A southern summer garden staple

Story and Photos by Susan Jasan

As temperatures begin to warm, it’s really easy to get the spring fever. It’s time to start visiting local garden centers, nurseries and home improvement stores to check out what’s new for the garden. Annuals are starting to really fill in and will be showing off their bloom in no time at all.

If you love purple, then this combination is meant for you. ‘Evolution’ mealycup sage (Salvia farinacea ‘Evolution’), ‘Marine’ heliotrope (Heliotropium aborescens ‘Marine’), and Verbena ‘Imagination’ team up to create layers of blues and purples in this enticing combination. In full sun, at the height of summer heat … these three can handle almost any temperatures as long as you provide enough water.
LEFT: Ornamental peppers provide dramatic foliage along with bright red fruit. MIDDLE: Zinnias are great annuals when the heat turns up and many of the early summer annuals are shutting down. They hold their color and thrive in the hottest summer days. Pair Zinnia ‘Crystal White’ with nearly any dark-blooming annual or perennial, like the blue salvia beyond. RIGHT: Yellow zinnias, pale yellow million bells, orange lantana, and white zinnias intertwine in this sun-loving combination.

As you begin to plan your annual plantings for the new year, think about not only the annuals you want to use, but consider adding tropical plants, summer bulbs, ornamental vegetables, or perennials to the mix. With the combination you’ll have a longer run of color from early spring through late fall. Annuals are the core of the summer garden when the heat is at its max. Annuals are a great transition when some of the early perennials are struggling to keep up with the dog days of summer. 

Often we plant annuals in a single container, but try massed groupings. They’ll be easier to water and they’ll certainly provide an abundance of color.
The deep purple ‘Diamond Head’ elephant ear (Colocasia esculenta ‘Diamond Head’) is treated as an annual. Here surrounded by begonias and coleus it makes for a showstopper!

When you consider your annual plantings, remember not only to consider the blooms, but keep in mind there are many annual plants with spectacular foliage. Foliage and texture can have a huge impact on a garden whether as the showstopper or in a supporting role. One of the best annuals for foliage is coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides, syn. Solenostemon scutellarioides), which has evolved to hundreds of varieties. You can find almost any color combination. There are both sun-loving coleus as well as the better-known shade loving coleus. You’ll have the benefit of their color and texture until you have a hard frost in the fall. 

FAR LEFT: Celosia ‘Fresh Look Orange’ packs a powerful punch with its bright orange upright blooms. MIDDLE LEFT: When you mix annuals together, whether in the ground or in pots, consider using multiple species of one color to create a strong statement. Here, scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea), red coleus, and red Petunia blend well. MIDDLE RIGHT: The foliage of Alternanthera ficoidea ‘Party Time’ can add a delightful surprise in the shade garden. The combination of the bright pink streaks on the dark green foliage is a stand out even in the darkest shade. FAR RIGHT: Bigleaf periwinkle Vinca major ‘Maculata’ and golden creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’) make good partners.

Too often we use just the annuals that are in the 6-packs, but what about mixing in tropical plants? The tropical plants love the summer heat, as the summer heat is usually a great fit for the temperatures the tropical plants prefer. You can even dig up your tropical plants at the end of the summer, pot them, and over-winter them inside, reusing them in the garden next year. 

LEFT: Kale in several forms. MIDDLE: Be bold and mix vegetables, tropicals, perennials, and annuals for continuous color. Here two kinds of ornamental cabbage, Kalanchoe ‘Calandiva Orange’, Heuchera, and wire vine (Muehlenbeckia axillaris) make a great statement. These plants would be equally effective in any sunny garden bed. RIGHT: ‘Big Twister’ rush (Juncus effusus ‘Big Twister’) provides a contrast to many annuals.

If you get behind and don’t get your small bedding plants in as early as you’d like, you can always purchase a few hanging baskets and bury them in the ground for “instant” color. The technique is effective and is one of the “secrets” in the commercial landscape industry on how to create an effective, colorful impact immediately.

Remember to mix your annuals with some staples of your garden. Here the color and form of the bright orange lantana makes a great contrast with the Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’ with its strong yellow and green spikes.

As some of your annuals seem to get leggy in mid-summer, don’t be afraid to cut them back, as much as in half. As long as you provide plenty of water and nutrients, they’ll surprise you with a burst of growth again in late summer and early fall and give you the burst of color you’re looking for.



Easy Annuals

A few tried and true, tough, nearly foolproof, easy-care, warm-season annuals to consider:
Million bells (Calibrachoa)
Spider flower (Cleome hassleriana)
Fiber optic grass (Isolepis cernua)
Flowering kale (Brassica oleracea)
Joseph’s coat (Alternanthera)
Marigold (Tagetes patula)
Ornamental pepper (Capsicum spp., cvs.)
Fan flower (Scaevola aemula)

Great Tropicals To Mix into an Annual Planting
Banana plants (Musa spp.) 
Split-leaf philodendron (Monstera deliciosa)
Zebra plant (Aphelandra squarrosa)

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