Mix it up a little! Here a golden elderberry (shrub) mingles with a colorful annual (for me) Coprosma and a vivid perennial Gaillardia

Mix it up a little! Here a golden elderberry (shrub) mingles with a colorful annual  Coprosma and a vibrant perennial  ‘Celebration’ blanket flower

Are you struggling to do something different with your sunny container gardens this year? Do you always seem to start off with a geranium, add  some pretty million bells (Calibrachoa) and then tuck in some trailing vbacopa to finish it off? Cheerful but not very imaginative is it?Yet this early in the season these are the plants most likely to be in full bloom at the nursery.

But look more closely at some of the other annuals sitting quietly in the sidelines. They may be mostly foliage and just a few buds right now but there are some really interesting options that will bloom their little flowery hearts out once you take them home. Here are some of my favorites

Top 4 flowering annuals for sun

Fan flower (Scaevola)

Scaevola 'Pink Wonder' is a delightful soft pink with lavender overtones

‘Pink Wonder’ fan flower (Scaevola) is a delightful soft pink with lavender overtones

Whether you choose pink, white or blue you won’t be sorry you took a chance on that unassuming pot of leaves in May! Before you know it this vigorous annual will weave its way through its container partners, tumbling, spilling and clambering at will. You’ll never plant containers without it again! Deer resistant and thrives in partial shade as well as full sun

Samantha lantana

The variegated leaf and yellow flower of Samantha lantana adds citrus flavors to a blue Scaevola and Apricot Punch million bells

The variegated leaf and yellow flower of Samantha lantana adds citrus flavors to a blue Scaevola and Apricot Punch million bells (Calibrachoa)

Samantha lantana can be tricky to find but worth looking for as this variety has lovely variegated leaves that set off the lemon flowers perfectly. The pretty foliage helps keep the color interest going when the lantana is still gearing up to full bloom.

Don’t ignore the PERENNIALS either, especially those with colorful foliage. Several of these make great contenders for container gardens. Unlike annuals these make good investments for your garden too as they can be transplanted into the landscape at the end of the season.

Diamond Delight Euphorbia

Diamond Delight Euphorbia and Royale Cherryburst verbena - two new introductions from Proven Winners that I trialed

Diamond Delight Euphorbia and Royale Cherryburst verbena – two new introductions from Proven Winners that I trialed

Its hard to imagine  how much impact this delicate plant will have – so just trust me! The sparse stems and tiny white flowers will explode into a flowering frenzy reminiscent of baby’s breath (Gypsophila) but this annual will bloom continually ’til frost. There are also some varieties with darker foliage and a slight pink tinge to the blooms.  Wonderful fine texture – it will become a favorite.

Centradenia

Unexpected drama as Centradenia 'Cascade' meets the bold golden yellow Forever Goldie conifer.

Unexpected drama as Centradenia ‘Cascade’ meets the bold golden yellow Forever Goldie conifer.

Centradenia is often sold as a 2″ basket stuffer and can languish on the table in May. Yet just a few weeks later and you’ll be glad you tucked it into the pot as it quickly fills out and blooms all season. A couple of different varieties are usually available but I have only seen them with flowers in various shades of pink. However I love the vivid red stems and bronze flushed green leaves . Plant this at the edge of the container to tumble over the edge

Top 4 perennials for sunny pots

Hyssop (Agastache) varieties

Kudos Mandarin hyssop (Agastache) - associates beautifully with grasses

Kudos Mandarin hyssop (Agastache) – associates beautifully with grasses

Shorter forms such as Apricot Sprite generally look better in containers than the taller forms. Drought tolerant, deer resistant, long blooming – they add a wonderful splash of color and herbal fragrance to sunny baskets and pots and attracts hummingbirds too! The variety shown here is Kudos Mandarin: a new one to me – I bought EIGHT!! Yes I was rather enamored……

Gaura varieties

In the landscape or in containers Gaura will always produce an abundance of delicate flowers over many months

In the landscape or in containers Gaura will always produce an abundance of delicate flowers over many months

Even the simple white flowering form of Gaura works well in a container, sending up dozens of dancing wands all summer long. However there are also several with pink or variegated foliage which can help fill the color gap early in the season. A few varieties are short enough to even be suitable to add to hanging baskets! Use as the thriller in smaller pots or a filler in larger containers.

Coneflower (Echinacea)

Add sizzle to late season combos with coneflowers

Add sizzle to late season combos with coneflowers

Since these bloom mid-late season it can be a bit tricky incorporating them early in the season simply because the nurseries aren’t well stocked. However for procrastinators – or really clever planners – they add  a mega watt color blast since these are available in every color from white and yellow to magenta, orange and red.

Here’s a trick if you want to plan ahead. Plant an empty 6″ (gallon) pot into your mixed container garden to hold the space available for the coneflower. Then when you find the perfect plant just take the empty pot out and slip the coneflowers in. Voila!

Blanket Flower (Gaillardia)

One of many Gaillardia varieties

One of many blanket flower varieties available

There have been several new varieties of these sturdy  perennials introduced in recent years. Deer resistant, drought tolerant and long blooming you may find one of them is the perfect addition to your design. Deadhead to keep them blooming all summer long – although truthfully the fuzzy seed heads are pretty cool too! Lots to choose from including bi-colors. Look for Celebration, Arizona Sun and more!

Got you thinking? Great then go shopping! Post a photo of your creation to my Facebook page – I’d love to see what you do this year.

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