Offering almost endless variety and near-instant gratification, annuals are the heroes of the flower garden. Most are easy to grow from seed or seedlings, making them perfect for beginners. Select annuals suited for cutting so you can create arrangements all season. Because most annuals require regular deadheading to promote flowering, cutting flowers for arrangements also clears the way for the next flush of blooms.
Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus), cool-season annuals, have delighted generations with their unusual flowers that open and close when pinched. Start with transplants because snapdragons are slow to start from seed, and set them in full sun. "Cinderella" bears a mix of vibrant red, pink, and white flowers that last up to 2 weeks once cut.
Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis), an old-fashioned, cool-season annual for full sun, bears aromatic daisylike flowers in shades of cream, yellow, and orange. Once cut, the blooms last about a week.
Plumed cockscomb (Celosia argentea var. cristata) has feathery plumes popular for fresh and dried arrangements. Because they are slow to start from seed, plant transplants in full sun. '"Wine Sparkler" is unique for its deep-red flowers and burgundy leaves.
Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus), bears a profusion of showy daisylike flowers in red, pink, purple, orange, or white all summer. The flowers last 4 to 6 days in arrangements. "Sensation" produces a mix of cerise, hot-pink, and white flowers with yellow centers above feathery foliage.
Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are beloved for their towering stature and cheerful blooms, which come in shades of cream, yellow, orange, and red, and last up to 10 days in a vase. Choose multistemmed, pollen-free cultivars for cutting. Direct sow seeds in the garden, or start them in peat pots and transplant when seedlings are about a week old. "Tarahumara White Seeded" has large yellow flowers on stalks that reach 8 to 10 feet tall.
Sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) should be grown on a trellis or other structure so they produce an abundance of fragrant, butterflylike flowers on climbing stems. Sow these cool-season annuals in early spring, and harvest the flowers frequently to encourage rebloom. With care, cut flowers last 5 to 7 days. "Mammoth Rose Pink" has enormous delicate pale-pink blooms and is somewhat heat tolerant.
Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) grows to 2 feet and bears lavender-blue to purple-and-white flowers surrounded by a ring of threadlike bracts. Plants often self-sow, producing welcome volunteers in the garden. Cut flowers last 7 to 10 days, and the horned seedpods are lovely in dried arrangements.
Marigolds (Tagetes), though familiar, are ideal for arrangements because their vivid yellow, orange, white, and red blooms last more than a week. "Snowdrift," an African marigold, bears a profusion of carnation-like, creamy-white blooms on long stems above aromatic foliage.
Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) bear a profusion of bold red, orange, and yellow flowers on trailing plants that look lovely spilling from hanging baskets or other containers. The edible flowers and leaves have a pungent peppery taste.
Pansies (Viola x wittrockiana) are a cool-season annual, thriving in the low temperatures of early spring and fall when they produce mounds of 2- to 4-inch flowers in many hues and patterns. The cheery, edible flowers retain their color when dried and are ideal for pressing. "Jolly Joker" has striking orange-and-purple faces and is somewhat heat tolerant.
Zinnias (Zinnia elegans) are the ideal annual: easy to grow from seed, heat loving, producing countless blooms in a spectrum of hot colors on long, strong stems. "Red Cap"reaches 2 feet tall and bears dahlialike, bright-red flowers that last up to a week once cut.