petunias, announcing to the world that he plots to extort large sums of money from governments by planting annuals!!!! Get Real!!!! I’ve been in the Green Industry for over 60+ years and was alive when DDT was the standard treatment for pests. Are you telling me that the poor client I have who’s yard is 99% dense shade and can ONLY grow hostas and ferns for company can’t have two lousy pots of impatiens by their front door or the world will come to an environmental end? Before owning my own company, I was raised on a dairy farm where we also grew alfalfa and sorghum for silage. We used our own cow’s manure to fertilize the fields; now, giant agri-farms bomb the heck out of the environment, including using G.M. crops resulting in increased C.C.D. among honeybees. And let’s not forget the National Past-Time: G.O.L.F. I was a horticulturist at one of the largest golf courses in the Chicagoland area for 5 years. The amount of toxic chemicals that were sprayed/dumped on the greens/tees/rough EACH day was mind boggling! All so the darn golfers could pretend they were in Scotland. And let’s not forget the utterly illegal practice of baiting the turf with Diazinon products to poison the geese who happened to graze the turf and leave free fertilizer behind. I could go on and on with far more toxic and killing examples of horticultural abuse than annuals but the original author of this article wouldn’t be interested. They just wanted a TMZ-like topic to get a *click* onto their article. “What a load of old tosh!,” this entire non-article is, as my grandpa would have said before heading back out into the field.

  2. Depending on the region of the country one lives in, some annuals act like perennials. As a child in California’s bay area, our family had a bank of self seeding, self care nasturtiams. They are greenhouse flowers in Idaho until frost free period. Calendulas are annuals whose seeds can survive the winter. Foxgloves are “annuals”. Technically they are biannuals because they do not bloom until the second year but they grow year after year from seed.

  3. An annual in one part of the country, i.e., one that has to be started in protected conditions and not set out until frost is past, can be self seeding and occasionally a pest in another region. Nasturtiams are an example. As a child in the bay area, we had a bank of nasturiams that came back each year faithfully and took care of themselves. When we moved to Idaho, I was puzzled not to find them. Here they are greenhouse starts while in the bay area they grow riotously at gas stations and hang over cement curbs. Aren’t marigolds self seeding in New Mexico? One commentator mentioned calendulas which are actually self seeding annuals:the seeds are hardy enough to withstand most winters.

  4. I believe annuals are fantastic! They usually are flowering all summer long or at least add variety and color to any garden. They are a bit spendy at times but usually are worth it.

  5. As in everything else in life I believe in moderation. I certainly don’t think a garden should be filled with only annuals, however a garden is not complete if it does not include some annuals. So by all means plant the trees, shrubs and perennials that are suited to the site but make sure you have some room for the annuals.

  6. lots of good comments, worthy points of view. I still buy pansies, snapdragons, lobelia and a few others from local growers. I find many bedding plants are “hooked” on fertilizer and stall without regular doses. Also, many annuals are awfully similar to silk flowers aesthetically. Petunias in particular are artificial looking. They hardly seem to have any leaves!What’s wrong with self-seeding annuals? Bachelor Buttons, Larkspur, Callendulas, Love-In-A-Mist, Shirley Poppies all come back faithfully year after year.

  7. Annuals have their place~ They soften the hard scape !!
    Yes to all the additional work but I loe the results!
    Ecologically how bad are they?

  8. I guess if annuals are evil that would make food crops even more! I’ve worked at a small nursery franchise in the metro area of Atlanta and for a “Orange” Big Box Store and no matter who you buy from you are supporting local people and local nurseries through your purchases.

  9. Tara, I understand what you are saying. I am tired of seeing the mass produced petunias, marigolds, geraniums…same, same, growing into rangy masses when no one buys them. I dislike the fact they are “plant factory” produced in non earth friendly ways. First time gardeners buy them and I hope a good experience leads them to be more discerning gardeners the next season. No, I don’t buy from the big box stores. I try to find the small nurseries and support them. It is worth the extra few cents. I do believe in annuals…every year I grow snapdragons, violas and nicotianas in unique colors I track down from small seed suppliers. None of these plants require extra fertilizer and all provide wonderful opportunities for the birds and bees in my garden. Most of them come back on their own through seeding or just toughing it out in our wet, cold winters. As they say, grow your own! Annuals bring me joy in my mostly perennial and shrub based garden.

  10. Great sales job why annuals are ok to mass produce. Facts don’t support you environmentally. Annuals do support garden centers. Spent years in that industry. Not using a, “broad generalization.”

    If a Landscape Design NEEDS annuals it is a failure. Flowers 365/24/7 are too easy to have with trees, shrubs, groundcovers, perennials. Any annuals I use for clients are self-seeding from a tiny earth friendly paper package.

    What client has NEVER included the phrase, “I want low-maintenance and affordable.” Annuals, greenhouse mass produced, do not match that criteria in the least.

    Independent garden centers have gone out of business in the past few years in unprecedented numbers. Why? Aside from nepotism, they sell mow-blow-go-testosterone-on-wheels-commodify-all-I-touch plants, fertilizers, chemicals. Who needs that type of gardening?

    Annuals, fertilizers, chemicals, Oh MY. I hear Dorothy. That is a trinity NEVER needed in my garden which, along with some clients, has been in major magazines, on TV & in books. For years.

    My business is thriving. Am contracted to write my 6th gardening book. Better, I’m keeping a general contractor, stone mason, & carpenter working, supporting families, in the worst economy since the great depression.

    Do I judge anyone for buying annuals? No. Garden article promoting them as environmentally fabulous? Yes. I care about my industry.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara Dillard

  11. I think my jaw dropped when I read that question. Talk about an over-generalization! If you want to stop growing something inherently evil and useless, go after lawn grass, which consumes trillions of gallons of water, pollutes the ground and water with excess nitrogen from all the water and chemicals poured on it, and is a basically useless plant. We’d all be much better growing annual flowers that feed birds and butterflies and beneficial insects, plus you can cut them for bouquets to brighten your house or share with friends. And many of them take a lot less water to grow than grass. Try to cut a bouquet of that for the house.

  12. Annuals are not evil but I agree that the way they are grown in too many cases is not at all angelic. It is almost impossible to find out if they have been dosed with systemic pesticides at any time before purchase, for example. These convenient and chemicals that are safer for people than older ones are thought to be impacting bees and other beneficial insects. The insects feed on nectar and pollen that inevitably are repositories for the insecticide. The chemical targets the nervous system and at doses that are not big enough to kill the insect, it might cause disorientation resulting in the failure of the bee to return to her nest. Bees repeatedly provision their nests with pollen and nectar for their developing brood. It is possible that if the pollen is poisoned, it might affect the survivability of the next generations of these important insects. Nursery plants are often treated at much higher rates than is used in agriculture where most of the studies have been made. The Xerces Society website has an excellent review of this issue.
    Annuals are easy to grow from seed. Some reseed themselves also. That is the best way for gardeners to make sure the flowers are safe for foraging on.

    • Amy, your last paragraph says it all. Do it yourself for a customized, intergrated garden feeding all. Seeding your own plants is so easy. And saves so much $$.

      • Every respodent brings up excellent points which I hadn’t thought of. Actually, I wholeheartedly endorse the use of annuals. My purchases are from local greenhouses because the quality of their products is far superior. This practice cuts down on the transportation effects of petroleum on the environment which are even more ecologically unsound. More food for thought…..

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