My top five workhorse annuals

I’m always on the lookout for high-impact, low-maintenance annuals to keep my pots and containers looking good all summer.

A couple of Saturdays ago my mom and I spent the afternoon on our favourite tour of local garden centres. It’s a bit early to actually plant anything yet, (the rule of thumb in Manitoba is to wait until after the May long weekend when you can be reasonably sure that the risk of frost has passed) but we’re both just itching to get started planning, if not planting, our containers.

Not all the stock had arrived yet, so we picked up a few basic pot stuffers to keep us satisfied while we plot out our colour schemes.

We actually got some beautiful sweet potato vine at Costco for a song! If you haven’t grown it before, sweet potato vine grows very quickly and looks wonderful spilling over the edge of a pot. We got both this dark leafed type as well as a bright lime.

Just like you have to decorate your home to suit your lifestyle and personality, so too your yard. I am finally accepting that I need low maintenance, virtually abuse-proof annuals, as I don’t usually have a lot of time to put into my yard once summer is in full swing.

That means anything that can’t handle getting a bit dry, or that needs constant dead-heading, won’t cut it.

My Top Five Workhorse Annuals

These standbys are some of the things that do best in my barely cared-for summer garden (well, containers mostly):

  1. Impatiens in the shadier corners and occasionally tucked into pots. I’m for the vibrant colours, not the pastels. These might need brushing off occasionally, but no real dead heading.
  2. New Guinea impatiens for the sunnier spots. I love the vibrant orange and deep lush pink best of all — and again, no real dead heading needed.
  3. Wave petunias and their kin. Yup. They grow profusely, cascade marvelously, fill in beds like nobody’s business, and are self cleaning. Lately, I’ve been liking the classic purple wave, though the blue wave and deep pinks are also very nice.
  4. Geraniums. Although they do tend to need some deadheading, they’re not producing dozens of blooms a day that I have to keep up with. As long as I don’t go overboard on the numbers, these are another reliable addition. I look for deep pink and magenta as a rule, although the classic red geranium does have a certain charm. My husband was admiring a gorgeous cherry pink one at a neighbourhood plant stand the other evening, so that might find its way home this year!

5. Sweet potato vine. As I said above, it fills in the gaps, spills over the edges, adding colour, texture and dimension to a container. (Swedish ivy is another vine I use from time to time that also grows quickly and cascades wonderfully out of a pot.)

And, just for fun, a bonus plant:

Cuban oregano is a fuzzy leafed, soft green beauty that grows quickly into a very tidy mound. It’s reasonably heat and drought tolerant, and it smells great. House and Garden identifies it as a house plant, but I have only ever bought it as an annual. Missed it the last couple of years, and jumped on it when I saw it in the garden centre the other day!

I’ll always add in a few new things that I want to try or that bring in great colours or textures that I don’t think I can live without, but these five tend to make up the base of my summer container garden (which is most of my garden, frankly).

Are you a gardener who pampers exotic and delicate plants, or a love ’em and leave ’em gal like me? What are your go-to annual plants and favourite combinations in your pots and containers?

20 thoughts on “My top five workhorse annuals

    1. Carol Standil Post author

      Thanks for commenting, Andrea! We get a particularly strong case of planting fever here because of our snowy (and not “growy”) winters! I’m envious because you have so many year round options available to you!

  1. Barbara @ DIY Home Staging Tips

    Great picks. I love Cuban Oregano, too, and don’t know why we don’t see more of it. It’s so fragrant!

    I’m the kind of gardener who lets plants duke it out, and let the strongest survive. But I also enjoy propagating plants that I want more of. I’ve done a couple posts lately about my favorite plants.

  2. Kelly @ DTTDidc

    Impatiens are the absolute best annual. They really are maintenance-free, and they come in so many beautiful colours. I’m with you, I go for the vibrant shades. My favourite is a combination of deep reddish-pink with bright orange. I’ve only found that colour at one nursery so far.

    Happy planting!

    1. Carol Standil Post author

      Thanks for commenting, Kelly! I’m happy to say that local nurseries are brimming with impatiens in all kinds of colours — including lots of bright orange– and I’ll be bringing mine home soon!

    2. sue vandee

      I too love impatients , every where I have lived has had a lot of shade so these are my go to flowers for pots brights against white

      1. Carol Standil Post author

        That sounds lovely, Sue! I just put together a little hanging basket last night with orange, hot pink and white impatiens with a bit of ivy that will hang beside a white wall… I can’t wait for it to fill out a bit!
        Happy growing!

    1. Carol Standil Post author

      Thanks Jil – The New Guinea impatiens do quite nicely in the sun… And apparently there is a new variation called Sunpatiens, too. I haven’t seen or tried it yet. Happy planting!

  3. Pingback: Let the Gardening Begin! « PM27's Blog

  4. Susan

    I too am looking for the low maintenance variety this year. And I’ve finally given in to the less is more mantra and am going for fewer pots but bigger ones that create more impact visually. Many of the annuals you mention are my go-to ones as well but you’ve added a few I’ve never tried. Great post Carol.

  5. Kriss Rubio

    I saw Sweet Potato vine at the garden center and didnt know what it was. Now i do! Thank you! Here in Maine we have to wait until our Memorial Day Weekend to plant, though sometimes I cheat and put in things earlier. Love the insight. Thank you!

    1. Carol Standil Post author

      Thanks Kriss — when you go to take the sweet potato vine out at the end of the season you’ll find a bunch of potato-like tubers attached to the roots! We had a frost warning the other night and I was busy covering all my annuals. Good luck with your planting this year!

  6. carol paton

    I share your love of these solid, reliable bloomers. I have tried many different annuals with only mixed success, so I keep coming back to these for their eye-popping colors and non-stop flowering. Geraniums, impatiens, and wave petunias (or calibrachoa) provide our Chicago area deck containers with tons of annual color. Sweet potato vines, even the less aggressive ones are fast growing champs, but I tend to go with the more polite vinca vine or lysimachia. I am starting to really love the newer varieties of sun choleus too. They fill in very fast, are tall enough to put in the center or back of a container in lieu of spikes, and are vibrant in color. I am not familiar with Cuban Oregano but will look for some. What a pretty little plant:)

    1. Carol Standil Post author

      Thanks for commenting, Carol! I was admiring some very lovely coleus at one of the garden centres, but haven’t yet picked anything up. There are some gorgeous varieties with gigantic leaves I would love to try, and another with a gorgeous dark and lime green variegated leaf. Have a great growing season!


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