Annual plants are a quick and easy way to fill your garden with color, and planting annuals allows you to switch up your garden design every year. In the spring, nurseries and garden centers are filled with a dizzying array of annual plants, and it can be tough to make a decision. For best results, choose healthy annuals that are well suited for your garden site.
Draw up a rough garden design. You don't have to decide what species of plants you want to grow just yet, but instead sketch and measure garden bed boundaries, and think about what you would like to accomplish with your garden. Do you want a succession of flowers blooming throughout the season, or do you want just one or two flowers that will bloom all summer long? Do you want a color coordinated garden, such as an all-pink flower bed, or a red, white and blue bed, or do you want a rainbow of colors? Are you looking for tall plants to delineate a border, or short plants for ground cover? Do you want scented flowers, pretty foliage, medicinal herbs or edible vegetables—or some combination? Answering these questions will help narrow your choices before you head out to the nursery or start flipping through the seed catalog.
Take note of the light and soil conditions in your intended garden bed. Some plants don't mind having wet feet, while others need well-drained soil. Some annual plants like long days with bright sun, while others like a mix of sun and shade and some do just fine in full shade.
Consider growing your own annuals from seed. Seeds require a bit more work, but they can save you a lot of money if you're planning to fill a big garden with annual flowers or other plants. You can start seeds indoors in late winter or early spring to get a jump start on the growing season, or you can sow the seeds directly into the soil after the danger of frost has passed.
Examine the annual plants at your local nursery or garden center. Look for plants with robust leaves and firm stems; avoid wilted or drooping plants. Some annual plants naturally have red, brown or yellow foliage, but the leaves should still be succulent and pliable. Gently lift the plant out of its pot to examine the roots, and avoid plants that are root bound, where the roots are densely clumped around the perimeter of the pot. For flowering annuals, choose plants that have buds, not fully opened flowers, since plants that are actively flowering may weaken or die when they are transplanted. Do not buy plants with chewed, damaged or discolored leaves, as this might be the result of an insect infestation.