I got into experimenting with annuals out of necessity when I was trying to start native perennial wildflowers, which need that first year or more just to get established. Annuals gave me a good, temporary filler in my planted areas. Now that I have tried them and found how easy and colorful they are, I am always looking for opportunities to sandwich in a few annuals here and there. You can buy large quantities of seed for very reasonable prices, and annuals make a great addition to your native plantings. I thought it would be fun to share those species that I have tried and liked.
I am grouping my list into three categories : (1) species that are part of Tennessee’s native habitat; (2) species that are North American wildlflowers and native to surrounding states but not originally found in Tennessee; and (3) species that are found growing wild in Tennessee but are escapees from gardens and were originally native to Europe. This information helps if you are anxious to limit yourself to only naturally-occurring Tennessee wildflowers. (None of these plants are on any of the lists published by the Tennessee Exotic Pest Plant Council.)
Our TYN blog is a great place to exchange ideas and information, so I hope others will add their comments, thoughts and other plant species!
Tennessee Native Annuals
Indian Blanket or Firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella). This plant has red flowers with yellow rims. It likes heat (and tolerates drought), sandy soil and full sun, potentially blooming clear into October. It is listed as getting 1 to 1 1/2 ft. tall but mine are consistently more like 3-4 ft., which can tend to make them a little floppy. I have plants in clay soil, which they don’t seem to notice, and the species re-seeds very readily for me. It occurs in 4 counties in Tennessee, mainly in Middle Tennessee and in eastern Tennessee’s Ridge and Valley Province.
Lemon Mint or Purple Horse Mint. It is a typical member of the Mint family with square-shaped stems, and flowers are deep purple to lavender. It gets 2-3 ft. tall, isn’t fussy about soil type and likes full to part sun. It blooms for most of the summer. Hummingbirds, butterflies and bees love it. It is my favorite plant out of all the annuals I have tried. I planted it on a fairly steep slope of clay soil and had great luck with it. Even though it is easy to start from seed scattered on bare ground, my only disappointment is that it hasn’t re-seeded for me at all. It occurs in isolated counties in Middle and East Tennessee.
Plains Coreopsis or Calliopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria). This plant has striking yellow flowers with maroon centers and gets 1-3 ft. tall. It prefers full sun and isn’t picky about soil type. It likes damper soil so it is good for areas with poor drainage or that tend to stay soggy for periods of time. I have only tried a variety of this plant called Dwarf Red Plains Coreopsis (with the same scientific name). It has very striking, solid mahogany-red flowers and blooms from mid- to late summer. I had good luck getting it to come up and bloom, but then it disappeared, probably because my soil didn’t stay wet enough. However, it was still worth having, just for that solid deep, red color. The species is native to Tennessee and occurs statewide. The dwarf variety appears to be originally native to mid-western U.S. and has escaped from cultivation in the eastern U.S.
North American Annual Wildflowers
Clasping Coneflower (Dracopis amplexicaulis or Rudbeckia amplexicaulis). This rudbeckia has black, cone-shaped heads surrounded by bright yellow drooping flowers. It takes full sun and isn’t picky about soil. It gets 2 feet tall and potentially blooms from early summer to September. Seed has a high germination rate, and it is a very heavy re-seeder. I have to add that I won’t be planting my new seed until next spring, but I put it on the list because of all the good things that I have read about it. It is native to the mid-western and southern states, including our neighboring states of Missouri, Arkansas, Alabama, and Georgia. Also Tennessee DOT sometimes adds this species to their native seed mixes that they plant along Tennessee roadsides.
Escaped Annual Wildflowers
Red Corn Poppy or Flanders Poppy (Papaver rhoeas). This bright red poppy is technically a native of Europe and has become naturalized throughout the United States. It has fire engine red flowers, and you can easily spot it from 30 or 40 yards away. It needs full to part sun and blooms spring to early summer. It is a regular sight along Tennessee’s Interstate System. For all the seeds I have put down, I have gotten mighty few plants. I read that good germination only occurs in areas of bare ground which may be part of my problem. However, even one or two successes are enough reward to keep me trying, at least for a while. (A knowledgeable friend of mine who proofed this post for me tells me that I will get better results if I scatter seed in fall instead of spring.)
Scarlet Sage (Salvia coccinea). This plant has fluorescent red tubular flowers and can get up to 3 feet tall. It likes full to part sun and sandy to gravelly soil. It potentially blooms from early summer to the first frost and is a hummingbird magnet. Even though it is found growing wild in the southern U.S., it was originally introduced from Brazil. Although I usually try to stick with Tennessee natives, I find this plant hard to resist. It is so striking and brings in the hummingbirds and butterflies that I love. I buy seed by the ounce and scatter it widely. Although most seeds don’t come up on my clay soil, I get enough plants to make it worthwhile and even a little re-seeding. However, I do find that my plants don’t start blooming until late summer or early fall.
You can find suppliers for bulk seeds of all these species, usually somewhere between $4.50 and $9 per ounce. My favorite sources are Wildseed Farms in Fredericksburg, Texas, Everwilde Nursery in Sand Creek, Wisconsin and Easywildflowers.com in Willow Springs, Missouri.
If you have other plant species you have tried or other favorite seed sources, please be sure to post them. Also be sure to post any techniques you have tried that improve plant growth and performance.
When selecting a new plant species to grow in your yard, please do keep an eye out for plants that have been labeled “invasive.” Sometimes catalogs of annual wildlfowers list species that are considered invasive but make no mention of any such problem. If you have doubts, check out the species first with either the USDA Plants Database (my favorite resource!) or the website of the Tennessee Exotic Pest Plant Council.