As conservation of water is important in this drought, annuals are not a priority when choosing what to water and what not to water. Many are trying to use as little water as possible, and choose to keep only the more significant trees, shrubbery and perennials alive until winter. The lawn and annuals are usually the first to succumb, mainly because they use more water than anything else.
They are also somewhat expendable. The lawn is certainly expensive, but realistically, can be replaced as soon as water becomes available. Although it is hoped that new lawns will be more conservative, like they should have been since the last drought and the one before that. Annuals are planted each year, so 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 as they don’t consume as much water.
Some of the trendiest big pots are so ornate that they do not need flowers to provide color. Besides, with a few striking perennials for form or colorful foliage, there is not much space left for annuals. What matters is that fewer annuals in a pot can be more flashy than more of those in the ground. Fewer annuals require less water.
Elevated planters may not be as ornate, but display flashy annuals 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. All of it helps to get a bit more out of less.
Pots and planters are not necessarily less work. They only need less water than larger beds because they take up less space. However, relative to their area, they actually need more, and must be watered regularly to sustain the confined roots. Hanging pots need the most water. All confined plants benefit from the light application of fertilizer — take note that toxicity from excessive fertilizer is concentrated in containers.
Although it may be a bit of an exaggeration, Million bells, or Calibrachoa, certainly are profuse. However, although potentially perennial, the flower is usually grown as a warm season annual, so only has a few months from spring to autumn in which to bloom with a million flowers.
The tiny flowers resemble petunias more than bells. The entire plant grows something like very compact petunias, which they are closely related to. The stems are too limber to stand half a foot tall, so they spread to about a foot wide. The small and unremarkably hazy green leaves are an 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 petunias, it does not benefit from deadheading, which is the removal of deteriorating flowers.
Horticulturist, arborist and garden columnist, Tony Tomeo assesses the horticultural correctness of landscapes, and inspects trees of environmental prominence from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Send your comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.