Growing up as a farmer’s daughter, what was the one thing that was talked about the most in small talk with a neighbor, around the supper table with family, or when we went to visit my great-grandma in the nursing home?
It’s always about the weather. For a farmer, the weather is the common ground that allows connection between others. It’s the go-to topic even when the weather is really ticking you off. You know you’ll at least be ticked off together.
But even someone who doesn’t farm can talk about the weather, too. So, again, it allows for connection between other people.
A stressor highly correlated to the weather is planting season. The weather never seems to cooperate, especially in the Spring. When a farmer sees another farmer in the fields, he’s ready to go. It’s like a little itch he can’t scratch. He’ll gripe that Bill down the road is “muddin’ it in” and how stupid that is, but he’s secretly jealous he’s not as ballsy as Bill. Each day that the crop isn’t in the ground is agony when you see another person getting a jump on it.
I see this train in gardeners, too. It’s why there’s a crazy gardening frenzy that occurs in early April when we may not have had our last expected frost yet. You’re itchy. I get it.
Whatever the case, you’re probably not growing a thousand acres of corn and soybeans, so you have a few more resources at your fingertips when it comes to planting season in your garden, especially if you’re wanting to grow flowers.
You can plant by hand when it’s wet unlike a big grain farmer that has to use a heavy tractor and planter. You can start seedlings indoors and hold them in trays until the time is right to plant.
AND you can adjust your planting date to a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT SEASON.
Yes, that’s right. You can plant in Fall instead of Spring. You just have to plant the right thing.
In this article, I’d like to enlighten you about plants called hardy annuals. Utilizing hardy annuals in your flower garden will provide you with taller, more vigorous, and earlier blooms without fussing with soggy soil and pop-up rain showers in the Spring.
Spring doesn’t have to be this anxious toe-tapping time where you’re waiting, waiting, waiting, to get your garden going. In fact, your garden can be brimming with flowers before Spring has really been under way.
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What’s a hardy annual flower?
Hardy annuals are cold tolerant plants that take one year to complete their life cycle, much like a warm season annual. As you might remember from high school biology, an annual is any plant that sprouts, grows, shoots out a bloom, and sets seed within one year. This is in contrast to a perennial, which can take 2 or more years to make it to reproduction mode.
Most of the time we think of annuals as plants that sprout in the Spring and bloom throughout the Summer and sometimes into Fall. But after Fall comes and the first frost sets in, they’re usually done with their life cycle. Sometimes they’re a one hit wonder that’s gone in a flash!
But hardy annuals love the cold. In fact, some thrive after they go through a cold period. So, instead of planting in the Spring, you can plant them in the Fall.
Hardy Annuals to Plant in the Fall
So, what are some hardy annual flowers you can plant in the Fall?
Here’s a list of my favorite Spring flowers that love the cold here in USDA Zone 6. I direct sow almost all of these flowers prior to the first expected frost, but a few can also be started indoors in late Summer, too:
Bupleurum (Bupleurum spp.)
I love bupleurum in a cut flower garden, because of its lovely green foliage and quaint yellow florets. It’s truly a staple in my Spring cut flower bouquets. I honestly have the most success by planting in the Fall versus the early Spring. In fact, this past season most of my bupleurum I used reseeded itself from last year.
Bupleurum is tricky to start indoors, so this flower definitely be one to put on your “direct seed” list.
Bachelor Buttons (Centaurea cyanus)
Also known as cornflowers, Bachelor Buttons are the sweetest little button-like flowers in a Spring garden. They will also bloom well into early Summer if given the right conditions. One plant will branch heavily to provide many blooms. You can also find other varieties with florets in colors of pink, purple, and white.
Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella damascena)
These dual purpose flowers stole my heart a long time ago. Their quirky foliage and interesting flower heads provide an unusual texture to a cut flower arrangement. I also love their many shades of blue! I love the ‘Miss Jekyll’ mix. The great thing about love-in-a-mist is that after the flowers fade, their seed pods also have use in a fresh or dried flower arrangement! They will easily reseed in the garden as well.
Larkspur (Delphinium consolida)
Larkspur is very much like love-in-a-mist for me. The foliage is very similar and the flowers are delicately paper-thin, too. The difference between larkspur and love-in-a-mist is that larkspur blooms on a spike, so there are many flowers on one stem versus just one terminal flower. They provide height in a flower arrangement.
Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus)
Snapdragons are one of those flowers that my older cut flower customers really enjoy because they remind them of their grandmothers’ gardens. I have one lovely lady I have so enjoyed delivering to because she talks about all the flowers she used to grow in her garden and what her grandmother and mother used to grow, too. I think flowers were inherent in gardens of days gone by, and now we’ve lost touch with something that was so automatic before.
Snapdragons are excellent because they provide height in a cut flower arrangement, and they bloom in all sorts of colors and shades. They also have excellent vase life. I’ve had some snapdragons last for a week and a half or more.
I like to start snapdragons indoors in late Summer for Fall planting.
Bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis)
Bells of Ireland is one flower that many people struggle to germinate. I still struggle, too. However, if you can get them going in the Fall, you will be rewarded! Stems will be much longer (up to 3 feet or so) compared to Spring sown Bells that I can only get to grow as tall as 12 inches (or less).
Bells of Ireland provide height in a cut flower arrangement, but another perk is that they have a delightfully fresh scent that reminds me of Irish Spring soap. They also provide a succulent shade of green to a vase and are an excellent conversation piece in their own right.
This is the only flower I don’t have a picture of (sorry). Hopefully I’ll add one soon!
Poppies (Papaver rhoeas)
Field poppies are best sown in the Fall. If I don’t scatter seed in the Fall, then they don’t come up for me at all. I’ve had the most success throwing out seed once in the Fall and then again in about January. I think they prefer that back and forth of freezing and thawing.
While they don’t last long in a vase, their papery petals are so unique. I just love them! There are other poppies (like the breadseed poppy, P. somniferum) that also produce big beautiful pods after the petals have dropped.
Additional Hardy Annuals & Factors to Consider
Some other hardy annual flowers that can be planted in the Fall are ammi, agrostemma, dara, scabiosa, orlaya, and sweet peas. I’ve had great success with orlaya, so this is another one to put on your list to Fall sow, but sweet peas I have yet to master.
Notes on Hardiness Zones
An important note to consider is that you want to make sure that the flowers you choose are winter hardy to your growing zone.
For example, a plant that survives winter temperatures in Texas may not survive a winter in Michigan because they are in different hardiness zones. This means that the climate in a particular area has an average annual extreme minimum temperature range that may occur during the wintertime in a specific growing zone.
For example, in southern Illinois, the minimum temperature range is -10 to 0 degrees F in zone 6. You can find out what growing zone you are in by heading to the USDA’s hardiness zone map website.
Preparing Your Garden for Hardy Annuals
Now that you have a list of flowers for early Spring blooms, the key is to prep the area of your garden for planting.
- Clear the area of weeds and plant debris.
You don’t want any extra weed seeds! Removing weeds will lower your weed seed bank, ultimately. Weed debris can harbor plant diseases and provide a home for insect pests or larvae as well.
Also, let’s be honest, weeds suck. Certain plants are considered “weeds” because they are more opportunistic than the plants we really want to grow. You give them an inch and they’ll take a mile.
- Apply a layer of compost or well-rotted manure if you’re able.
You can choose to till this in or leave it on the surface, depending on your tools and manpower. Some gardeners are adamant about no-tilling their garden, so they practice layering. I do a combination of layering and tilling. My soil is heavy in clay, so tilling in amendments for the first few years really helps break up the topsoil.
- Seeds should be buried according to seed size.
Small seeds like snapdragons should be sown on the surface. Bigger seeds like bupleurum can be buried an ⅛ to ¼ inch deep. I like to bury the seeds if I can because I feel I have better germination that way. You can also scatter seeds on the soil surface and gently rake them in.
Transplanting seedlings is also an option, too!
- Apply a mulch layer.
This can be straw, leaves, or a light layer of bark mulch. I like to use straw or leaves because I feel it’s easier for the seedlings to poke through once they germinate.
- Label your rows.
Purchase a bundle of garden stakes and a waterproof garden marker (this marker is the one I use!) so you know what you’ve planted where. This makes weeding easier in the Spring if you know what the seedling stage looks like for your hardy annuals. If you don’t know what your flower seedlings should look like, you’ll figure it out come Spring.
- Let your seeds grow!
Hardy annual plants shouldn’t require any Winter protection unless you are in a colder zone than the flowers you’ve chosen can handle. Even then, some of these flowers on this list don’t mind chillier zones. I encourage you to experiment and see if your microclimate can grow more than what the USDA hardiness zone map indicates. Also, if you don’t know where to find hardiness zone information, seed packets or seed company websites should list the hardiness zone information.
If you do feel the need to cover your plants, you can either use an old sheet or you can purchase floating row cover. It’s always nice to have row cover on hand just in case.
Wrap-Up on Hardy Annual Flowers
In a nutshell, hardy annual flowers are cold tolerant flowers that require one year to complete their life cycle. They can be planted in the Fall or early Spring, depending on your climate and the nature of the flower you are wanting to grow. Some of my favorite hardy annual flowers and foliage are bupleurum, bachelor buttons, Bells of Ireland, poppies, snapdragons, larkspur, and love-in-a-mist. Pick up a few packets and try out these lovely flowers today!
Leave us a comment below if you grow hardy annuals in your garden!
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