Planning a Colorful Summer Garden

Bright, low maintenance annual plants will give your garden a color boost from summer until frost. Annuals are the icing on your garden "cake."

Each year I resolve to plant fewer annuals and save time—and then something happens. The weather warms up and I crave color. But I like to plant annuals I can plant and fuggedabout.

Perennials add fabulous texture, color and variety to the garden, but they bloom for a short period each year. A backbone of trees, shrubs and perennials comprise the best-planned gardens, with some colorful annuals added for punctuation.

Annuals brighten up a bare patch of ground. Want an instant focal point? Pot up some annuals in interesting pots and you're done. Group containers together for your own unique design and color variations. For a low-maintenance approach, re-use self-watering containers year after year. You'll find them at garden centers and online.

Over the years, I've learned which annuals require constant attention and watering to maintain and which ones I can plant and forget about. If you want to conserve water and your time, consider planting some low maintenance annuals.

Here are some of my favorites:

Lantana is number one on my list. In our area, it stays well-behaved and thrives in hot, dry conditions, and it attracts insects and butterflies. Choose from a variety of colors including yellows, oranges, pinks, reds, purples and multi-colored. Lantana grows to about two to four feet high, depending on the variety and growing conditions. With full sun you can forget about it and it will thrive.

If you love hummingbirds as I do, you'll want as many annual salvia as possible in your garden. Hummingbirds love to sip nectar from salvia, especially red ones. You can choose from the various types of annual salvia, but I find the tall, thin Salvia coccinea especially attractive. I love their tall, graceful nature, as opposed to the shorter, wider Salvia splendens. Some of the cultivars you'll find in the garden center include 'Forest Fire' or 'Lady in Red.' Hummingbirds prefer tubular plants including petunias and cypress vine.

Other great salvia in my garden include tall-growing, bluish Salvia guaranitica 'Black and Blue,' and purple-colored Salvia farinacea (Mealy-cup sage). Drought-tolerant salvia is a carefree, prolific bloomer that thrives in full sun or partial shade. Butterflies are fond of salvia, but deer are not.

If you are patient and want to plan for fall color, try one pineapple sage plant in your garden. The leaves smell just like pineapple, the flowers are red, and their fall bloom is a welcome presence in the fall garden. Mine returned this year for the first time thanks to the warm winter. Try covering your plant with mulch to increase the chances of its return. Give it some room—the plant will reach three to four feet in height by the end of the season.

Because annuals can be costly, I enjoy the free ones that re-seed themselves each year and you can too if you don't smother them in mulch. I am rewarded each year with two low maintenance vines: cypress vine and morning glory. If you don't like where they've sprouted, carefully dig up the whole plant and move it to the desired location.

Cypress vine (a.k.a. Hummingbird Vine, Ipomoea quamoclit) has delicate fern-like foliage on vines that can reach 12 to 20 feet, with red flowers. With some minor pruning, you can keep the vines at a desired height. This easy to grow vine, literally sprouts up and grows each year without any intervention. Sometimes I move it, but most of the time, I just let it sprout and it finds my trellis each year. Give it some sun and just about any soil and it will reward you all season long. Make sure to leave the ground alone the following year and you will get free vines.

A similar scenario occurs for morning glory vines. If you plant the famous 'Heavenly Blue' variety, the re-seeded plants will appear purplish the following year. But they're free!

Speaking of blue, as I gazed across the aisle at a garden center a few years ago, it was love at first sight. 'Blue Daze' evolvulus is a mat-forming, drought-tolerant, sun-loving annual. I love to combine it with yellows and purples such as yellow calibrachoa and purplish angelonia, two low-maintenance annuals. Calibrachoa have small petunia-like flowers and come in a rainbow of colors. Once in a while, I give the plants a haircut if they get too big. Other than that—it's hands off. Give them some room to spread.

Here are some other low-maintenance favorites that you'll find in my garden most years: zinnia (especially the Profusion series), tithonia (from seed), dragon wing begonia, sweet potato vine, caladium, and Wave petunia.

Have a colorful summer!

Barbara Rosenzweig May 21, 2012 at 02:50 AM
Great suggestions, Laura! I'm one of those gardeners who hates to water plants, except when transplanting or planting new ones. At this point, I have only perennials in my garden with no mulch, just periwinkle (Vinca minor) as a ground cover to crowd out weeds and keep in moisture. Will lantana and salvia survive if watered for only a few weeks and then left on their own?
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