UNITED STATES—With conservation of water being so important right now, annuals are not a priority. Many of us are trying to use as little water as possible, and only to keep the more significant trees, shrubbery and perennials alive until winter. Lawn and annuals are usually the first to succumb, mainly because they use more water than anything else.
They are also somewhat expendable. Lawn is certainly expensive, but realistically, can be replaced as soon as water becomes available. Hopefully, new lawns will be more conservative with water, like they should have been since the last “drought” (and the one before that). Annuals are planted annually (duh), so they get replaced anyway.
Annuals as bedding plants over large areas were already somewhat passé before the last few dry winters. Even the more indulgent landscapes used annuals merely as relatively modest borders around or in front of more substantial, but less consumptive, perennials and shrubbery. Pots and planters are already more appropriate.
Some of the trendiest big pots are so ornate that they do not need flowers to provide more color. Besides, with a few striking perennials for colorful foliage or form, there is not much space left for annuals. What matters with annuals is that fewer in a pot can be flashier than more in the ground. Fewer annuals mean less water is required.
Elevated planters may not be as ornate, but display flashy annuals just as effectively. Petunia, million bells, lobelia and alyssum can cascade over the edges, to be colorful both on top and on the sides. Marigold, zinnia, celosia and any interesting foliar or sculptural perennials get a bit more height. It all helps to get a bit more out of less.
Pots and planters are not necessarily less work. They just need less water than larger beds, because they are smaller. Relative to their area, they actually need more water, and must be watered very regularly to sustain the confined roots within. Hanging pots need the most water. All confined plants benefit from fertilizer.
Highlight: Million Bells
Its name may be something of an exaggeration, but million bells, or Calibrachoa, certainly is profuse. However, although it is potentially perennial, it is usually grown as a warm season annual, so it only has a few months from spring to autumn in which to bloom with a million flowers. Many plants combined might be up to the task.
The tiny flowers resemble petunias more than bells. Actually, the entire plant grows something like very compact petunias, which they are obviously closely related to. The stems are too limber to stand half a foot tall as they spread to about a foot wide. The small and unremarkably hazy green leaves are adequate backdrop for bloom.
The bloom is the remarkable part, displaying all sorts of shades and hues of red, yellow, blue, purple, orange, pink and white. There are not many colors left out. Just like petunia, million bells cascades nicely from pots. Unlike petunia, it does not benefit from deadheading (removal of deteriorating flowers). What is good for petunia is generally good for million bells, although a slight bit of shade is somewhat more tolerable. They want rich soil, regular watering and regular application of fertilizer. (Monthly application of common slow release fertilizer is probably as good as anything fancy.)