The Best Annuals for Michigan

Annuals are the least expensive, easiest way to get real impact in your landscape. For the cost of a few flats (or, even better, a few packets of seed) and minimal time, you can have a flower garden that will be the envy of the neighborhood.

The flowers in this list are based on several factors. They are easy to find, both in seed and transplant form. They are easy to grow, whether from seed or transplants. They take a minimal amount of care, and, most importantly, they all work together nicely in a garden bed. They are a range of heights, textures, and colors that will add instant interest to your landscape.

Zinnia


Height: 6" to 36"
Spread: 12"
Available Colors: red, yellow, green, purple, orange, white, bicolor

Zinnias are perfect for Michigan gardens. The hotter it gets, the happier they are (an admirable trait in a plant with weather like we're having right now.) They don't like to be over watered, and have very few disease or pest problems. Powdery mildew can sometimes be a problem if the area you're planting in doesn't have the best air circulation. To prevent powdery mildew, try not to get the leaves wet when watering.

Zinnias prefer full sun and well-drained soil. They can be started indoors from seed four to six weeks before last frost, or you can direct-sow them after last frost. If you have transplants, they can be planted in the garden two weeks after the last frost. The only real care zinnias need is deadheading to promote new blooms, and about an inch of water per week.

My favorite zinnia: California Giant Mix-36" tall plants with large double flowers.

Marigold


Height: 6" to 36"
Spread: 12" to 24"
Available Colors: yellow, red, orange, cream, bicolor

If you think of marigolds as those glaring orange flowers at the Speedway, I hope I can convince you to give marigolds another chance. They are easy to grow, and some varieties make great cut flowers for arrangements. And they're available in everything from yellow, to that glaring orange, to (my favorite) cream. There are two kinds or marigolds: the African (sometimes called American) marigolds, which have globe-shaped blooms; and the French marigolds, which have smaller, more formal looking double blooms. The French marigolds commonly come in bicolor. The French marigolds tend to be more compact, shorter plants, while the African marigolds can get very tall and bushy.

Much like zinnias, marigolds just get better the hotter it gets. They have no pest problems to speak of. They need an inch of water per week, and deadheading to promote bloom. They can be easily started from seed indoors four to six weeks before last frost or direct-sown after last frost. Transplants can be planted two weeks after last frost. They need full sun, and well-drained soil.

My favorite marigold: Targetes erecta "French Vanilla"-3.5" globe shaped blooms on 24" stems.

Cosmos


Height: 1' to 7'
Spread: 12" to 18"
Available Colors: Pink, purple, white, yellow, orange, red, maroon

These are old-fashioned flowers that deserve a place in any garden. Cosmos add height, and their wispy foliage adds a different texture to the landscape. They are best used at the back of a border (although there are some shorter varieties of cosmos). Cosmos require very little care. In fact, they thrive on neglect. Giving them too much water will result in fewer blooms, as will over-fertilizing. They like full sun, and well-drained soil.

Cosmos can be started indoors four weeks before last frost, or direct-sown after the soil has warmed. Transplants can be put out after the last frost.

My favorite cosmo: "Sensation" Mix-4' tall plants, wispy foliage and pastel blooms.

Salvia


Height: 1' to 4'
Spread: 8" to 4'
Available Colors: red, blue, purple, pink, salmon, yellow, cream, white, bicolor

I love blue, and there is nothing more beautiful than bright blue spikes of salvia swaying in the summer breeze. Salvias work well in beds, as well as in container gardens. Salvia looks great in a cottage-style garden, along with cosmos, zinnias, and cleomes. They like full sun to partial shade, and well-drained soil. To keep them blooming, remove the spent flowers before they turn brown.

Start salvia seed indoors six to eight weeks before last frost, or direct sow after last frost. Transplants can be put out after last frost.

My favorite salvia: "Victoria Blue"-violet blue blooms on compact plants; 18" tall and 12" spread.

Sunflower


Height: 24" to 15'
Spread: 12" to 24"
Available Colors: yellow, orange, red, brown, cream

The sunflower is probably the most cheerful looking plant on earth. It is perfect to grow with children, since the seeds germinate quickly, and growth is rapid. As a bonus, the seeds in the flower heads provide great food for the birds that visit your yard.

To get a jump on the season, you can seed sunflowers indoors (in peat pots; they don't like having their roots disturbed) 2 to 3 weeks before last frost. It is very easy to just direct sow them after danger of frost has passed. Sunflowers like full sun and well-drained soil. You don't really need to baby them. Just keep them watered and let them do their thing. The best plan is to plant a few sunflower seeds every couple of weeks from spring through early summer so you will have a succession of sunflowers blooming.

My favorite sunflower: "Mammoth Russian"-15' tall plants bearing 12" yellow flowers. These may need staking.

Bachelor's Buttons


Height: 12" to 36"
Spread: 6" to 9"
Available Colors: blue, violet, red, pink, yellow, white

Bachelor's Buttons will survive, and bloom, almost anywhere. They prefer full sun and well-drained soil, but I have some blooming right now under a pussy willow, where they don't get much sun at all. Bachelor's Buttons are best planted in a mixed border or flowerbed, since the foliage can be a bit unattractive.

Bachelor's Buttons can be started from seed indoors 3 to 4 weeks before last frost, or direct sown after all danger of frost has passed. Transplants can be put out near the last frost date. Bachelor's Buttons self-sow easily, so if you plant them somewhere, you will most likely see volunteers sprouting next spring. To keep the plants blooming, shear off the spent flowers and old foliage in mid-summer.

My favorite Bachelor's Button: "Blue Boy"-30" tall blue double blooms on grayish-green stems.

Petunia


Height: 6" to 18"
Spread: 12" to 24" (much more if it's a 'Wave' petunia)
Available Colors: pink, purple, red, white, yellow, coral, blue, bicolor

These old-fashioned favorites have been brought back to the forefront by the introduction of the 'Wave' petunias, which don't need deadheading and grow and bloom like crazy. Petunias are wonderful in containers, or at the edges of a flowerbed. The variety of colors is amazing, and you can get them in traditional single blooms or doubles that look a bit like small peonies. I have one blooming right now that is deep purple with tiny white semicircles on the edges of the petals. Beautiful!

Petunias need full sun, about an inch of water per week, and occasional deadheading (unless it's a 'Wave.') They can't be sown directly into the garden, but can be started from seed indoors 5 to 7 weeks before the last frost, and transplanted after the last frost date.

My favorite petunia: Any! ITGO