Favorite Newer Annuals

At the end of every gardening season, I order next year’s annual plants for my regular gardening clients. I consider it a huge job perk—I get paid to page through plant catalogs and select combinations of newer annuals for the containers, window boxes and garden beds that I tend. (Plus, it’s really fun to buy large quantities of plants using other people’s money.)

Flowering plants are often the most challenging to choose. There are countless varieties that each claim to be the most reliable bloomers, plants that will actually provide the ever-elusive “season-long color.” I’m lucky to have access to my coworkers and their extensive knowledge about the gardens they tend. It’s like we have a giant network of test gardens, and we report our findings to each other as we plan our plant orders. Here’s our most recent list of top-performing newer annuals.

Archangel Angelonia series

a newer annual called angelonia with purple flowersIf you’re unfamiliar with Angelonia, you should meet her. This lovely little plant has dainty upright flower spikes that bloom in shades of pink, purple and white. The Archangel series boasts compact plants with predictable tidy growth and excellent heat and drought tolerance. At maturity, the plants will be about 1 foot tall and wide, with the majority of their stems covered in flowers or buds. They’re perfect for containers or small garden spaces.

In full to partial sun and with a little deadheading (removing the expired flower stems), Archangel angelonia produces flowers from late May until October. My favorites from this series include ‘Raspberry’, ‘Cherry Red’ and ‘Dark Rose’. The colors are vibrant and bright throughout the life of each flower.

Cannova® Canna series

Past canna lily cultivars have been enormous in size and late to bloom. The Cannova® series is neither of these: its plants are compact and tidy, with big, blousy flowers that develop in early summer. The 3-foot-tall plants are small enough for containers but large enough to hold their own in a crowded garden border. I’ve grown these over the past few years now, and they always bloom very consistently, especially with regular deadheading.

Full sun and regular watering are best for the Cannovas. Their flower colors are tropical and cheerful: I like ‘Mango’, ‘Rose’ and ‘Lemon’ the best. Most varieties have bright green leaves, while ‘Bronze Red’ and ‘Bronze Orange’ have burgundy leaves and red and orange flowers, respectively. Canna bulbs are prolific and easy to overwinter indoors, so this annual plant is actually a long-term garden investment!

SuperCal® Petchoa series

newer annual with orange flowers calibrachoaThe petchoa is a hybrid plant with genetic material from both Petunia and Calibrachoa species. Before I recommend this plant, I must emphasize that I really hate petunias. They’re always straggly and chlorotic and failing by midsummer. I’m not the biggest fan of calibrachoa either, for similar reasons. A petchoa, however, flowers until frost while maintaining its tidy, bushy growth habit with greenery that rivals its earlier spring appearance. The SuperCal® series comes in deep, warm colors like ‘French Vanilla’, ‘Cinnamon’, ‘Bordeaux’ and ‘Caramel Yellow’, along with the regular pink, purple and white shades of classic petunias. I planted these on a whim last season and was continually shocked by how much I really like these hybrid petunias. (A few tips: Full sun. Pinch them. Watch out for aphids.)

Stream Lobularia series

Lobularia (common name: sweet alyssum) is an old-timey plant with an outstanding new cultivar series. Stream alyssum flowers longer than any of the newer annuals I’ve ever seen. We planted hundreds of them this past April as part of a spring arrangement. From then on, they grew and bloomed steadily and generously, until we had to yank them in late October. From cold weather to the summer’s hottest heat and then back to cold again, the Streams were unapologetically showy and only required minor trimming to keep them flowering. Series colors include ‘Purple’, ‘Raspberry’, ‘White’ and ‘Lilac’ among others. The plants have a delightful trailing growth habit, making them ideal for hanging baskets and container plantings.

Sunpatiens® Compact series

Sun-tolerant impatiens varieties have exploded in the last few years. They’ve usurped the beloved old-fashioned shade-loving varieties while also becoming one of my preferred newer annuals for sun. The Sunpatiens® Compact series encompasses a full spectrum of red, pink, orange, white and purple blooms. My favorite colors are ‘Pink Candy’, ‘Deep Rose’ and ‘Royal Magenta’. But really, they’re all exceptional.

This impatiens is vigorous without being too bossy, growing to a substantial 2 feet tall and wide by the end of summer. Plants bloom (and then rebloom) without deadheading, which is ideal considering how truly floriferous they are. I think they’re best in full sun with regular watering, though they also perform well in part-shade. Sunpatiens have excellent heat tolerance, too.

This spring as you are doing your plant shopping look for some of these newer annuals to brighten your garden all season.

This article by Laura Schwarz originally appeared in the November/December 2020 issue of Northern Gardener.

For more information about hort society programs and projects, join the hort!

5 Comments

  1. Maija Sedzielarz on November 11, 2021 at 12:33 am

    I also hate petunias, but have had some good luck with calibrachoa. I too was surprised by how much I loved my Bordeaux SuperCal! The deep red flowers were spectacular and bloomed all summer.

    • Mary Lahr Schier on November 17, 2021 at 4:29 pm

      We agree. Bordeaux is amazing — beautiful plant.

  2. Soni Forsman on November 11, 2021 at 3:39 pm

    I grew the Sunpatiens Compact this past summer. I selected Orange and a Deep Rose. Both were fabulous. Required no work except water and some feeding. Highly recommend.

  3. Mary Tholkes on November 11, 2021 at 4:00 pm

    I grew sunpatiens this year for the first time. They needed a lot of water-sometimes twice daily. I think I’ll stick to begonias, especially Dragon Wings next year.

  4. Linda Borgos on November 11, 2021 at 6:41 pm

    Loved my Angelonia this year! Mine were Angelface, both Super Blue and Super Pink. Very little maintenance and they bloomed brightly into late October.

Leave a Comment