Plenty of really reliable annuals for all-summer bloom are available at local garden centers and small growers around the Cape and Islands. When you are shopping for plants, opt for compact instead of sprawling, and look for plants that are rooted to the bottom of the pot.
In the old days, most annuals were grown from seed and often required a lot of work through the summer, particularly cutting back and deadheading. After a rainstorm, Petunias (particularly doubles) looked like used tissue paper and getting them to look nice involved cleaning the nasty blossoms off. Otherwise, they would ‘go to seed’ and stop producing flowers.
Over the past few decades, plant breeders have developed a large number of annual varieties that are self-cleaning, and don’t ever go to seed. In the genus Petunia, for instance, there have been vast improvements with one of the best known being the ‘Supertunia.’ Calibrachoas, a cousin of the Petunia, have exploded on the annual scene in the past 10 years. They offer smaller flowers than the Petunia and a wide range of colors.
Flowers in this group all prefer plenty of sun, and they mix well with other plants that prefer sun. Supertunias need no deadheading, and there is great variety within the series. Upright types are great in the ground, and the trailing types are better in containers where they can spill over the sides. Petunias are heavy feeders and require regular applications of fertilizer to keep going all summer, but the results are stunning. Purples, whites, pinks, salmons, reds, and bicolors are all great for mixing. There’s even a purple double called ‘Priscilla’ that never looks bad, and mixes very well with white.
Verbenas have come a long way in the last several years, with breeding that combines well-branched, long-blooming plants that look great in mixed containers. Trailing Verbena spills out and over the edges of containers, and the lacy foliage provides nice contrast to flatter leaves. Look for the ‘Lanai’ series or ‘Superbena.’
The Begonia family has grown, too. Twenty-five years ago, the most exciting things about the basic garden variety Begonias were the names associated with the plants, like ‘whisky,’ ‘gin,’ and ‘vodka.’ Today’s Begonias are spectacular in terms of color, shape, and performance. ‘Non-Stop’ and ‘Illumination’ Begonias will stop you in your tracks with masses of stunning double-white, yellow, salmon, apricot, or red flowers. The dwarf growth habit of ‘Non-Stop’ makes them perfect for slightly windy locations, and ideal for shady window boxes and containers. Combine these beauties with shade-loving foliage such as that found in spider and fern plants, and you will have an exotic look that keeps blooming right up until frost.