Try these flowers in container gardens

By Marianne C. Ophardt, Special to the Tri-City HeraldSeptember 14, 2012 

PASCO, Wash. -- While I'm not a very adventurous person, I do like to experiment with different annuals in my container gardens each year.

That's part of what makes gardening fun for me. Each year I discover the winners and the plants that fall short of victory for me.

For years, I've never been a fan of coleus. You had to grow them in shade and they required frequent deadheading to remove the not-too-pretty flower stalks. Plus, they weren't heat tolerant.

Plant breeders have been working for years trying to come up with heat- and sun-tolerant varieties. When I gave them a try several years ago, I wasn't impressed. However, this spring Proven Winners sent me a new coleus called Colorblaze Marooned (Solenostemon scutellarioides) to try.

Marooned has dark purple burgundy leaves and was bred to grow in sun and shade. I decided to give it a real test by putting it in planters that face south and must endure the full blast of afternoon sun and heat. I combined them with the chartreuse ornamental sweet potatoes and Easy Wave Pink petunias.

I've used purple fountain grass as my tall "thriller" in these big pots before, but this coleus gave me a chance to try something different. Marooned passed the test of heat and sun and thrived all season long without flowering. I am impressed and with this very tough but easy-to-grow coleus.

This was also the first year I've tried the Easy Wave petunias. (Many of you know that I am a big fan of this family of petunias.) For several years I've planted the Wave Purple Classic in the same front pots, but by the end of summer, it became very leggy. This year, I tried Easy Wave Pink. It was much more contained, bloomed well and didn't become long and leggy.

Another plant that Proven Winners sent me to try was a lantana, Luscious Berry Blend (Lantana camara). It was a big winner. The flowers open up a vibrant dark pink, and then the centers turn golden yellow. They look like little bouquets of pink and yellow flowers. Everyone who visited my garden remarked on them.

Luscious Berry Blend grows tall (24 to 36 inches) and wide and will take over a planter if not planted with other vigorous plants. It was covered with flowers all season long, not even slowing down during the extreme heat. Plus, it didn't need any deadheading to keep it looking nice. This is one I want to plant again.

I planted Luscious Berry Blend with Proven Winners' new Supertunia Watermelon Charm. It was a perfect partner. This heat tolerant petunia was covered with petite watermelon-red flowers all summer long. They made a vibrant combination.

The dahlias many gardeners grow are started from tubers, but when it comes to container gardening, I like dahlia hybrids grown from seed. This year I tried New York from the Dahlinova series of hybrid dahlias. The Dahlinovas have compact mounded plants that grow to about two feet tall and produce semi-double flowers all season long. New York has two-toned white and pink-purple petals.

My youngest granddaughter, whose favorite color is pink, especially liked them. Their only drawback is that they don't drop their spent flowers, requiring deadheading to keep them flowering. They were so pretty, I plan to get some different colors next year.

Those were just some of the winners I grew in my containers this year. Soon, I'll share the best of the best and the biggest clunkers.

* Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.

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