Over the last 8 years, I have been planting and evaluating annual flowers in public and private gardens in Northeast Kansas. While K-State has its Prairie Star flower list, I make my own conclusions based on weather, performance, durability, and pest tolerance. The following annual flowers are the best for Northeast Kansas gardens, in 8 years. I hope to start having a Grimm’s Gardens Amazing Annuals list in 2019, to help you pick your flowers.
Dorotheanthus ‘Mezoo trailing Red’ is a mouthful to say, but what a plant! This succulent trailer is great in beds and containers and I often use it in our Xeri-Pot containers. The white-edge leaves and bright pink flowers make this an outstanding annual for any garden. It is extremely drought tolerant, has no pest issues, and grows from 10 to 48 inches long, in full sun.
Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’ is a long-blooming, heat-tolerant annual with great flower power. This annual just keeps on going through the heat of summer and right until frost. The bright, neon pink blooms fill in quickly and show off. It is great for beds, if used in the center or behind shorter annuals. It grows 3 to 4 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide, and is very drought tolerant, in full sun.
There are lots of grasses that perform very well, but Ruby grass ‘Savannah’ is a prolific bloomer with pale, blue-green leaves that add a soft element to the garden. It can be used as the thriller in containers, as a border, or in mass plantings. Very drought tolerant, this grass has no pest issues in urban landscapes, and grows 1 to 2 feet tall and wide, in full sun.
Ornamental sweet potato vines have always been outstanding in the landscape. I list no specific variety, they all do great here. They are drought tolerant, but can be planted in standing water. I often use them along streams and waterfalls, placing the roots right in the water. They come in a wide variety of leaf shapes and colors and some have showy blooms. There are dwarf varieties too, that are not as vigorous as older cultivars. They grow 3 to 15 feet long, and 1 to 2 feet tall, in full sun to part shade. They have some pest issues with beetles and grasshoppers, but no major disease problems.
Silver plectranthus is a great, full sun to almost full shade plant. This soft, silver leaved annual is a great spreader, growing 2 to 6 feet wide, if given enough growing time before frost. It is very drought tolerant and has no pest issues.
Cyperus ‘Prince Tut’ and ‘King Tut’ are great centerpiece annuals for full to part sun. These water loving plants are also very drought tolerant. They can be planted in containers, in beds, or in massings. They add a fine texture appeal to any arrangement. They grow from 2 to 6 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide and have no pest issues.
Cuphea ‘Vermillionaire’ aka Firecracker Plant is a great addition for those who love seeing hummingbirds swoop through the landscape. This tough annual can be completely dried out and come back to life after a good rain. The bright red-orange flowers are a favorite for many pollinators besides hummingbirds. They love full sun but can handle light shade, and grow 1 to 3 feet tall and 1 foot wide. They can be planted in containers, as borders, singly or in mass.
Tropical milkweed is a great annual for pollinators as well as being a host plant for both the Monarch and Queen butterfly. This sun loving, drought tolerant annual milkweed is great in mass plantings or in borders among other pollinator plants. Aphids can be an issue, but can be controlled with a systemic insecticide at applied to the soil at planting. This insecticide will not affect either caterpillars or pollinators, just aphids and other sap-sucking insects. It grows 1 to 4 feet tall, 2 to 3 feet wide.
Helenium ‘Dakota Gold’ could be considered for annual flower of the decade in my books! This heat loving, drought tolerant, full sun annual is great for pollinators, and has no pest problems. It grows 1 to 2 feet wide and 10 inches tall. It may reseed itself every year and can be planted in the toughest sites of the landscape. It is great in containers, beds and borders, and in mass plantings. It blooms continuously all summer and to frost.
When it comes to shade loving plants, one hardly thinks of annuals. However, Golden Shrimp Plant grows best in part shade. This tall annual can be quite vigorous and showy. Hummingbirds are attracted to the long flowers. There are no noticeable pest issues. It grows 1 to 3 feet tall and wide and can be used in containers or in mass plantings.
Celosia ‘New Look Red’ has brought celosia back into the landscape after several years of desertion. This celosia is a powerhouse of flower power, blooming continuously over the summer and fall. The reddish-green leaves also add an attractive element to the garden. It grows 1 to 2 feet tall and wide, in full sun to part shade, and is very drought tolerant.
When choosing a coleus, I think we have to be very careful with the multitude of choices out there. There are easily hundreds of varieties to choose from. ‘Alabama Sunset’ (above) is a top performer in the coleus world. This bright annual has sun tolerant leaves and grows great in full sun without any fading and performs just as well in part shade like other coleus. It grows 2 to 3 feet tall and wide and has no pest issues. Use in containers, mass plantings, borders, or mix among hostas and other shade plants in the garden.
Brazilian verbena is a tall, open and airy annual with outstanding pollinator powers. Attractive to many pollinators, this annual is extremely drought tolerant, can reseed itself, and is adaptable to full sun or part shade. It grows 2 to 5 feet tall and wide.
Another great coleus is ‘Dipt in Wine’, a red, green, and yellow cultivar that keeps its color, no matter the circumstances. Like other coleus, it is great in containers, beds, borders, or shade gardens. It grows 1 to 2 feet tall and wide.
Mexican sunflower is a bright, tall, sunny plant for large areas. This huge sunflower like plant is a favorite of many pollinators in summer and autumn. It just blooms and blooms and blooms! It grows 4 to 10 feet tall and wide and is very drought tolerant. It prefers, hot full sun but can take some part shade. It has no pest issues.
Who could put together an annual flower list with a petunia? Supertunia ‘Bubblegum’ is an outstanding performer in every landscape and almost every situation. It mixes well into hanging baskets, containers, beds, borders, and large planters. It grows 3 to 10 feet wide and is very drought tolerant. However, like all petunias, it cannot stand wet feet. I have never see a pest issue with this petunia.
Coleus ‘Redhead’ is another great coleus for your garden. This fire engine red plant holds its color in full sun or part shade. It grows 1 to 2 feet tall and wide and is very drought tolerant. Use in containers, beds, borders, or shade gardens.
There are many salvias to choose from in the nursery, but I prefer ‘Black & Blue’ for its flower power. This salvia can be perennial in mild winters, saving you money in the second year. The bright, blue flowers are surrounded by black calyxes. It grows in full sun, 2 to 4 feet tall and wide. Hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators visit the stately flowers. It is extremely drought tolerant and has no pest issues.
Finally, Black Eyed Susan vine is a great addition to your trellis in the garden. This annual vine can have orange, red, pink, or mauve colored flowers depending on variety. It grows 3 to 15 feet long and an can easily overtake any trellis or arbor. The flowers are attractive to pollinators and it grows in full sun to part shade. There are no pest issues and it is extremely drought tolerant.