Spring is definitely here. Last weekend, I got busy getting my container garden pots ready for planting. Now I am contemplating what to plant while I wait for frost-free weather. I like to try new plants and different color combinations, so I decided to check out the newest annuals on the market. Here are some I might try if I can find them.
Sweet Potato Vine: I am a big fan of ornamental sweet potatoes because they are tolerant of our summer heat, growing like weeds during hot weather. Sweet Caroline Bewitched Green with Envy is a new Proven Winners (PW) sweet potato introduction with the same bright chartreuse foliage of older introductions, but its heart-shaped leaves have serrated edges, making it a bit different than other varieties already on the market. The plant has good vigor and a form that is mounded to a height of 16 inches and trailing to a modest length of 28 inches. Sweet Caroline Bewitched After Midnight is another new sweet potato from PW with a similar form and purple, maple-like lobed leaves.
Geranium: Garden geraniums, actually pelargoniums, have improved greatly over the years. Calliope Medium Dark Red is a new zonal geranium that has been recognized as a 2017 All America Selections (AAS) winner for its deep red velvety flowers and branching habit. The plant has a mounded, semi-spreading growth habit with strong stems. It should perform well in our region because it is both heat and drought tolerant. As with other hybrid garden geraniums, regular deadheading will encourage continued bloom.
Calibrachoa: It seems like every time you turn around, there is a new calibrachoa. This year, PW is introducing Superbells Morning Star with petite light pink flowers that have purple centers with bright yellow stars in the very middle. Morning Star grows to 12 inches tall and 30 inches wide, is heat tolerant, and does not need deadheading. Also called million bells or trailing petunias, calibrachoa are tender perennials that are grown as annuals in our zone. They do not perform well in wet soil or under poor drainage conditions. Trim the plants lightly after planting to encourage bushier, fuller growth.
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Bidens: Bidens is referred to as beggarticks or tickseed in its weedy form because of its barbed seeds that stick to fur and clothing. While it still has annoying seeds, plant marketers have transformed Bidens into a vigorous flowering annual that is both heat and drought tolerant. It is also attractive to bees and butterflies. Bidens generally has a mounded trailing habit that works well as a “filler” and “spiller” in containers. PW already offers several varieties of Bidens with small yellow daisy-like flowers. Ball Flora is introducing Bee Alive, a new Bidens with a tidier habit than older varieties and striking golden yellow flowers with orange tipped petals.
Salvia: Salvia (Salvia coccinea) have become one of my favorites for containers because they serve as a tall “thriller” in designs, are heat tolerant, and attract bees and hummingbirds. Takii seed company has developed the Salvia ‘Summer Jewel’ series that has already taken home AAS honors in past years. Salvia in this series have a good branching habit and produce plentiful flower spikes. In 2016, Summer Jewel Lavende’ with dusty lavender blooms joined the series and garnered regional AAS honors.
Another favorite of mine are heat-tolerant petunias, but we will have to wait for another day to talk about them. I am anxious to go flower shopping. How about you?
Marianne C. Ophardt is a retired horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.