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Leaders of the Pack Annuals

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'Sparkler Mix' CleomePhoto by Robert E. Lyons

‘Sparkler Mix’ Cleome
Photo by Robert E. Lyons

Bedding plants provide a bright splash of color for seasonal accent in the landscape. They are best planted by the dozens with color concentrated in drifts and beds where they will make a big show. They also are good to use as Band-Aid plants to quickly fill in trouble spots where woody ornamentals aren’t performing well. Although peak bloom is the highlight, it is a joy to observe new growth, bud development and fading of the blooms as well.

The NC State University Bedding Annual Trial Area at the JC Raulston Arboretum (JCRA) contains more than 500 bedding plant cultivars. It is an All-America Selections test site and display garden to help you select top-performing annuals and tender perennials. The winners, losers and true breakthroughs in landscape color were showcased at the Landscape Bedding Plant Field Day at the end of July. This year’s top performers, designated as “Leaders of the Pack” by the JCRA, are plants you will want to put on your garden list for next year.

The top “Leaders of the Pack” for summer 2002 were all petunias. ‘Explorer Rose Pink’, ‘Explorer Lavender’, ‘Suncatcher Pink Vein’ and ‘Double Wave Purple’ bloom all summer and have outstanding uniformity.

'Suncatcher Pink Vein'Photo by Robert E. Lyons

‘Suncatcher Pink Vein’
Photo by Robert E. Lyons

“Leaders of the Pack” in the early season included a much more diverse group. Cuphea ‘Twinkle Pink’ has moderate to good drought tolerance and does well in full sun to light shade. An unusual and hard-to-find Cuphea Ilavea was also displayed with the wonderful common name: Bat-face Cuphea. How could you not love that one? Seven dahlias stood out in the crowd, including ‘Melody Dixie’ and ‘Mick’s Peppermint’. Cleome ‘Sparkler Blush’ stood tall and sturdy. Angelonia ‘Angelmist Light Pink’ and alyssum ‘Wonderland Purple’ were among the many variations of pink and purple in the garden. Geraniums such as ‘Designer Bright Red’ did well, albeit with constant deadheading. Marigolds cannot go unmentioned: ‘Perfection Mix’ and ‘Inca II Gold’ were among the best of our smelly nematode-fighting favorite! Visit the JCRA Web site at for past evaluation reports.

Mike Wilder