Five of the Best Summer Annuals

Color is the finishing touch to your beautifully landscaped garden. Texas would be a drab place without it. Here is my quick list. (If you ask me again in a few weeks, odds are the list will be different, but I promise you all of these will perform.)

Dragon Wing begonias. I’ve always been a big sucker for wax begonias. That dates back 60 years in my life. Dragon Wings are recent large-leafed, larger-flowering hybrids that are great in beds, baskets and pots. Their leaves are as big as your palms, and their flowers are almost as large as golfballs. They grow best in sun until mid-morning in summer, then shade the rest of the day. They’re currently available in reds and pinks. Glorious plants!


Cutting-grown coleus. I have grown these in every garden for the past 60 years. I asked for “a start” from the TAMU greenhouses, but I was turned down with a puff of cigar smoke in my face. I watched the trashcans at the greenhouses, and one night, when the prof had dumped the entire crop, I grabbed some up and took them home to my greenhouse. Our wedding reception in Ohio was decorated with them, and I’ll be planting this year’s crops as soon as danger of hail has passed this weekend. I grow mine in morning sun with afternoon shade. Most of the new hybrids that are filling the nurseries are touted for full sun, and I’ve had luck with them there as well. This may be the one annual I would plant if I could only have one! I love coleus.


Trailing lantanas. I’ve always figured that any plant that can survive summers in Del Rio/Uvalde has to be worthy of a place in my plantings. Lantanas are native in that area, and they’re always welcome in mine. The most popular trailing lantana today is New Gold, a triploid (sterile) hybrid that just keeps blooming. My preference, although you rarely see it, is Gold Mound and its companion Silver Mound (white). I’m a huge fan of trailing lavender and its white counterpart. Give these all full, hot, blazing, unbearable sun and keep them moist. They’ll love it!


Firebush. Greg Grant and Drs. Jerry Parsons and Steve George of TAMU introduced us to this great SW Texas native about 20 years ago. It’s an annual or, in South Texas, perennial, that grows to be 24 to 36 inches tall and wide. But it’s not a shrub. It blooms from spring until fall, but the real show comes as it turns cool in September. The leaves, stems and flowers all shade from their coppery-green summer appearance to sold copper-orange-red all fall. Butterflies head toward it, as do migrating hummingbirds. This is a sweet, sweet plant in front of contrasting copper plants or purple fountaingrass.


Pentas. Plant breeders have been at work to find us the very best pentas ever. They’ve reduced the varieties’ mature heights to 10 to 16 inches, with a range of colors from red and lavender to pink and white. You’ll rarely see a serious problem with pests, and they flower almost continuously. I use them in beds, but I also fill large patio pots with them. They combine well with other annuals.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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