Don’t worry, be happy…. wise words for many situations but especially for a new gardener. This spring, there is no need to stress about plant choices, colors, sun or shade. I chose hardworking plants that are born to bloom from spring to frost—with little care from the gardener’s hand. Although these hardy annuals are extremely low-maintenance, you will have to water them once in awhile—but, I guess that’s why they call it gardening.
No worry,’ ever-blooming annuals
Show off … Summer Snapdragon (Angelonia angustifolia)
Angelonia is known as the ‘summer snapdragon’ because of its fragrant, flower spikes that resemble those of the cooler season snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus). This plant blooms abundantly from late spring until frost in the garden or in containers. If you give it a few necessities, you can do no wrong. Choose your favorite colors from white, pink, rose, bluish purple, dark purple and bi-colors.
Mature Size: 12- to 18-inches tall and 10- to 15-inches wide.
Light: full sun or light shade
Best features: Angelonia are easy to care for and bloom heavily in moist, well drained soil. However, they can withstand dry spells, if soil is enriched with compost before planting. For best results, allow the soil to dry a bit between watering. This annual is a perfect choice for the center of containers that include trailing annuals.
Bloom time: June through frost.
Bonus: Attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Some people think the foliage smells like apples.
Tip: When the young plants are six inches tall, pinch out the tips of the main stems to encourage the plants to be bushier.
Loving the… Lantana (Lantana camara)
Lantana is a perky, flowering annual that loves hot sun and dry soil—perfect for poolside plantings, hanging baskets, around a mailbox or in smaller containers.
Mature Size: 20-inches tall for upright varieties and trailing types are shorter.
Light: full sun
Best features: Lantana is easy to care for and blooms heavily in sunny and dry conditions. While newly planted Lantana require frequent watering, once established, these hardy plants require little maintenance and are even tolerant of somewhat dry conditions. In fact, a good soaking about once a week should keep them relatively happy. Look for the ‘Bandana’ series with their larger flower clusters and huge range of tropical colors from cherry-red, citrus yellow and orange to sunrise color combinations.
Bloom time: June through frost. Make it easy on yourself! Fertilize when planting and feed it occasionally after that initial fertilizing. They flower more profusely if not fertilized heavily. Simply cut plants back if they become ‘leggy’.
Bonus: Butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators love them, too .
Sassy… SunPatiens (Impatiens x hybrida ‘SunPatiens’)
What blooming plant could be easier? Sun-Patiens are a cross between the New Guinea and the wild impatiens. They thrive in full sun or shade, heat or humidity, and bloom their little hearts out from spring to frost. SunPatiens are available in almost every color imaginable.
Mature Size: 18-24-inches tall and 24-inch spread. Fewer plants are required to fill an area because SunPatiens grow faster and larger. Than regular impatiens. Choose your plants in compact or spreading varieties.
Light: Beautiful, tropical colors glow in shade or sun in hanging baskets, garden beds and containers.
Best features: SunPatiens have larger flowers that don’t need deadheading. They bloom on dense, bushy plants that bloom in sun or shade.
Bloom time: Spring through frost. They are low-maintenance plants but they are thirsty. The trick for growing the best SunPatiens is to give them plenty of water and to add a few inches of mulch when first planted. The mulch insulates the soil to keep the moisture in and the weeds out. Fertilize occasionally (especially when planted), but too much plant food will slow the flowering. Simply cut plants back if they become too tall or ‘leggy’.
Bonus: The disease ‘Downy Mildew’ that has hit the common impatiens (Impatiens walleriana) does NOT affect the SunPatiens. Since their leaves and flower petals are thicker, they aren’t as easily damaged by winds or rain, either.
The Best… Begonia ‘Dragon Wing’ (Begonia x hybrida)
The Dragon Wing Begonia is almost indestructible. These no- to low-maintenance begonias will flower non-stop from spring to late fall—they simply get more beautiful over time with either red or pink flowers that hang gracefully from arching stems.
Mature Size: 12-18-inches tall or more with an 18-inch spread.
Light: Part sun is best but this plant can thrive in both sun or shade. However, the glossy green leaves will turn a red-bronze color in full sun.
Best features: Large sturdy plants will encourage non-stop flowers. Water lightly and fertilize every two weeks for the biggest plants. But, do not over water.
Bloom time: Spring through hard frost. Make it easy on yourself! Fertilize occasionally (especially when planted in a container) but too much plant food will slow the flowering.
Bonus: This maintenance-free plant is not slowed by heat or humidity. The plant’s shape fills out beautifully throughout a long growing season in containers, hanging baskets and garden beds. The Dragon Wing Begonia is the perfect flowering plant for people who forget to water their plants.
Chest thumping… Coleus ‘Kong Jr.’ (Solenostemon scutellariodes ‘Kong Jr.’)
You won’t miss flowers with leaves that look this good! The Kong Jr. coleus displays huge leaves (although slightly smaller than the regular Kong) with color combinations with chartreuse, apple green, maroon, cream, and cherry red. This coleus variety is a tidy plant that will put the ‘wow’ into yor shade garden.
Mature Size: 18-24-inches tall and 20-35-inch wide. Fertilize every two weeks for maximum growth.
Light: Shade. The colorful leaves will brighten up any shady spot.
Best features: Its mounding, upright shape works well in containers, hanging baskets or planted directly into your shade garden.
Bloom time: The flower spikes arrive later in the summer but the flowers are nothing to get excited about because the coleus plant is all about the leaves. If you aen’t excited about these flowers, just pinch them back.
Bonus: This large-leafed, annual looks good all season long and even performs well in busy areas near patios, sidewalks or driveways, too.
Tips for Growing Healthy Annuals
1. Look for compact plants with healthy leaves, strong stems and a large root ball.
2. Choose plants with buds but few flowers in bloom so the plant will put its initial energy into a good root structure.
3. Most annuals grow well in an organic-rich soil. Prepare soil with composted manure, leaf mold and good garden or potting soil for optimum root growth and good drainage. Go organic with Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Soil. It includes worm castings, microbes, perlite and pumice that benefit plant growth and drainage.
4. Add a layer of mulch to keep weeds down and alleviate plant stress in the hotter summer months. Mulch retains moisture and keeps the soil temperature cooler and more consistent.
5. The easiest way to apply fertilizer is to mix a one-time granular/time-release fertilizer into the soil before planting. This type lasts for months of continuous fertilization. If you don’t mind the extra work, you can add a water-based fertilizer to your watering can when watering your plants throughout the summer. Follow instructions on package to keep plants healthy and to promote maximum flowering.