Annual flowers are those that live for one season and then die. They are useful in hanging baskets and container gardens or to fill in bare spots in a perennial flower bed, but it’s generally not a good idea to spend a lot of money on them. Because of their short lifespan, nurseries sell them for much less than you’d expect to pay for perennial plants.
The least expensive way to grow annuals is to start them from seed, either indoors a few weeks before the last frost, or directly in the garden. Some annuals, such as petunias, grow very slowly from seed and are better off started from nursery transplants.
When choosing annuals, consider how much work and care they require, in addition to the initial price. Also consider how much value they’ll add to your landscape. Most annuals bloom from early summer to the first frost, but a few putter out earlier in the season, decreasing their value.
Inexpensive Annual Flowers for the Northern Garden
Bachelor’s Button: Also known as cornflower, this annual has fringed, daisy-like blue, white, pink or purple blooms. Sow seed directly in the garden in early spring. Bachelor’s button prefers full sun and blooms late in the season, even past frost.
Cosmos: Most annuals are small and compact, but cosmos grows to 4 feet high, with spidery foliage and daisy-like flowers. Sow cosmos seeds in spring, after the last frost, in full sun. They’ll bloom profusely most of the summer and work well at the back of the garden.
Geranium: These common flowers brighten hanging baskets and pots with their blooms all summer. They are slow to grow from seed, but are easily propagated from cuttings. Many gardeners bring geraniums indoors over the winter. Cut them back and set them in a cool, indoor location until the following spring.
Marigold: No discussion of inexpensive annuals would be complete without mentioning marigolds. These sturdy plants grow quickly from seed and self-sow so you may find new plants the following spring. They’re even thought to repel pests and nematodes. Now that’s a bargain!
Nasturtium: One or two packets of nasturtium seeds will fill a flower bed with bright flowers and attractive, dark-green foliage. Soak nasturtium seeds in water or nick them with a file to hasten germination and sow them outdoors after the last frost. They’ll spread quickly and bloom all summer. Use the edible blooms in a salad for fresh color and a light, peppery taste.
Petunia: Petunias are slow to germinate from seed, but they are cheap to buy in flats and quickly spread to fill flower beds. Small, rambling types grow even more quickly than the traditional large-flowered varieties.
Inexpensive Annual Flowers for the Southern Garden
Heliotrope: Grow this heat-loving plant in full sun, but keep the soil moist. Heliotrope looks charming in garden boxes and flower beds, with their clusters of white, lavender or blue flowers. Place them near a window or door to enjoy their sweet fragrance.
Lantana: In Northern climates, this plant is usually grown from nursery transplants, but in warm climates, you can sow it directly outdoors in late winter. Lantana produces clusters of tiny flowers in yellow, orange, red, white, pink or purple.
Morning Glory: Plant a few of these in your garden for a fast-growing vine that produces beautiful, round pink, white, blue or purple flowers. Morning glories thrive in poor, dry soil where few other flowers will bloom. It self-seeds and will likely return the following year without any help from you. Soak or nick the seeds and plant morning glory in early spring.
Nicotiana: Also known as flowering tobacco, nicotiana produces fragrant, bell-shaped flowers and tolerates neglect, drought and heat.
Salvia: In warm climates, salvia will likely return every year through self-sowing. Salvia spreads quickly and produces spikes of red or lavender flowers.