Thursday, May 30, 2013

Annual Perennials

Every annual is a perennial somewhere.  The trick is we don’t live in the ideal temperate climates needed for many of these tropical beauties. 

Some folks have them as houseplants, a few have greenhouses and most shun them like the idea of burning dollar bills for fireworks. 

I’m not very good at taking care of houseplants, my overwintering is certainly survival of the most stubborn and even if I had a greenhouse, I’d probably forget to shut the door one day in January. 

I’ve developed a new attitude about tropical plants and especially foliage.  If it costs the same as some other annuals such as geraniums and Boston ferns, then why not spend the same amount on these really dramatic and often huge foliage plants?

Some of my favorites are Angels Trumpet (and it does bloom gloriously), elephant ears, banana, canna, coleus, many grasses (especially loving King Tut and that cute little fiber optic), and there are some really large succulents.

If you’re determined to overwinter, pot them and use an appliance cart to wheel them indoors before frost. 

Large plants such as these really do make a dramatic statement in the garden.  An elephant ear along side a pond will get about four feet tall and look for all the world like you’ve entered the tropics. 

Annual grasses planted directly in the ground will double (or more) the size you typically see in pots.  They love the freedom and nutrients in the soil. 

These dramatic foliages (even those that have blooms) can fill in a gap caused by something that has died or a grouping that hasn’t matured. 

Even sweet potato vines planted directly into the soil will form a beautiful mat around your daylilies or other perennials. 

It’s an opportunity to introduce vibrant colors.  I have a beautiful banana plant in shades of deep burgundy on shiny emerald green.  The chartreuse sweet potato vine brightens a patch of ground and forms a beautiful background for bright pinks.

Here in the Midwest we seldom have perennials with large leaves.  Using these annuals allows for that contrast.

Large succulents can be pretty expensive especially if you consider throwing them away each winter.  If you’re planning a rock garden or other landscape where these would be especially stunning, consider planting them in clay pots and then sinking the pots in the ground.  In the fall, you simply lift and store.  If you’re not able or don’t desire to manhandle large pots, consider planting a fairy garden of annual succulents in a shallow bowl.

About the only gray/silver foliage plants must be annuals.  We normally see them only in pots, but I’ve had excellent results when used for borders, accents, and foundation plants.  Dusty Miller is the most common but there are many others – some creepy other worldly fun. 

Caster Bean plants are another huge and beautiful plant.  The only note on this one is the seeds are poisonous and must be removed or kept away from children and animals.

Begonias, Euphorbia and dahlias are beautiful flowering plants and folks normally don’t think about their foliage.  Both have beautiful leaves and some can get 3 – 4 foot tall.

I recommend planting different varieties of lettuce and other greens throughout your garden.  It looks great and always good to have a handful ready for a nice salad or BLT. 

And last, are the fall ornamental cabbages.  If you plant them in the spring, make sure to plant other annuals around them as they may loose some of the outside leaves.

We may not live in the tropics but we can certainly take advantage of these tropical beauties - for a season at least.

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