Top 5 Annuals for Southern Gardens

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Lawn & Garden

Petunias are robust flowers that bloom from the beginning of spring until the end of fall in full sun. Check out more pictures of annual flowers.

If you want to add some color to your landscaping, garden or sunroom, planting annuals is an easy and effective way to do so. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert gardener, planting annuals can bring you satisfaction. However, many guides to planting annuals are geared towards the Northeast and Midwest, leaving little information on successful annual gardening in the South. From North Carolina to New Mexico, the South has different temperatures, humidity levels, and soil compositions, so it’s important to adjust your gardening plans accordingly for optimal results.

An annual is a flowering plant that completes its life cycle within a single growing period. From the last frost of winter to the first frost of the next, annuals will germinate, grow, flower and die. Depending on your region’s climate and winter temperature variation, you may have a longer or shorter period to plant and garden your annuals. Additionally, due to temperature, aridity and soil differences across the U.S. South, you should plant annuals that can survive the specific conditions of your area [source: Kessler].

Before deciding which annuals to plant, consider what you want to achieve with your gardening and choose the annuals that best suit your purpose. Some annuals are better grown from seed, but may be too complicated for the beginning gardener. Other annuals may be better suited for hanging baskets, edging your garden or for producing cut flowers. Native wildflowers usually flourish with little assistance [source: University of Illinois Urban Programs Resource Network].

In addition to native wildflowers, the following annuals will generally thrive in the South with a little gardener’s attention:

  • Begonias
  • Cosmos
  • Marigolds
  • Pansies
  • Petunias

Keep reading to learn more about these annuals.

5. Begonias

While begonias are great indoor plants, they also do well in flowerbeds.

Begonias are popular American houseplants, but they are also frequently used in flowerbeds or hanging pots. Begonias are easy to grow in fertile, well-drained soil, and their flowers and foliage are very attractive, especially when planted in large groups.

Begonias come in different species, growing from 8 inches to 2 feet tall. The most commonly grown species is the wax begonia, which is known for its durability and can thrive in both cool and hot temperatures. Wax begonias have heart-shaped leaves and flowers in white, pink, or red. Tuberous begonias, which grow to be 12 to 18 inches tall, are planted in early March and September to add color to the end of summer. They need more shade and watering than wax begonias. Other species of begonias include low-maintenance hybrids and hardy begonia. The Capitola Begonia Festival in California celebrates the beauty of begonias annually.

Cosmos are perfect for beginner gardeners. They germinate fast, grow quickly, and can tolerate frost and hot sun. They can grow to be 2 to 7 feet tall and are usually placed at the back of garden arrangements. There are two predominant species of cosmos in the U.S. South, yellow and pink cosmos. Yellow cosmos grow to be 2 to 4 feet tall with flowers in red, orange, or yellow. They only take a few weeks to germinate and require little maintenance once bloomed. Using fertilizer on yellow cosmos will produce a much leafier, taller plant. Overwatering and providing too much shade will make them frail and inconsistent in blooming.

Pink cosmos are a type of flower that have similar growing habits to yellow cosmos. They are particularly popular in sandy soils near the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Coast. Pink cosmos come in a range of heights depending on the species and growing conditions, from 1 to 7 feet tall, with flowers that can be white, pink, rose, or red. While they thrive in similar climates and soils to yellow cosmos, pink cosmos are generally not as hardy and may require stakes to keep their stems upright. They are often used in meadow-like gardens due to their reputation for attracting butterflies. Both pink and yellow cosmos are native to Mexico and the U.S. Southwest, where they grow well in dry, hot climates with nutrient-deficient soil.

Marigolds are a popular choice for gardeners because they are easy to care for and have a long blooming period. They can grow in most North American climates and come in a variety of sizes and colors, from 8 to 40 inches tall with flowers in shades of yellow, gold, orange, and red. Most marigolds used in American gardening today are hybrids, with African and French being the two predominant natural species. American marigolds have large, ruffled flowers that can reach 3 feet tall and have an unpleasant scent, while French marigolds are smaller and bushier with less dense flowers. Marigolds are easy to grow in the U.S. Southeast with sun and well-drained soil, and can be used as borders, container plantings, and cut flowers. They are also believed by some gardeners to help prevent harmful insects, although studies have shown mixed results.

Pansies are another popular annual in the South, coming in a wide variety of colors. They are easy to grow and can thrive in cooler temperatures, making them a good choice for fall and winter gardens. Pansies prefer well-drained soil with regular watering and fertilization. They can be used in borders, container plantings, or as ground cover. Pansies are susceptible to diseases like root rot and powdery mildew, so it’s important to monitor them closely and treat any issues promptly.

Pansies are small garden flowers that were once thought to be too delicate to survive in hot summer weather. However, they are now commonly used to add color to cooler seasons and can even grow through winter in warmer climates. Pansies come in a variety of species and hybrids with colors ranging from red, yellow, blue, and purple to pink, orange, white, and black. They should be planted in the fall to bloom in the spring, or in the shade if planted in the spring or end of summer to protect them from the sun. It’s important to plant them in a location with well-drained, acidic soil and plenty of morning sun. When planting in the fall, be sure to use fertilizer to bulk up the plants before winter, but refrain from using it in warmer weather. Petunias, another standard in American gardening, are durable flowers that bloom from early spring to late fall in full sunlight. They range in height and flower size, with extensive hybridizing allowing for almost any color and pattern variation. Grandiflora petunias have large, ruffled double-flowered blossoms that require more attention to maintain, while multiflora petunias are more resilient with smaller flowers and resistance to petal blight.

Plant your petunias in the spring by germinating them indoors towards the end of winter. After the last frost has passed, transplant them to their outdoor location. The plants are strong enough to survive the transplant. To ensure symmetrical branching and ground cover, pinch off the top of the plant after the transplant and space them 12 to 18 inches apart. For more information, refer to the related articles and sources listed below.


1. What are annuals?

Annuals are plants that complete their life cycle in one growing season. They germinate, grow, flower, produce seeds, and die within a year. Gardeners often use annuals for their vibrant and showy flowers, which can add color and texture to any garden.

2. What is the South?

The South refers to the southeastern region of the United States, including states such as Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. This region has a warm climate, with hot summers and mild winters, making it an ideal location for growing a variety of plants, including annuals.

3. What are the top 5 annuals for the South?

The top 5 annuals for the South are:

  • Zinnias: These colorful flowers come in a variety of sizes and colors and are easy to grow. They bloom from spring until frost and are perfect for attracting pollinators to your garden.
  • Marigolds: Marigolds are known for their bright yellow and orange flowers that bloom all summer long. They are easy to care for and can even help repel pests from your garden.
  • Impatiens: These shade-loving flowers come in a variety of bright colors and can bloom from spring until fall. They are perfect for adding color to shady areas of your garden.
  • Petunias: Petunias are another popular choice for their bright colors and long bloom time. They are easy to grow and can be grown in containers or in the ground.
  • Cosmos: These daisy-like flowers come in shades of pink, white, and red and bloom from summer until fall. They are easy to grow and can even self-seed for years of beautiful blooms.

4. Are annuals easy to grow?

Yes, annuals are generally easy to grow and require minimal care. They are perfect for beginner gardeners or anyone who wants to add some color to their garden without a lot of effort.

5. Do annuals need a lot of water?

Most annuals need regular watering to thrive, especially during hot and dry weather. However, it is important not to overwater them, as this can lead to root rot and other problems.

6. Can annuals be grown in containers?

Yes, many annuals can be grown in containers and are a great way to add color to patios, balconies, and other small spaces. Just make sure to choose a container that is large enough for the plant and has drainage holes.

7. Do annuals need fertilizer?

Most annuals benefit from regular fertilization to promote healthy growth and blooming. A balanced fertilizer can be applied every few weeks during the growing season.

8. Can annuals be grown in full sun?

Yes, many annuals thrive in full sun and require at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. However, some annuals, such as impatiens, prefer partial shade and should be grown in a location that gets morning sun and afternoon shade.

9. Do annuals need to be deadheaded?

Deadheading, or removing spent flowers, can encourage annuals to produce more blooms and extend their blooming period. However, not all annuals require deadheading, and some, such as cosmos, can even self-seed without it.

10. Can annuals be grown from seed?

Yes, many annuals can be grown from seed, which is an easy and affordable way to add color to your garden. Just make sure to follow the instructions on the seed packet and start the seeds indoors or outdoors at the appropriate time.

11. Do annuals attract pollinators?

Yes, many annuals are great for attracting pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds to your garden. This not only adds beauty to your garden but also helps support the local ecosystem.

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