Spring is here, and local garden centers are stocking up on annuals to fill your garden with continuous color this summer. Annual trial beds are planted and maintained by Penn State Master Gardeners at the demonstration gardens in North Park and South Park. They offer plenty of ideas for bringing beauty, butterflies and pollinators to a sunny garden. If your garden receives six or more hours of direct sunlight daily, consider putting these top performing annuals from the 2014 trials on your shopping list.
Agastache - Commonly known as hyssop, this half-hardy perennial with fragrant foliage blooms the first year from seed. Two-foot tall flower spikes in a wide range of colors attract pollinators. Plants are deer resistant. Cultivars featured in 2014 include:
• ‘Globetrotter’ (Agastache pallida x rugosa) - lilac/pink with reddish bracts.
• ‘Astello Indigo’ (A. hybrida) - mint-scented leaves, deep blue flower spikes. This variety may be winter hardy if given excellent drainage.
• ‘Apache Sunset’ (A. rupestris) - tiny flowers in peach, rose and orange with a rootbeer-like scent.
Coleus- although typically thought of as a shade plant, the following newer cultivars grow well in summer sun:
• ‘Henna’- tied for second in votes by visitors at Garden in the Parks field day in mid-August
• ‘Chocolate Splash,’ ‘Keystone Kopper,’ ‘Black Dragon’ and ‘Wizard Jade’ were also good performers.
Gomphrena, with its straw-like flowers, can be added to fresh bouquets or dried for winter display. The range of options will be expanded in 2015. Best performing varieties in 2014:
• ‘Strawberry Fields’, ‘QIS’ Formula Mix and ‘Fireworks.’
Rudbeckia hirta has large, bold colors and long-lasting cut flowers. Although the demonstration gardens display short varieties for containers and small gardens, the most popular were these tall varieties perfect for the vase:
• ‘Cherokee Sunset’- double flowers of orange, yellow, bronze and brown
• ‘Chim Chiminee’- unique quilled petals
• ‘Prairie Sun’- green centers and bi-colored gold and yellow petals
Salvia varieties are planted yearly in the demonstration gardens. They are consistently outstanding performers with minimal maintenance. Their flower spikes are attractive to pollinators and hummingbirds and the plants are not bothered by deer.
• ‘Hummingbird’ (Salvia coccinea) - a cultivar of Texas sage, it is 24 inches tall, blooms early and continues to frost.
• ‘Honey Melon’ (S. elegans) – 3-4 feet tall, topped with red flowers in early fall. Its leaves are edible and have a yummy scent.
• ‘Black and Blue’ (S. guaranitica) - Bushy 3- to 4-foot-tall plant with deep blue flowers and contrasting bright green leaves. Attractive to honey bees in fall.
• Mexican bush sage (S. leucantha) - tops out at 4 feet or more. Its chenille-like flowers are a blend of purple and white. Late-season pollen source.
• ‘Sizzler Red’ (S. splendens) - a standout with 10- to 12-inch-tall spikes of red flowers.
Zinnias are essential for cutting bouquets and attracting swallowtail butterflies. Seek out these excellent cutting varieties:
• ‘Pop Art White and Red’ (Zinnia elegans) - artfully twisted petals with irregular, eye-catching blotches.
• Benary’s Giant (Z. elegans) - come in shades of pink, yellow and purple, ‘Polar Bear’ is a bright white and ‘Macarenia’ hasscarlet petals tipped in gold.
Zinnia haageana and Profusion Series are shorter, bushier and more resistant to powdery mildew than taller varieties. 2014 favorites included ’Soleado,’ ’Persian Carpet’ and virtually all Profusion varieties, including Knee-High Red, White, Yellow, Cherry and Double Hot Cherry.
• ‘Lorenziana’ Indian blanket (Gaillardia pulchella) - rolled and quilled florets in red, yellow and gold.
• ’Bandana Red’ and ’Bandana Lemon Zest’ Lantana camara.
• ‘Alice du Pont’ Mandevilla splendens - a tropical vine.
• ‘Black Knight’ Scabiosa atropurpurea – dark maroon pincushion flowers.
• ‘Sunstorm Blush’ and ‘Pacifica Cherry Red’ vinca (Catharanthus roseus)
As fall cleanup day approached, many annuals were still blooming and providing pollinators with a vital late-season source of pollen and nectar after the goldenrod and asters had finished blooming.
The demonstration gardens could not exist without the support of our partners from Allegheny County Parks and Public Works departments, Angora Gardens Greenhouse and the local garden centers that donate plants, fertilizer and mulch: Bedner’s Farm and Greenhouse, Best Feeds Garden Centers, Eichner’s Farm Market & Greenhouse, LMS Greenhouse & Nursery, McTighe’s Garden Center, Pisarcik Greenhouse, Quality Gardens, Reilly’s Summer Seat Farm, Soergel’s Garden Center and Trax Farms.
In 2014, Master Gardeners grew about 40 flower varieties from seed at Angora Gardens Greenhouse in White Oak, and twice as many have been started for 2015.
Lyn Lang is a Penn State master gardener. Columns by master gardeners sometimes appear in place of the Garden Q&A by Sandy Feather, a Penn State Extension educator.
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