Well, it’s almost that time of year again when garden centres become flooded with consumers eager to fill their carts with flowering annuals that beautify residential and commercial landscapes all summer. Every year, breeders introduce a myriad of new flowers to the gardening market, but only a fraction of those are worthy of getting excited over, and worth the investment.

Following is a sampling of some of the best new annuals for 2016 that are available in garden centres now, which are for the most part, improved versions of old standby favourites. But first, a few annual basics.

Annuals 101

Annuals are plants that flower, set seed and die when frost hits — all within the same growing season. Unlike perennials, which only flower for one or two weeks at a time then go dormant until next year, annuals are not hardy enough to overwinter in our zone 5b climate, but are nevertheless invaluable for enriching landscapes with continuous flower colour all Quebec-summer long.

Annuals can fill spaces in new garden borders or as perennials fade and are useful anywhere landscapes need an extra boost of colour. Hanging baskets and containers overflowing with healthy annuals decorate entranceways, enhancing curb appeal. Continuous flowering uses up much of the plant’s energy so annuals require regular fertilizing to replenish depleted nutrients and to continue performing optimally. There are more annual selections for sun than shade, and this year more than ever, orange colours abound.

Annuals for Sun:

Bicoloured Bidens

Bidens is a popular annual whose small but profuse, sunny flowers bloom all summer atop barely-seen wiry, green stems. New bicolour Bidens varieties like ‘Campfire Fireburst’ or another called ‘Beedance Painted Red’ are unique in that the flower centre remains yellow while the outer half of its flower petals changes colour depending on the temperature: in cooler weather edges take on a reddish hue, whereas heat makes them turn orange.

Like all bidens, bicoloured varieties are drought tolerant, but also attract bees and other pollinators with its sweet perfume and high nectar content.

Bidens are multipurpose flowers with a mounding habit that look great alone or as fillers with complimentary flower colours such as purple perennial geranium, purple petunias or blue salvias. Bicoloured Bidens would also pair nicely in containers with small fountain grass thrillers such as ‘Pennisetum Advena Rubrum Minimus’.

‘Cleopatra’ Canna Lily

Here is another hot new annual with unusual, variable colour. This striking tropical statement plant is eye candy in any large decorative container all on its own. It is perfect for sunny patios by poolsides with its bright orange and yellow flowers that are sometimes speckled with orange polka dots on tall, sturdy stalks. Cleopatra’s foliage is just as appealing and surprising, sporting either all green, all burgundy or burgundy striped markings. Cleopatra cannas are a bit pricey, but their rhizomes can be saved and stored for growing in following seasons.

Portulaca grandiflora ‘Mojave Fuchia’

Their succulent leaves hold water, so Portulacas can take the heat, which makes them perfect annual flowers for extreme places like rooftop terraces or as a groundcover in rock gardens or wherever soil is lean. They are also excellent annuals for anyone forgetting to water or who is often away. This portulaca is an improvement on older varieties because of its large, loonie sized, floriferous, hot-pink flowers. ‘Mojave Tangerine’ is a similar variety with orange flowers.

Shade Annuals

Coleus

The coleus family of annuals are grown for their uncommonly multicoloured foliage rather than for flowers. ‘Campfire’ and ‘Under the Sea’ are two new introductions to an already numerous selection of cultivars. ’Campfire’ is an impressive, rusty-orange coleus and ‘Under the Sea’ is dark burgundy with vivid lime-coloured, fringed edging. Both are easy to grow and suitable for containers or as bedding plants where they will compliment strategically placed perennials with like colours. Although coleus grow well in moderate amounts of shade, their colours are most vibrant in full sun, so experiment to determine which ones works best in your site.

Nonstop tuberhybrida Begonia

‘Mocca Bright Orange’

No surprise that it has been named the 2016 annual of the year, the begonia is not just effortless to grow, but is one of the most diverse plant groups with literally hundreds to choose from. As the name implies, it continues to produce flowers ‘nonstop’ over summer without having to remove spent blooms. What is special about this variety is the dark leaf colour, a seductive backdrop for the extra large, vivid orange flowers. These popular, versatile shade or sun annuals look best in landscapes on their own where their simple beauty can be admired.

Whatever annuals you choose this year, make sure you plan out your needs and colour preferences before heading to the garden centre or you may get carried away once surrounded by beautiful flowers.

Elaine Sanders can be reached at www.solutionsjardins.com

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