Choosing annual flowers

Choosing annual flowers

Photo courtesy of Simply Beautiful Plants Butterfly pentas grow well in full sun and attract butterflies.

by C.L. Fornari

Whether you're gardening in the city or the suburbs, May is a good time to purchase and plant annuals.

Garden centers are filled with these summer bloomers in six-packs or small pots, but be aware — all varieties don't perform equally. Some of these plants only flower in cooler weather, or for part of the season, while other annuals blossom from May until hard frost. 

A hortaholic like myself finds it nearly impossible to choose a favorite annual, but should I be forced to name a best plant for sun, and one for shade, I'd pick scaevola and impatiens. Don't moan about my choice of impatiens; yes, the standard types are as common as dirt, but they do perform well and the newer varieties are as interesting as they are reliable.

The Simply Beautiful Fusion and Fanfare impatiens from Ball Horticultural, found at most nurseries, are two of my favorites.

The flowers on the Fusion series are a bit smaller than the garden variety impatiens, but they're definitely more interesting and come in unusual colors such as pale yellow, peach, mango and coral.

Fanfare impatiens plants are covered with extra large flowers and have a trailing habit. This variety of impatiens is also quite sun-tolerant.

If you have a sunny garden, you can't go wrong with scaevola aemula, or fan flower. This annual has either lavender-blue or white flowers.

Photo courtesy of C.L. Fornari – Scaevola makes a great border plant in perennial gardens. Here, the lavender blue of the fan flower echoes the Stokes’ aster (Stokesia laevis Blue Danube) in July.

When planted in a container, it cascades down for at least 18 inches. Planted in the ground, scaevola forms a mound about 10 inches tall and 2 feet wide. Fan flower is perfect planted with other annuals such as marigolds, and it mixes well in perennial gardens.

Other annuals that perform well in the Northeast are cupheas, pentas and Marguerite sweet potato vine. Cupheas come in a variety of sizes and flower colors, and all are no-maintenance plants that tolerate hot summer weather.

From the orange flowering cigar plant to white and pink flowering Mexican heathers or the red and purple cuphea llavea, there are cupheas for every sunny garden.

Pentas also grow best in full sun. Butterfly pentas are aptly named because their white, pink, lavender and rose red flowers are very good at attracting butterflies. Pentas blooms best when faded flowers are removed regularly.

Some annuals don't flower at all, but add foliage color to containers and gardens. Ipomoea Marguerite, commonly called sweet potato vine, has lime-yellow, trailing foliage.

Marguerite grows so large and robust that you should plant one per window box or place them 4 feet apart in the garden.

Combine Marguerite with the scaevola, cuphea and pentas in the sun, or with impatiens in the shade, and your garden will be filled with grandeur all summer.

C.L. Fornari is a writer and professional speaker who gardens on Cape Cod. She is the author of “A Garden Lover's Martha's Vineyard” and host of Garden Line heard on WXTK radio.

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