New annuals for 2016 offer low-risk possibilities. Have fun and take chances — these plants probably won’t be around by next year, anyway.
SWEET PEAS, SUNFLOWERS, begonias and geraniums — what would summer be without them? You can define annuals by what they’re not — long-lasting, expensive or structural. Whether you call them annuals or tender perennials, they rarely survive the winter. And because these single-season plants don’t take much commitment, they’re fun and easy to play around with — check out these new colors, patterns and crosses for 2016:
• Cosmos are some of the easiest annuals to grow from seed or starts. They bloom a long time and last well in bouquets. But their color range has been limited to cool tones in white through lavender. Which makes the soft buttery yellow of Cosmos ‘Xanthos’ a real breakthrough — these are the first warm-colored cosmos. They’re shorter than most and well-branched, have the same attractive ferny foliage and bloom from May through October.
• Even if, like me, you’re not much of a petunia fan, the new P. ‘Night Sky’ with its unique coloration might prove irresistible. It’ll trail out of pots or hanging baskets like most petunias. But that’s where the familiarity ends. The flowers of ‘Night Sky’ are a deep inky blue dotted and spotted in white. I’m not sure the pattern suggests a constellation of stars, but it’s unusual and appealingly dramatic.
• Bidens are in the aster family, with small daisylike flowers ideal for summer pots and window boxes. The new Bidens ‘Beedance Painted Red’ won an innovation award in Germany for the best new bedding and balcony plant, in part because it holds its flowers up above the foliage. But the pretty coloration that morphs with the temperature is what makes this bidens a standout. When it’s warm, the flowers have yellow centers tipped in red-orange. When the weather cools, the tip color spreads to color the petals in a solid red-orange.
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• Zinnias are border- and cutting-garden staples, and I can’t remember a summer in my life I haven’t grown them. This year I plan to find room for the newish Zinnia elegans ‘Cupcakes Mix’, with puffy flowers in sherbet shades from vanilla cream through lemon, peach and raspberry. ‘Cupcakes’ grows 30 inches tall, blooms for months, holds up well in bouquets and dries beautifully.
• If the point of coleus is to gaudy up the garden, then the new Coleus ‘Flame Thrower Spiced Curry’ is more than up to the task. The leaves are toothed and veined and boldly splashed in shades of curry gold and deepest burgundy. It does well in sun or partial shade, and its compact habit makes it perfect to grow in pots.
• Another annual with stunning foliage, Ipomoea ‘Solar Power Red’, is a soft shade of terra cotta veined in burgundy. Sweet potato vines, usually in chartreuse or dark purple, have been around for a while, and few other annuals are as effective draping down the side of a pot. What distinguishes this one is its unusual color, which I’d expect to blend beautifully with yellows, blues, purples, pinks … just about any other flowers you can imagine stuffing into the same pot.
• Birds, bees and butterflies love sunflowers as much as we do. Helianthus ‘Copper Queen’ is a tall, leggy beauty, with bi-colored golden petals that shade into orange. The flowers are shown off to perfection by a large, so-brown-it’s-almost-black center disk. They’re pollen-free so make good cut flowers, and they’re rich in nectar to attract pollinators.