I love spring-flowering bulbs, but I was wondering if violas are the only spring annuals for our area. For the period before our frost-free date, I would like to try something else for color that will fade out with the heat and need a summer replacement.
Violas and pansies, related but separate species, are the kings of cold-tolerant, early annuals. Violas are a more petite plant, producing smaller but abundant blooms. They also reseed, as evidenced by a long-time favorite, Johnny jump-ups. The cute purple and yellow blossoms pop up anywhere. Pansies are actually biennials or short-lived perennials in Michigan and have become the darlings of hybridizers for unusual color combinations. They mix well with the spring bulbs, such as daffodils, tulips and hyacinth varieties.
A few early, cold-tolerant annuals you might not have guessed are sweet alyssum, stock, snapdragons, dianthus, forget-me-nots, sweet peas, calendula, and lobelias. Start them in pots indoors or purchase hardened stock from your favorite greenhouse. Then nestle the sprouting pots in small clusters into the soil amongst your flowering bulbs. Surrounding them with soil protects and insulates their roots from freakish cold snaps. The refreshing color jazzes up the traditional spring bulb show and lends interest and texture to the overall display.