Last fall, several trial garden managers submitted information on their best-in-show annuals. Descriptions of all varieties were submitted by their respective trial garden managers.
Best Drought-Tolerant Annuals
Alternanthera hybrid ‘Plum Dandy’ (Proven Winners), North Carolina State University
‘Plum Dandy’ got better and better as the season went along. This groundcover is grown for its gorgeous rich purple foliage. Each plant forms a nice carpet that fills in a space approximately 3 feet wide by 2 feet.
Portulaca Pazzaz Nano (Danziger), Plantpeddler
This plant will tolerate just about any stress test you give it. Hot and dry to full wilt, it takes it all and stays in good color. It is a great portulaca series that will have open flowers earlier in the morning and will stay open later in the evening. If you need a plant in a hot, dry spot, this is the series to plant.
Angelonia Archangel Blue Bicolor (Ball FloraPlant), Young’s Plant Farm
We had a great combination in our garden this summer with angelonia Blue Bicolor and vinca Valiant Punch (PanAmerican Seed). Both genera are well known for their drought tolerance and the new bicolor variety of Archangel angelonia does not disappoint.
Begonia ‘Whopper Improved’ series (Benary), Iowa State University
This series starts blooming in early summer and shines on through the season covered in blooms. Even in full sun, these begonias can go days without water and not drop flowers or foliage.
Pennisetum glaucum Copper Prince (PanAmerican Seed), South Dakota State University
Plants have many tillers giving them a very full look. New foliage has a golden color tinged in red with older stems developing a bronze-red color. It is very floriferous with a continual progression of new flower heads developing. Foliage ranges in color from green to coppery-burgundy. Plants are extremely uniform in size and flowering.
Pentas Graffiti Lipstick (Benary), Mississippi State University
The Graffiti series performs well under our hot, humid summer conditions, with Lipstick providing more top scores than any other color during the season.
Portulaca Pazzaz Nano (Danziger), Mast Young Plants
This new series from Danziger has large, brightly colored flowers that open early in the day. Nanos are more compact than the original Pazzaz series and can be finished with little to no PGR.
Best Pollinator-Friendly Annuals
Beedance Red Stripe Bidens (Suntory), Plantpeddler
All of the Beedance series are great bee attractors, but the Red Stripes have the best color and flower power of them all. It’s a full plant that flowers heavily throughout the season.
Celosia ‘Asian Garden’ (Murakami Seed), Iowa State University
The color is amazing. It can tolerate heat and drought, and pollinators love it. ‘Asian Garden’ is easy to germinate from seed, but it does not reseed excessively in the garden.
Celosia ‘Asian Garden’ (Murakami Seed), North Carolina State University
This pink/magenta colored spike-flower celosia must have been pumping out whatever pheromone the pollinators like – it was constantly being visited.
Zinnia Profusion Red (Sakata Seed), Smith Gardens
Bright red flowers are a pollinator favorite and definitely make a statement in the border of a garden.
Portulaca Wagonwheels series (Danziger), Raker Trial Gardens
All the portulaca typically do well with bees but the Wagonwheels, especially the Vanilla Cherry, were always covered with pollinators.
Salvia Grandstand Purple (Green Fuse Botanicals), Mast Young Plants
This salvia on steroids flowered all summer in our comparison garden and was also our pick for the best performer in the purple salvia category.
Best Overall Performance Annuals
Top visitor pick: Salvia Rockin’ Deep Purple from Proven Winners
We planted this near our parking lot and it was one of the first things our visitors saw and then commented on. It was very showy all season and attracted a lot of pollinators. Our visitors typically comment that it’s hard to pick a favorite, but this one stood out.
Sunflower Sunfinity (Syngenta Flowers), Mast Young Plants
Sunflower Sunfinity is a breakthrough in sunflower breeding that produces many stems of bright yellow flowers all summer, as opposed to a traditional sunflower that has only one main flower and then is done. Sunfinity grows to about 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Sunfinity are pollen free, but still produce nectar that attracts beneficial insects.
Begonia Megawatt series (PanAmerican Seed) and Salvia Rockin’ Deep Purple (Proven Winners), Raker Trial Gardens
All the varieties in this series were quite consistent. They flowered all summer long.