There’s a saying among certain gardeners in the Pacific Northwest: “Friends don’t let friends plant annuals!”
That’s easy to say when you’re in Zone 8 in Seattle, my former city of residence, where you can grow just about anything as a perennial. Though I had never grown annuals apart from veggies, I even used to repeat that sage advice.
But now that I’m living in Minnesota in Zone 4, boy, I have changed my tune. With our long, 30-below winters and early autumns, we need all the color we can get—and fast!
And—this is a key point—you can find so many interesting varieties and combos in the heavily bred world of annuals. Maybe we should change the phrase to “Friends don’t let friends plant boring annuals”?
It helps that, as part of my job as an editor for Gardening How-To, I get to trial many of the latest and greatest plants in my own garden, including some not out to the general public until 2014. Right now, I have about 50 different plants trialing in my suburban space.
Here are a few new varieties that are brightening the sunny parts of my yard right now, despite a very wet, cloudy, stormy start. All of the annuals mentioned below came to me as 4-inch-pot samples from Ball Horticultural Co., a big introducer of plants.
ChaChing cherry petunia—I knew this one was going to be good. This sensational new introduction is planted in my clay soil, which I’ve heavily amended with mushroom compost. It’s a rockstar so far, filling in with dynamic color while I wait for my Flower Carpet rose to come into bloom. (Sidenote: Just look at that rose foliage! So far, I’m in love with these Anthony Tesselaar roses, which have outperformed the hybrid teas I received.)
Petunia Sophistica Lime Bicolor—Yep, despite growing up with the idea that petunias were mediocre, I am going to mention two of them now. This stunner is a charmer with its splashes of hot pink on creamy lime-green!
MixMasters Calibrachoa—These look like miniature, more refined petunias, and the many samples I’m trying are thriving and bursting with color. Above is the Sundance trio from Ball’s MixMasters series, ready-made container combos of annuals that are easy-peasy.
Out of the Blue Trixi mix—This is another ready-made container combo, which includes dark blue lobelia, compact white verbena and yellow bidens. Growing this pot has been almost effortless.
Dianthus Dash Violet—I planted three of these cool-season annuals in a 12-inch pot in late April, and they’ve been blooming steadily every since. I like their spiky unopened flower globes almost as much as their full fuchsia blooms.
These two shots show just how big my annuals have grown. Each container was planted with just one 4-inch plant. (Just to give you an idea of proportion, my deck boards are abut 4 inches wide.)
Still don’t believe me about annuals? Check out Melinda Myers’ awesome story on problem-solver annuals, “Not Just Another Pretty Face,” on pg. 38 in our Summer 2013 issue.
You'll be smitten, even if you live in Seattle. I swear.
Sarah Dorison is the managing editor of Gardening How-To magazine. She gardens just outside Minneapolis, Minnesota.