Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.

annual flowers

blogblackpearlHere’s a real “wow” plant for you! ‘Black Pearl’ ornamental pepper. Enjoy it for its dark foliage in spring and early summer — then the grape-sized round black fruits enchant in summer before they put on a real show and turn dazzling red in early autumn. It’s one of my favorite varieties — a staple in my garden (and an All-America Selections winner back in 2006!).

Petunias are among the most popular of annual flowers — and for good reason. They’re easy-care and long-blooming, and come in just about every color you can imagine.

If the plants have a downside, it’s that they’re heavy feeders, just like a hungry teenager. After all, it takes a lot of nutrients to keep producing all those big, beautiful flowers!

Consequently, some gardeners find the plants tend to slow down in midsummer. Prevent this by keeping your petunias well fed with a balanced, general-purpose fertilizer. Follow the directions on the packaging for a guide on how much to use and how often to use it. (Tip: Fertilizer is not one of those things where you can say if some is good, more is better; too much fertilizer can harm or even kill plants.)

You may also find it’s helpful to give your petunias, especially older varieties, a haircut. It’s simple — just snip off the top two or three inches of new growth from the plants. It causes them to bush out more, producing more branches along the plants so there’s an even distribution of flowers instead of all the blooms being at the ends of the stems.

One of the advantages of being a garden editor is that I get to see and grow new varieties before they’re widely available. Yesterday our friends at Ball Horticultural made a visit to our offices to let us know about some of the new varieties they will be introducing this year and next. It sparked a feeding frenzy as editors grabbed samples to try in their gardens this summer. If these varieties pass muster in our yards, you’ll hear more about them from us in the future.

Double Wave Red petunia

Double Wave Red petunia

One variety of petunia that you’ll soon be able to get for your own garden is Double Wave Red. It will be released on May 1, just in time for summer planting. It’s a new color in the Double Wave Series of petunias. This year also is the 15th anniversary of the original Wave Purple spreading petunia. Ball is celebrating by introducing an upgrade to the original with larger flowers and earlier bloom.

Divine Orange Bronze Leaf New Guinea impatiens

Divine Orange Bronze Leaf New Guinea impatiens

You’ll likely have to wait until 2011 to get your hands on Divine Orange Bronze Leaf New Guinea impatiens. This large-flowered heat and shade lover is reported to grow well in baskets or in the ground. Most New Guineas impatiens with blooms this large are vegetatively propagated (from cuttings). This one is grown from seed. Commercial growers can order seed this year, but consumers won’t find them in the garden centers until next year.

Phantom petunia

Phantom petunia

One of my favorites at first glance from the presentation was Phantom petunia. This near-black flower with a chartreuse-yellow star pattern really caught my eye. It’s one of several “black” petunias that Ball will introduce in 2011. Pinstripe is similar to Phantom except that the star pattern consists of narrower white bands edged in purple. Black Velvet is the truest black petunia I’ve seen, and as its name suggests, has a lovely velvety sheen. Our Test Gardener manager, Sandra Gerdes, is planning a black garden border for this summer, and Black Velvet will be prominent in the mix.

With the arrival of summerlike weather this week in central Iowa, I’m anxious to plant these new annuals to see how well they’ll grow in clay in my windswept garden.

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