The Top 10 Annuals That Thrive in New England

It’s never too early to start making some landscaping plans. While it’s hard to imagine anything but white in our snow-covered backyards, they can be bursting with life and color in just a few months. 

Before you devour that seed catalog or check out our garden center, we’d love to share our pick for the top ten annuals that do well in our little corner of the world. Ready, set, bloom!

Top Ten Year Round Plants for a New England Climate

Many of these annuals do best with full—or at least part—sun, but they have been chosen because they’re easy to maintain and will tolerate the heat of summer. Some may require some “dead-heading” around mid-summer, so we’ll elaborate on that in the annual growing tips below. 

1. Dahlia 

In the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s 2015 field trials [1], dahlia—specifically ‘Mystic Illusion’—was a top performer. It’s got stunning black foliage and yellow flowers, and with a long growing season, they’re sure to put a smile on your face—and keep it there.

Dahlias are a true show-stopper, and they come in several different colors, including purple, pink, white, yellow, and orange. With at least 42 different varieties (excluding hybrids), you should have no trouble finding the color, size, and height that’s perfect for your gardening plans. 

While it’s not on this list, dahlias also pair well with another popular annual—verbena [2].  

2. Angeloni

Angelonia is a sun-loving annual that’s perfect for containers. It’s a dainty plant, with lavender, purple, pink, or white flowers.

A common choice for gardeners, angelonias are vigorous and have a long period of flowering. Speaking of flowers, they have blooms that look very similar to another favorite annual—snapdragons. Although, unlike snapdragons, angelonia plants can tolerate super hot conditions [3].

That isn’t to say that the semi-tropical plant requires warm climates. It can do well in colder zones where it’s grown as an annual, too. While it does need full sun, it doesn’t require a lot of maintenance, making it a carefree, pest-resistant, and versatile choice for containers, beds, or borders.

3. Lantana

Speaking of carefree, here’s another easy-to-grow annual (in zones 1-8, anyway): lantana. 

If you want a semi-permanent splash of color all summer long, lantana is an excellent choice. The cheery clusters of pink, purple, lavender, white, yellow, red, orange, and peach flowers look great in any landscape—and they have an intoxicating sage-like scent, too [4]!

While they offer an attractive look and smell, lantana is toxic and may cause skin irritation—or worse, if any part of the plant is ingested. That said, they should be planted in an area away from children and pets. 

If you want help learning how to grow some of these annuals please check out our gardening guide!

4. Floss Flower

Floss flower, also known as blue billygoatweed, bluemink, or Mexican ageratum, is a herbaceous annual that’s frost-tender and forms clumping mounds.

The pink, white, and blue aster-like flowers show from May through October (spring to frost). They’re a common addition to many landscapes because they’re easy to maintain, moderately drought tolerant, and pest/disease free (it’s likely that even deer and rabbits will stay away) [5].

Plus, they make great cut flowers! 

5. Mexican Heather

Technically a broadleaf evergreen subshrub, Mexican Heather can grow like a perennial in some areas (zones 7 and 8, predominantly), but in South Shore Massachusetts’ hardiness zone of 6b, it’s more likely to be grown as an annual. 

While it may appear to look delicate and dainty, there’s actually much more than meets the eye with this small shrub. It makes for a tough evergreen groundcover, and is well suited to container growing. 

The bold leaves are contrasted by fine-textured and bright purple flowers, making it an annual to truly capture your eye. It’s easy to grow, practically problem-free, and a perfect annual to incorporate into any landscape [6].

6. Zinnia

For generations, zinnias have been a favorite for gardeners around the country. They’re versatile, with common uses in group plantings or bedding, and they’re downright beautiful.  

Even a novice gardener can enjoy a bed filled with zinnias. They’re simple to grow and can either be transplanted or directly sown, although they do need full sun and well-drained soil

Then there’s the varieties to mention! Nearly every color and pattern under the sun can be found in zinnias. Speckled, solid, striped, you name it—there’s a zinnia out there that would look great in your garden. 

7. Petunia

In 2015, petunia, specifically ‘Tidal Wave Red Velour,’ was top-rated by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society [7]. It’s a vigorous and gorgeously florific plant that shares its beauty during the entire season. 

Petunias as a whole are a popular flowering annual because they’re easy to grow, have a bright and lively appearance, and fill the summer air with a beautiful fragrance. 

Some petunias, like grandiflora, are known for their large flowers, while multiflora and milliflora have smaller plant sizes and flowers. 

For large landscapes, you may even consider a “wave” petunia, or another variety that’s known to spread, as these can grow quickly and fill large spaces with beautiful blooms. 

That being said, however, petunias are also suitable for container growing, particularly multiflora and those that are known for their trailing, like supertunia. 

With a range of unique colors—including dark-as-night black and polka dots—you’re sure to find a variety of petunia that’s perfect for you and your outdoor space [8]. 

8. Snapdragon

Did you know that 2019 was the Year of the Snapdragon? 

According to the National Garden Bureau, the childhood favorite, snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus)—which smells great, looks great, is versatile, and attracts pollinators—should be in every garden [9].

For many, this unique annual brings back memories of youth as there’s no plant that’s more interesting and exciting. 

Like some of these other plants, snapdragons are technically a perennial (and can be grown as such in zones 7-10), but they tend to be grown as an annual in most American gardens.  

They’re available in a range of sizes, suitable for a variety of uses. These include dwarf series, medium series, and tall series varieties. There’s also a relatively new snaptastic snapdragon that retains the look of traditional snapdragons, but requires less maintenance. 

For some top, award-winning variety recommendations: check out Twinny Peach, Royal Rose, and Madam Butterfly.

9. Sweet Potato Vine

Here’s another plant that can serve as a perennial (primarily in zone 11), but is commonly grown as an annual. Also known as “wild sweet potato morning-glory,” the plant is native to North America and has been introduced to Massachusetts.

Like its edible cousin, sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas or Ipomoea pandurata) is an ornamental vine with attractive leaves and foliage that will make you feel like you’re in the tropics. It’s a vigorous plant (often reaching lengths of up to ten feet!) and can either be used on a trellis or as a ground cover. 

There are several different varieties available, all in a range of attractive colors. Although uncommon, some older varieties have pink or lavender flowers, too. While the tuber can be eaten, it has a relatively acrid and unenjoyable flavor [10]. 

10. Nasturtium

Nasturtium is a great annual to incorporate into your landscape. Not only is it a breeze to grow, but it can also be planted to support other flowers and plants (particularly those in your veggie garden).

In fact, nasturtium is commonly eaten as a salad green (with additional uses in natural medicine). But this shouldn’t make you think that it won’t look stunning for ornamental use in a garden. 

With many varieties, there’s a nasturtium for any garden purpose: edges, borders, trailing walls or containers, and climbers. The plants have bright green leaves and brightly colored blossoms (typically yellow, orange, pink, mahogany, red, or cream).

After the seeds are directly sown in warm soil, they’ll do their own thing and, aside from weekly watering, won’t require too much by way of maintenance. They are, however, prone to aphids—which make them a useful plant to deter the pests away from your veggies. 

Annual Growing Tips

  • Carefully choose the plant: Unless you plan to direct sow, there’s one main consideration to make when looking for the perfect plant at a nursery. 

You’ll want to find a healthy-looking plant, but avoid those that have flowers. A plant that has already begun flowering may struggle to adapt to new conditions. 

  • Plant it quickly and carefully: Once you return home with your new annuals, try to make the transplant process as stress-free as possible. 

By this, we mean that you should try to get your new plants in the ground as soon as possible. Don’t let them outgrow their containers and don’t expose them to conditions that they’re not established enough to handle—too much or too little sun, for instance. 

Water the plants immediately after planting them in their new home, and give them some time to get adjusted. 

  • Regularly water: Because annuals don’t have the time to develop deep root systems, they’ll need some additional support when it comes to staying hydrated. 

As a general rule of thumb, feel about an inch below the surface. If dry, give your plants some water. In the heat of mid-summer, this might mean watering some plants at least once a day. A deep soak in the morning is recommended, so that your plants can handle the scorching afternoon sun. 

While some drought-tolerant annuals can withstand dry periods, it’s still important to provide them with adequate water—especially while they’re young. 

Additionally, while water is essential, too much of a good thing can be bad. Don’t let your annuals sit in wet soil, as it can lead to root rot. 

  • Provide nutritional support: Those beautiful blooms require a lot of energy, so your annuals are likely to require some nutritional support. 

It’s best to plant your new annuals in soil that has a good composition of organic matter.

Then, after they’re established, consider a three to six week feeding schedule with a water-soluble fertilizer.  

  • Practice “dead-heading:” We like grooming, and so do our annuals. Dead-heading is just what it sounds like: removing unhealthy or dead flowers and preventing seed pods from forming.

Dead-heading is especially important for petunias and snapdragons, and some other annuals like pansies, geraniums, marigolds, and zinnias. If you end up opting for a hybrid annual, you’ll likely notice that the dead-heading happens naturally as they’ve been developed to be self-cleaning. 

Final Thoughts on Top Ten Annuals

There are hundreds of popular annuals that end up in U.S. gardens every year—and they come in an endless variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. We’re confident that you’ll find a perfect arrangement for your outdoor space, but if the options overwhelm you, we’re more than happy to help. 

Just get in touch if you need landscaping advice, or want a hand in creating the garden of your dreams. 












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