Most gardeners have a group of plants they turn to every year for planting in their beds, borders and containers. And while it's nice to have a repertoire of plants they can count on to perform consistently, gardens and containers can begin to look a little predictable -- each year just like the one before. This year, why not "plant outside the box" with annuals that have been recently introduced or are often overlooked.
Amaranthus Velvet Curtains
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If you have space near the back of the border or plant very large containers, grow Velvet Curtains Amaranthus. It is a dramatic plant with rich, dark red foliage topped by burgundy flower fronds.
It grows up to 5 feet tall in the garden, but would stay a little shorter in a container. Velvet Curtains loves the bright, hot summer sun and well-drained soil.
Angelonia, commonly called summer snapdragon, is top on the list. They love heat and never languish in summer. Everything about Angelonia is beautiful including its stature, foliage and snapdragon-like flowers in shades of white, pink, and purple.
They prefer to be planted in well-drained soil in a sunny location and appreciate a light application of a balanced granular fertilizer. Make them happy and they will reward you with an abundant supply of flowers from June to September. Angelonias look best when planted in groups, so plant three to five in a large container or plant a drift in a perennial border. They are wonderful when used as cut flowers lasting a week in a vase.
When choosing a plant for a hanging basket or to trail over the edge of a container, choose a Calibrachoa.
Commonly referred to as million bells, they begin to bloom in late spring and don't stop until frost. There is a newer, double form that is very special.
The Minifamous series grows six to 10 inches tall before trailing out two feet long. Flower colors include shades of violet, blue, pink, red, magenta, yellow, bronze, and white. The best news: they don't need deadheading!
Plant calibrachoa in moderately rich, well-drained soil in full sun.
They will grow satisfactorily in part shade but flowering will decrease. To maximize bloom, apply a slow-release balanced fertilizer.
Euphorbia Silver Fog
Silver Fog Euphorbia grows 18 inches tall and wide while producing a billowy mass of tiny, white flowers reminiscent of baby's breath. It is heat and drought-tolerant and blooms nonstop from spring to frost.
Its soft white flowers complement any plant nearby, and looks equally impressive when planted in a drift among other annuals or perennials or at the base of shrubs as it does in hanging baskets or containers.
Salvia Black and Blue
The hummingbirds will flock to your yard if you plant this one. No other plant in my yard has attracted more hummingbirds!
Black and Blue Salvia grows quickly up to three feet and forms bushy plants with coarse green leaves. The intense deep blue blossoms are held on bluish black stems.
Plant in well-drained soil in full sun and feed with a balanced fertilizer. It performs happily in the garden, but is also nice in large mixed containers.
They are best positioned in the mid-ground where their coarse foliage can be partially hidden by the plants in the foreground and offset with contrasting foliage behind.
Zea Field of Dreams'
Plant Field of Dreams Ornamental Corn in a group in the back of a perennial border or as the thriller in a very large container garden.
This is an eye-catching variety with highly variegated green and white leaves touched with pink. Plants even produce ears of corn with dark kernels that add fall interest.
Best sited in well-drained soil in full sun, it will quickly grow four to five feet tall.
Be daring when you visit the garden center this spring.
Take a look at these plants as well as other annuals you may not have considered before.
It's good to choose past favorites -- old friends that you can trust -- but it's exciting to make new friends, too!
• Diana Stoll is a horticulturist and the garden center manager at The Planter's Palette, 28W571 Roosevelt Road, Winfield. Call (630) 293-1040 or visit planterspalette.com.