Nicotiana (15016 bytes)  

Happy Annuals for a Dry Climate

By Connie Rayor, Colorado Master GardenerSM, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Denver County

All through last summer, hot and dry as it was, certain annual flowers brightened gardens from late May until the frost and snow of October. With little or no supplemental water, nasturtium, flowering tobacco, California poppy, spider flower, and moss rose bloomed from early summer till the frost and snow of mid-October.

  Nasturtiums (8804 bytes)  

Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) thrives in infertile, dry clay soil, blooming profusely in part-shade or morning sun. ‘Alaska’ with its round, variegated green and white leaves is a particularly dependable variety. Yellow, orange, red, and mahogany flowers rise above clumps of trailing leaves. A bonus: Flowers and leaves are edible. The six to twelve-inch high plants are showy in masses or tucked around perennials, grasses, or shrubs. Plant seeds in early to mid-May.

  Tall flowering tobacco; nicotiana (10438 bytes) 

Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana) does best in part-shade, but tolerates sunnier or shadier areas. Tall nicotiana cultivars stand out for their lovely fragrance when the tubular white flowers open in the morning, at dusk, and on cloudy days. The leaves are huge, pale-green, and slightly fuzzy. It looks tropical in clumps or makes a lovely backdrop for a perennial bed. The compact, shorter nicotiana cultivars (top of page) are not as fragrant, but the pink, lavender or white flowers stay open all day—perfect for borders. Expect bloom through early frost. Plants are readily available at garden centers. Nicotiana readily self-sows; be prepared to thin volunteers when they appear in early spring.

  California poppies (7569 bytes) 

California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is a trooper in hot, dry, sunny spots, but it can tolerate light shade. Feathery blue-green leaves set off the bright orange flowers, which bloom continuously from spring through early frost. A mass of the twelve-inch high plants looks spectacular with taller plants rising among them. Seeds may be lightly raked into the soil in early spring or buy small, not leggy, seedlings. California poppy is a profuse self-sower, but the new plants almost always remain close to the original planting.

  Spider Flower, cleome (17435 bytes) 

    Spider Flower (Cleome hasslerana) shows off airy, exotic-looking flowers atop tall, spiny, branching stems. The flowers’ unusual appearance is due to long, protruding pistil and stamens and whiskery developing seed heads. The plants do best in sun, but can tolerate part-shade. At four to five feet, Cleome is a good choice for back of the border, especially against a fence or wall. The "Queen" series, in violet, rose, and white, is readily available in garden centers. Expect some self-sowing.

  Portulaca, moss rose (11889 bytes) 

Moss Rose (Portulaca grandiflora), a ground-hugging succulent, is perfect for hot, dry, sunny slopes, rock gardens, and strips. The lustrous rose-like flowers are available in pink, peach, red, yellow, white, and more. A mass of one shade or a few related shades is more effective than a random mix. ‘Sun Dial’ and ‘Sundance’ series are easy to find, good selections. Self-sowing, may fill in the beds the following year.

Photos: Judy Sedbrook


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Date last revised: 01/05/2010