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Gardeners across the First State look forward to the spring and summer seasons every year. For most, these seasons of life and rebirth bring the annual peak of their outdoor gardens. The fun doesn’t have to stop when the leaves turn, though. For Christopher Sylvester, owner of Spectrum Farms, a specialty cut flower farm outside of Felton, the fall season means planting hardy annuals, or “cool flowers.”
Here, Sylvester offers insight and expert advice on hardy annuals—what they are and which ones you can plant in your Delaware garden.
Fall at the Farm
When fall approaches, there are a lot of flowers that continue to thrive through the changing of the seasons and as the cooler weather sets in. Although, when we think fall and flowers, perhaps our minds put our current gardens and blooming flowers to the side and jump ahead to thoughts of mums and pumpkins and their festive uses in decorating the steps to our front doors.
For some, thoughts of autumn and flowers might run past the falling leaves, through the cold of winter and to new blooms in early spring. Some may say, of course, we plant out our fall bulbs each year before the ground freezes. But that’s not what we are referencing here. Have you heard of “cool flowers?”
At Spectrum Farms, when Sylvester and team think of fall flowers, they don’t just think of the fading summer blooms and the thriving dahlias, but they also consider those hardy annuals that will need to be planted out around six weeks before the first frost for the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone (Delaware is in Zone 7).
What Is a Hardy Annual?
A hardy annual, similar to all annuals, is a plant that typically only produces flowers for one year. Although, the unique thing about a “hardy annual” versus typical annuals is that it will tolerate and even thrive in colder temperatures; in other words, it’s hardy enough to survive freezing winter temperatures. (Yes, that also means surviving being buried in snow.) For those interested in more information, Lisa Mason Ziegler talks all about hardy annuals and promotes giving them a try yourself in her book, Cool Flowers.
Which Hardy Annuals Can I Plant in My Garden?
Some of Sylvester’s favorites that are not only great for Spectrum to grow as a cut flower farm but that could also be fun for home gardens include bachelor buttons, Ammi, Canterbury bells, False Queen Anne’s Lace, feverfew, bee balm, pincushion flower, snapdragons, calendula, sweet pea, Sweet William, and yarrow. All the above plants are winter hardy to zone 7 or lower, meaning colder average temperatures. If you think you may be interested in enjoying some of these flowers in the springtime, you’ll want to either start seeds in trays to plant out your starts this fall or, for some of the flowers, you can direct sow the seeds. These hardy annuals will set their roots and become established during the cooler fall temperatures, allowing them to become strong enough to survive the cold winter and then flourish once the temperatures start to rise again in early spring.
If you’re intrigued enough to want to give planting hardy annuals a shot this fall, resources like thegardenersworkshop.com includes a seed category at the online store for cool-season hardy annuals to make selection easy. And if you miss planting these hardy annuals in the fall, don’t fret; they are also the perfect plants to get a jump start on the growing season with by planting them out in early spring as well. Happy growing!