Annuals are plants that grow, flower and die within a year. They are popular in gardens for adding colour and seasonal interest. Annuals are planted each year as seed or seedling. Seeds are sown one to two seasons before flowering time. Growing from seedling shortens the length of time between planting and flowering, so seedlings for winter and early spring flowering can be planted in autumn or even in early winter. If you're looking for some flowers to plant in autumn to add colour to your Sydney garden, this is the article for you!


Favourite annual flowers to plant in autumn

These are the five best annual flowers to plant in autumn for blooms from late autumn to early spring. Many will continue to bloom well into spring. All do best in full sun and can be grown in garden beds or in containers. Look for annuals in punnets or as advanced plants already in bloom. The annuals in this ‘top five’ are guaranteed to give long flowering and need little special care.


Pansies and violas

Pansies and their smaller siblings, violas, are the brightest and boldest of winter annuals. They love cool conditions and even tolerate frost. They have a huge range of flower colours including red, white, purple, blue, red, pink, yellow, orange and combinations of these colours usually with black markings which give pansies a cute ‘face’. Flowers can also be ruffled.

Pansies and violas are low, spreading plants for garden beds, pots or hanging baskets. They grow to around 15-20cm high but can spread up to 20-30cm across depending on variety. To keep plants growing and flowering, water regularly (several times a week) and liquid feed every 7-10 days. Lanky growth can be cut back to encourage a flush of new growth and to keep plants compact. Plant seedlings 20-30cm apart. Watch for aphids on buds. Plants may also develop mildew particularly late in the season. The flowers can also be picked to use indoors in small posies or a float bowl.


Annual primulas are small annuals with flowers held on upright stems above a rosette of leaves much like a small parasol growing to up to 20cm high and wide. The flowers come in tones of purple, pink and white and do very well in slightly shaded and moist situations. Once established they self-seed and naturalise in suitable positions. Plants have few problems and need little attention other than occasional watering, more frequently in dry or windy conditions. Liquid feed and deadhead to encourage more flowering stems. Flowers can be picked for the vase.


There are two types of annual marigold for gardens, French marigold and African marigold. Both are useful for adding bright colour to gardens but are also attractive to beneficial insects and grow from seed or seedling. French marigolds are also planted to deter nematodes (microscopic pests that infect plant roots especially in sandy soils). French marigolds are compact growers to around 15-20cm high and wide with small flowers. African marigolds are much larger and more brittle, growing up 30-40cm high and wide with very large, frilled flowers and are best grown in spring and summer in cold climates. Both bloom in tones of bright yellow, orange, red, brown and white or combinations of these colours.

Plant French marigolds up to 20cm apart, but spread African marigolds at least 30cm apart in a sunny, well-drained spot. As they are highly aromatic, they have few pests or diseases although African marigolds are very attractive to snails so protect young plants and check flowering plants regularly to remove pests. The flowering stems of African marigolds can be brittle and easily broken in wind or rain. (Note: to use French marigolds to control nematode in soils, mass plant into affected soil. Don’t grow susceptible plants in the bed for several seasons.)


Not only are snapdragons fun flowers (you can squeeze the sides of the flower so they open their ‘mouths’ much like a miniature dragon), they are very easy and good for picking. There are many varieties in a huge range of colours including red, pink, rose, yellow, apricot, mauve and white. For containers or small colourful patches in the garden, select dwarf snapdragons. For picking or more of a show, go for larger varieties, which can be 15-20cm high and wide. Grow from seed or seedling and space dwarf forms 20cm apart and larger varieties 30-40cm high and wide. Snapdragons are excellent and long-lasting cut flowers with few pest or disease problems, although some varieties are susceptible to rust, a fungal disease affecting foliage. Remove rust-affected leaves or plants and look for rust resistant varieties. Cut back to encourage repeat flowering.


Also known as pot or English marigolds, calendulas are cheerful, old-fashioned annuals that flower for many weeks throughout the year but especially in winter and spring. They have a slightly aromatic scent. The flowers are orange, yellow, brown or white with edible petals. Add them to a salad as a garnish. The petals can also be incorporated into chicken feed. Grow from seed or seedling in a warm, sunny spot allowing space for them to grow as they reach 50cm high and wide. Plants self-seed readily. The main problem encountered growing calendulas is rust on the leaves. To control simply remove affected plants when the disease is noticed. Look for rust-resistant varieties. Space 30-40cm apart.


Other flowers to plant in autumn for blooms that last through to winter and early spring are sweet peas, poppies, cornflowers and cinerarias.