Southern Arizona is a wonderful place to live for many reasons. Along with not shoveling snow, bright colorful flowers filling the yard all year long are tops on my list.
Year-round color can come from landscape plants, but it can also come from annuals (plants that complete their life cycle within one year or less). Arranged in large clay pots, hanging baskets, or planted in the ground, annuals create cheerful splashes of color to help us enjoy winter in Tucson.
Colorful annual flowers for our cool season include many of the best-sellers from “back east.” Almost an entire alphabet of cool-loving annuals can be planted right now for your viewing pleasure through the winter months. Alyssum, bells of Ireland, bachelor’s button, blue sage, butterfly flower (schizanthus), calendula, corn flower, dianthus, diascia, dusty miller, echinacea, eustoma, foxglove, gaillardia, godetia, heliotrope, Johnny-jump-up, linaria, lobelia, nasturtium, nigella, ornamental cabbage, ornamental kale, pansy, pinks, rudbeckia, snapdragon, soapwort, stock, sweet pea, toadflax, trailing nasturtium and violet. These plants can be found in most local nurseries. Annuals not on this list, like petunias, often die in our colder months.
All of these annuals will grow well in containers on the patio. Any general potting soil will do to plant them in, as long as it has some sand or perlite in it to promote proper drainage. Fill the container almost to the rim with potting soil, leaving some space for watering. If you want to cover the hole at the bottom of the pot, a piece of window screen is best.
When planning larger containers, there are a few design elements to bear in mind. The adage is “thriller, filler and spiller.” Place a thrilling accent plant in the center, one of the tall annuals like bells of Ireland. Fill in around the base with something fluffy and fun, like pansies. Add something to spill over the side, like alyssum or trailing nasturtium.
Flowers of the same color usually look well together. So do colors next to each other on the color wheel, such as reds, yellows and oranges, or reds with purples and blues. Colors opposite one another on the color wheel, like orange and purple, tend to be jarring.
Have fun with your planters — experiment! Before final planting, move the seedlings around the containers until you find an attractive combination. Be generous with the number of plants you place in your pots. These are for your enjoyment and a full look is more enjoyable than a sparse one.
Think of these easy-to-grow annuals as a long-lasting bouquet with roots! Plant them in fresh potting soil, give them enough sunlight, water them regularly and protect from frost. These obliging annuals will reward your efforts with cool color from now into the hotter days of April.
Jacqueline Soule’s latest book, “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening” (Cool Springs Press, $22.99), is available online and in area nurseries and botanical gardens. For timely growing tips for your yard, visit www.tidbitts.com and search for “Soule.”