Flowers are easy way to play with color

Flowering annuals bring dramatic color and variety to any landscape. Vibrant pinks of petunias, shimmering reds of zinnias and glowing yellow marigolds stand out over any other flowering plants with little cost. Here are some favorites:

Petunia: It encapsulates “gardening annual”: Dependability, versatility and variety makes it the most popular annual in America. Divided into two groups, grandifloras produce large blossoms while multifloras generate smaller but more flowers. Both produce single or double flowers.

Petunia breeders have created an astounding array of sizes, forms and colors in every hue with petals frilled, fluffy, fluted or straight and simple. Plant them on the southeast side of your home so they receive afternoon shade. Plants become leggy when it heats up.

Marigold: Brilliant color is its hallmark coming in all shapes and sizes. The French marigold, a compact, bushy plant bears masses of flowers while the American marigold gets knee high, so use them in the rear of a flower bed.

Breeders crossed the American and French marigolds and ended up with a sterile triploid or mule marigold. These mules bloom and fading flowers naturally disappear.

Spider mites seem to like marigolds. They suck sap out of the foliage and blooms. Washing down your plants with a strong jet of water helps to control them.

Zinnia: This plant takes our heat. Breeders have improved this plant. It produces an abundance of blooms in a wide range of festive colors. Its long-lasting blossoms make ideal cuttings.

Ageratum: It’s a treasure chest of rare shades of blue: sky blue, steel blue, reddish-tinged blue and lavender. Hybridizers have tamed its open, leggy stems. The popular dwarfed plants smother themselves with woolly, puff-balled flowers making them excellent border plants or adding brilliant splashes of color to your landscape. Its blue flowers seem to cool of the yard on hot summer nights.

Vinca or periwinkle: A real favorite for our desert gardens. Glossy, deep green leaves with fresh blooms remain striking during high temperatures. Flowers are self-cleaning so you don’t have to remove them. Pink “eyes” in the center of each flower seem to peer back as you gaze into these delicate flowers.

Verbena: This is the workhorse for our desert conditions. It blooms until frost hits the valley. With our mild fall, it bloomed through the holidays. It too cleans itself as old blooms fade. It reseeds itself and roots down where stems touch moist ground so you can get by without planting it each spring. Its trailing habits make it a must for containers and hanging baskets.

Sunflower: It’s great fun for kids and, of course, the birds love them. Sunflowers come in a range of colors, from white and orange to claret-red, bronze and bicolors. The large seeds make them easy to plant. There are varieties from 2 to 6 feet tall and they love our heat and droughty conditions. Cover the seed heads with mesh as they ripen to keep the birds out.

Cosmos: It belongs in every garden giving you color up above other flowers in the garden. Sow seeds in full sun in rows, in groups or scattered among other plants and even in containers.

Morning glory: The twining stems of morning glories cover arbors, fences with masses of heart-shaped leaves and beautiful flowers. It comes in a range of colors: blue, such as classic “Heavenly Blue,” red, pink and lavender.

For large, pure white, fragrant blooms, try its relative, moonflower; as the name suggest, it blooms at dusk. Sow these plants so they can climb trellises. It’s excellent for covering cyclone or wooden fences.

When selecting annuals, avoid the “Joseph’s Coat” approach. Too many colors becomes a distraction. Select one or two colors and build your display around them. No matter how great a gardener you are, flowers will die so purchase a few extras. Replant them immediately so you feel successful.

Colors influence how people feel when visiting your landscape. Warm colors (yellow, orange and pink) grab your attention and warm you up. Cool colors (blues, greens and purples) suggest relaxation and a sense of spaciousness, making small yards appear larger. White, gray, silver and cream flowers have a sparkle of richness.

Linn Mills writes a garden column each Sunday. You can reach him at or call him at 526-1495.