Skip to main content

These cool-season annuals would be a great addition to your garden

Brighten up your garden with these cool-season annual flowers

There’s no better way to liven up a landscape than with a colorful display of flowers. They brighten the mood, draw attention toward (or away from) critical parts of the yard, and attract hummingbirds and other pollinators. There is a wide variety of colors, sizes, and shapes, so no matter what your preferences are, there are plenty of flowers to choose from. Whether they live in hanging baskets, garden beds, or container gardens, flowers make a statement. Want to add cool-season annuals to your garden? Here’s what you need to know!

Centaurea cyanus flowers close-up
Image used with permission by copyright holder

What are annual flowers?

Garden flowers fall into one of three categories: annuals, biennials, or perennials. Perennials come back year after year. Biennials grow to maturity in their first year, then produce flowers and seed in the second season before they die. Annual flowers complete their entire life cycle in a single growing season. Though they’re short lived, annuals offer the brightest, most diverse, and longest-lasting color.

Making the most of their short lives, annuals have adapted to mature quickly and produce an abundance of flowers throughout the season. These are the flowers that gardeners prefer to plant in strategic pockets around the landscape for an extended display of color. Some grow well in summer heat, but others perform best in the mild days and cool nights of spring or fall.

A small garden planted with dianthus flowers in different shades of pink and white
sabza / Shutterstock

Why plant cool-season annuals?

Cool-season flowers grow and bloom when daytime temperatures are in the 50s and 60s Fahrenheit. They tolerate frosty weather, and some will even maintain their ornamental beauty below freezing. This list includes both flowers and accent plants that can be used for in-ground flower beds and container gardens. Cool-season annuals are what you plant for the “shoulder seasons” of spring and fall, when conditions are mild, yet heat-loving plants would suffer.

The idea of “cool season” gardening means different things, depending on where you live. Gardeners in the far north can use cool-season annuals as their main season landscape color. In the south, these hardy beauties brighten landscapes and patios from Halloween to Christmas and beyond, survive the mild winter, and rebloom in the early spring. Those in the broad temperate zone in between use cold-tolerant flowers to extend the growing season by planting them early or late in the year.

Calendula officinalis flowering in a garden
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The best cool-season annuals

These beautiful flowers are easy to grow and produce wave after wave of seasonal color.

Bachelor’s Buttons, Centaurea cyanus

Bachelor’s Buttons, also called Cornflower, plants grow 1 to 3 feet tall on upright stems with slender gray-green foliage. The papery, button-shaped, blue, white, or pink flower heads attract butterflies.

Pot Marigold, Calendula officinalis

Pot Marigolds, often simply called Calendula, have an upright habit and grow to about 30 inches. They have somewhat fuzzy foliage and smooth stems. The daisy-like ray flowers range in color from pale yellow to golden, orange, red, or purple. Edible calendula flowers are useful in salads and are popular for herbal remedies.

Lobelia, Lobelia erinus

Also known as Edging Lobelia, this low, trailing plant displays intensely colored flowers in a variety of colors, including white, yellow, pink, red, violet, purple, and blue. It makes a perfect addition to the front edge of flower beds, or let it spill over the edges of containers.

Violas and Pansies, Viola tricolor and V. x wittrockiana

These are arguably the hardiest and most colorful of all cool-season annuals. Violas, also known as Johnny Jump Ups, continue to produce their 1-inch blooms in masses, as long as they are not frozen solid. They suffer little or no damage from weeks of ice and snow cover, and resume their colorful display as soon as they thaw.

Pansies have larger flowers and bloom slightly less in the coldest part of winter. Both pansies and violas come in a full spectrum of solid and patterned bloom colors from white to (nearly) black, and every color in between.

Snapdragons, Antirrhinum majus

This old garden favorite produces conical spikes of clustered flowers in shades of yellow, pink, red, and orange. Standard varieties grow more than 36 inches tall, while dwarf cultivars stay below 16 inches. These bold, colorful flowers work well at the back border of flower beds or as container garden centerpieces. Enjoy a bloom cycle in fall, and then, after resting through winter, they’ll come back for a spring encore.

Sweet Alyssum, Lobularia maritima

Sweet Alyssum forms spreading mounds of delicately lance-shaped foliage, topped with tiny flowers. The plants grow to about 6 inches high and 12 inches wide. The white, pink, or lavender flowers are sweetly fragrant and often become so dense as to completely obscure the foliage. Sweet Alyssum is an excellent choice for mixed container gardens and border plantings.

Sweet Peas, Lathyrus odoratus

Sweet Peas is a trailing or bushy annual with very fragrant red, pink, blue, lavender, or white blossoms. This cottage garden favorite is most often seen trained to climb on garden trellises or fences, where it reaches heights of 6 to 8 feet.

Sweet William, Dianthus barbatus

Sweet Williams grow 12 to 24 inches tall, although dwarf cultivars are available that only reach 4 to 8 inches. They produce dense, flat-topped clusters of small flowers in shades of purple, red, pink, and white, along with multicolored and double-bloom cultivars. As a bonus, sweet Williams add a pleasantly sweet fragrance to the early spring garden.

Editors' Recommendations

Mark Wolfe
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Mark Wolfe is a freelance writer who specializes in garden, landscaping, and home improvement. After two decades in the…
Amazing tips for forget-me-nots care so they don’t take over your garden
Everything you need to know about growing forget-me-nots
A bumble bee on blue forget-me-not flowers

If you’re looking for a dainty, lovely flower to use as a ground cover in your garden, you can’t go wrong with forget-me-nots. Delicate in appearance but deceptively hardy, they make the perfect additions to cottage or woodland-style landscape designs. However, these sweet-looking flowers are native to Europe and invasive in the U.S., and they can quickly spread out of control.

If you want to grow these beautiful flowers without them taking over your garden, this is the guide for you. To keep your flower healthy and under control, this forget-me-nots care guide will break down everything you need to know.

Read more
9 low-maintenance outdoor potted plants your patio needs to be its brightest, most inviting self this summer
Add color to your patio with these low-maintenance potted plants
A patio with colorful potted plants surrounding a bench.

It's hard to resist the call of warm weather. Sitting outside on your patio with your friends or just a good book can be so relaxing, and adding your favorite flowers to the mix makes it even more so! Some bright colors and interesting plants could liven up this gathering spot, but what if your thumb isn't even remotely green? No problem. We've collected our 9 favorite low-maintenance outdoor potted plants for you to add to your patio. Whether you need sun-loving flowers, plants that prefer shade, or shrubs to fill the space, this guide to low-maintenance patio plants is sure to satisfy.

Have a patio that gets baked by the sun all day? Try these plants
Many of our favorite plants would wither up and die if exposed to the harsh sun all through the day. Here are some sun-loving beauties that thrive in full sun and are resistant to drought. 
Marigolds are one of the most popular flowering plants to place in pots on front porches or back decks. With their bright yellow and orange blooms, it's easy to see why! Not only are they gorgeous flowers, but they require almost effortless care. They prefer to dry out between waterings, and they love full sun. That means you can let them hang out in the sun and not worry about killing them if you miss a watering day.

Read more
Are you asking, ‘Why is my tomato plant wilting?’ Here’s how to be the hero in your garden
Properly water and inspect your tomatoes to prevent (or treat) wilting
Tomatoes on a tomato plant

Tomatoes are probably the most popular veggies grown at home. Even novice growers can grow these plants with little to no experience in growing anything. Even better, many of these beginners are successful because tomatoes are so easy to care for and grow in your own home. However, one of the most common questions about growing tomatoes is, "Why is my tomato plant wilting?" Well, it could be due to a few reasons. We'll take a look at them here and give you tips on how to get your tomato plants back into tip-top shape. 

Why do people grow tomato plants?
Let's first talk about why you want to grow tomato plants. Growing tomatoes at home has a lot of benefits. First, they're healthier than store-bought tomatoes, and they taste better, too! There's no denying that tomatoes grown at home have a richer flavor. Once you eat your own tomatoes, you'll likely find the store-bought ones flat and watery by comparison.

Read more