Doug Oster shares his favorite annuals
Long tables covered with healthy, deep green plants filled the Belmont Sports Complex in Kittanning for the Armstrong County Penn State Master Gardener’s Plant Sale. I was the speaker that day and had about 15 minutes before starting to quickly peruse the offerings. I was blown away at the quality and prices, as it was a gardener’s paradise.
I was also thrilled to see Mexican sunflower transplants, one of the plants I evangelize about to everyone and anyone who will listen. I’ve written about it here and at Everybody Gardens countless times. The nice plant tag for the sunflowers, with a picture of the 3-inch orange flowers, had been moved into a flat of a different plant. I know the variety like the back of my hand, so I put the tag back with the four-packs of plants in the right area.
Since there were only about five of the packs, it couldn’t be mentioned to the crowd at my speech, so I walked the aisles asking strangers if they were interested in this great pollinator plant.
Some of them lit up when asked, while others recoiled, probably wondering who is this guy? One asked me, “Do you work here?” I answered “No, but I’m speaking in five minutes up on that stage and want to make sure someone gives these plants a good home.”
When the master gardeners figured out what I was doing, they offered me the last pack as a prize for an audience member.
There was also another plant that I lusted after, and have not been able to find in two seasons, salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish.’ I bought three right off the bat and since there were two flats of the plant, I was able to get up on my pulpit for those, too. The plant is deer resistant, gets 3 feet tall, will grow in full sun or part shade and attracts hummingbirds. When I finished speaking, I raced the audience to the table after answering questions, hoping to get a few more plants, but they were gone.
It made me think about all the other plants I love and preach about, sometimes to the converted.
Plant them now
Here are some of my favorite annuals that can be planted right now.
Don’t be afraid to intersperse them with vegetables, too. Lots of these flowers will attract good bugs that will help pollinate and eat the bad bugs.
Get your plants from a good nursery; by doing so you’ll be assured they have been cared for properly before finding a home in your garden.
• ‘Black and Blue’ (Salvia guaranitica) is another variety I’ve fallen for. It has unique sky blue flowers that emerge from black whorls. All salvias are deer-resistant as they are from the sage family. Pineapple sage grows 6 feet tall with bright red flowers. Find one that you love; there are also perennial varieties, too.
• ‘Starry Night,’ ‘Night Sky’ and other interesting bicolor petunias. Modern petunias will flower all summer without deadheading. Try something different with these spectacular flowers.
• ‘Super Hero Spry’ marigold is an All-America Selection from 2018 that has a compact growth habit (10-12 inches) with dark red lower petals along with golden yellow upper petals. It was outstanding in my garden last year. Just because marigolds are a common plant doesn’t mean gardeners need to grow a common variety. There are lots of different colors, flowers and sizes to choose from.
• Cannas are grown from a tender bulb and can make a bold statement in the center of a container or in a garden bed. The tall old-fashioned bright red flowers are fine, but there are now varieties with variegated foliage and other colors. ‘South Pacific Orange,’ which is another AAS winner, was a winner in my garden last season.
• Double impatiens look like little roses. I’m a sucker for any double flowers, but impatiens are a favorite for summer. I like them in containers to spill over the edges.
• I’ll often plant coleus with impatiens as they both enjoy shade. They are grown for their colorful foliage. There are multitudes of pretty mixed colors for this plant.
• Tropical hibiscus have shiny, deep green leaves and showy, colorful flowers. They grow like a tree and can be overwintered indoors.
• ‘Gryphon’ begonia has long been a favorite shade lover. I always use it as a centerpiece for containers. It does flower, but the little white blooms are insignificant as the plant is treasured for its modeled greenish bronze foliage. There are also many different types of begonia like ‘Bonfire’ and ‘Bossa Nova’ that grow from a tuber and will flower freely.
• Caladiums are another shade-loving foliage plant grown as an annual. It’s fine for beds, but I love it in containers mixed with impatiens and other shade lovers.
• Every vegetable garden from my childhood neighborhood had a row of zinnias growing alongside the veggies. They are a great pollinator plant with colorful blooms that light up the garden.
Falling in love with certain plants and letting garden friends know about them is one of the most enjoyable parts of gardening. I would enjoy hearing about your favorites.