Is it okay to buy annuals now and plant them now?


This was a question posed by a person on a Facebook group page of CT gardeners today (5/5/2023). Great question, and it also included the statement of, “There are annuals being sold everywhere right now.”

Yes, the garden centers and nurseries are packed right now. Not unusual, I think, especially with Mother’s Day around the corner (next weekend). However, as tempted as we are to plant now, some plants (such as annuals) should probably wait until we are beyond chances of a spring frost and when the soil temperatures are warmer.

What is confusing is that our climate is constantly changing. We have global warming experiences and fluxes of crazy warm temperatures sometimes during the spring season. All of this leads us to wanting to plant now.

What is a person to do? Wait? Plant and risk it? Get plants and wait. All of these choices are applicable.

Comments and Responses to the Question:

I loved the commenters’ responses to the question posed above. I had to share them and my thoughts on each! Here they are:

“I look at the ten-day forecast in the middle of May. If it looks good, I plant. I get too anxious.”

  • That is good advice actually. I’ve always told folks watch the weatherman/women talk about the weather in mid-May. They usually give a heads-up if a frost is about to occur but usually that is only a one-to-two-day warning or less. However, you may use your weather apps or watch weather forecasters on television to get an idea of the next 10 days. As noted in my prior posts, I always use May 12th as my estimated last spring frost date in Connecticut (Zone 6b) area. So, start watching the weather next Friday.

“May’s full flower moon, and fully leafed out maple trees are always a good indicator for when it’s safe to plant annuals, tropicals and most herbs. I’ll start Sunday.”

  • Interesting on this commenter’s comment of the fully leafed maple trees! We use the maple trees to determine when to take the pool cover off our pool – after our maple tree is fully leafed out and because they drop samaras (winged seeds) first, and those make a mess. I never use the “moon” to gauge my planting time, but people do – and that was interesting advice.

“I always wait until after Mother’s Day and full moon. Last year was so cold but I planted my tomatoes around May 20th and I had a bumper crop.”

  • May 20th is probably somewhat safe; only about 9 days before Memorial Day timing (which I use as safe planting for tropicals, tomatoes, succulents, cacti, and annuals). But be sure to also tack on the ‘ten-day forecast in middle of May advice’ along with that timing by watching the forecasts, and you may use this as your gauge if you are okay with risking it and your internal mind is sure all is okay. (Again, I use Memorial Day as the safest planting date.) It is possible your yard or garden has a unique micro-climate situation based on how it is situated too. I know this is confusing, but some people get anxious and go for it.

“I buy now to get the best selection and then store on an enclosed porch until planting time in mid to late May.”

  • Also, excellent advice. If you have a place like an enclosed heated porch, heated greenhouse, and an attached garage that doesn’t get too cold at night, picking up plants to get the best selection now and waiting to put them outdoors is a choice. Just bear in mind, environmental stress is not good for plants and can impact their growth somewhat. I would use caution for plants that really need warm temps, but many people probably do what this commenter noted, pick up and store until safe. Or you may put some plants out on warm above 65-degree F sunny days and put them back inside the home (like hanging baskets for example) during the evenings until it is ultra safe outdoors around Memorial Day in May.

“Experience tells me to wait…some years I planted annuals before Memorial Day and spent the entire summer trying to backfill those that rotted.”

  • Note she said she planted annuals (in the ground). Remember, the ground is still very cold. Dig a little hole and feel the soil right now. Warm loving plants like warm soils (think tomatoes). So, while the air temperature and sunshine may feel right, the ground is cold and sometimes very damp from April showers. This led to rot on some of her annuals as she noted.

“From someone that has lost many plants due to frost in May, I’d be patient a little longer.”

  • I always note the frost incidents on my calendar, and I swear, I just don’t recall a frost in May of last year (2022), but IT DOES HAPPEN usually – thus, why I personally use Memorial Day as the safe planting time for annuals, tropicals, tomatoes, succulents, cacti. You may be safe putting out containers and patio pot during the day right now, because those are easily movable, or putting out hanging baskets, then if a frost comes thru one night in mid-May bring them inside that night so they don’t get killed by frost, but planting in the cold ground is riskier for warm season and non-hardy plants. They will suffer and not perform well and may die or rot.

“This is the magic questions. Usually, I wait till Memorial Day for annuals, tropical plants, succulents, warm loving tomatoes, and peppers. Frost usually occurs in mid-May but global warming seems to be changing that. It’s a tough call. Depends how safe you want to be.”

  • This comment above was my response to the question. I know, I know, it is super frustrating to wait. I have to wait for some of my client site plantings because I certainly don’t want to do all that work and have it fail. I so wish I could start right now! But at home, I tend to mix up the rules a bit. I have a Yucca in a pot – I moved it outside and it is fine. I actually moved it out because I found tiny ants in it – I also moved out one of my Alocasias in a pot because it was struggling anyhow (so, willing to risk it struggling and see how it does). But anything really healthy that needs warm temps, I’m waiting on. Next week, we have a mid-40’s at night range to anywhere from 62-70-75-degree days! Today’s temperature range (per my weather app) is from 42 degrees F to 62 degrees F and supposed to be mostly cloudy. Combine all the factors and make the decision which is best for you. Everyone is different. I know my Dad always said he waits till Memorial Day to plant his garden and today is his birthday, so it is a reminder, he is a wise old (sorry Dad, LOL) gardener. He has decades of experience!

The second part of this person’s question was: “Should I wait a week or two to be sure the threat of frost is gone?”

If you want to be super safe, and not risk the plant’s health and growth, then I say, yes. But this is the crux of it all, I believe, in my opinion, global warming is changing things. Years ago, Canna Lily plants would not survive in the ground, now they are – as an example. We have been having crazy weather experiences all over the country. What I mean is the golden “Dad” rule of waiting is best and has been for years, but things are changing with our climate and weather.

And don’t forget that Mother Nature creates unusual freakish weather scenarios sometimes. One year, after I planted on Memorial Day, we had the worst windstorm, torrential constant cold rain and the temperatures dropped super low over that weekend from a freak storm. I was devastated. I did lots of work and was worried about the damage and how the plants would or could recover! That is just an example. No matter what we do, we can’t fool Mother Nature.

Have a good weekend!

Cathy Testa
Plant Enthusiast and Plant Blogger
Container Gardening Obsessed
Broad Brook, CT 06016

Date of this post: May 5, 2023 (Friday)

Is it okay to buy annuals now and plant them now? Great question, See people's responses and my comments on that subject! Enjoy!
Variegated Yuccas – Were in the Greenhouse all winter, the one on the right had tiny ants in the soil I discovered – I put it outside and left it there since last week. It is doing okay. Need to repot it. Those tiny ants found their way to the pot’s soil – what a PIA they can be. Easily remedied though, repotting it will fix that. Note Yuccas are technically hardy, but these have been in my greenhouse all winter. So, they are okay moved outside early if need be (due to the ants!).
White Mandevilla I got recently, as noted by the person who said they pick up now and keep indoors – that is what I’m doing with a few of these healthy Mandevillas I acquired recently. I won’t put this outdoors till Memorial Day. Environmental stress is not good for these, they tend to suffer when left out in the cold! They are tropical. They have been in hot environments and shipped here, so think about that – you have been sunning in warm cozy temps and then someone puts you outdoors without a jacket – That’s shocking to the system! These are sensitive to cold snaps – keep them inside until Memorial Day.
Pansies I put out in early April – they are doing great! They are my color filler around my house until it is safe to plant the warm loving plants in my life outdoors later in May. In the meantime, stick with pansies or perennials which bloom in the springtime (and of course the daffs and tulips give us spring color) – those are options to serve as eye candy as well until we can enjoy the other heat loving flowering plants which we want to put outdoors.