(L) Coleus in front of ‘Little Joe’ Joe Pye Weed; (R) Persian Shield with sweet potato vine.

About a year ago I asked you guys – the savvy, experienced gardeners who read this blog – for what “Potted Annuals for Pollinators” you’d recommend. I was unhappy with some annuals I’d been growing near my front door – which do soooo well but attract nothing.  But what could I grow instead, here and in the tomato-red pots in my back garden where the ‘Standing Ovation’ Little Bluestem weren’t standing after all, and were so lackluster that even a commenter here on the Rant called them “underwhelming”?  The truth hurts!

(I’m keeping the Persian Shield+sweet potato vine combo shown above despite their lack of appeal for pollinators (though holes in the vine tell me it’s supporting something). Look how great they still looked on December 1 when this photo was taken! (I’m in Zone 7B.) And in this spot very close to my front door, I’m okay with no flowers and no bees, which I don’t want in my house.)

Back to the question I asked readers – out of concern for wildlife, sure, but also, selfishly, so that I could enjoy watching them from my patio – your answers were almost thrilling in the possibilities they opened up for this old gardener.

You suggested:

  • Annuals: Salvia ‘Lady in Red,’  butterfly sage (Salvia guaranitica), Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’, blue salvias generally, lantana (several votes), verbena, verbena bonariensis, pentas, ‘African Blue’ basil, bronze fennel, zinnias, Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) (several votes), ‘Truffela Pinks’ Gomphrena, Lacy Phacelia, Teddy Bear sunflowers.
  • Perennials: Red Valerian, lavender, Calamintha nepeta, single dahlias, catmints, gaillardias, “almost anything in the mint family, which includes Salvias,” wax begonias for hummingbirds, and as a filler, small hostas like ‘Golden Tiara’ or ‘Rainbows End.’

Wow!

What I Bought – Lantana ‘Red Spread’

After reading Ranter Elizabeth’s praise for the annuals she buys online, I chose one of her favorite suppliers (Select Seeds) and ordered some lantanas, and boy, did they perform! They bloomed like crazy until the first hard frost, and the growth pattern is perfect – mostly horizontal, so there’s need to hack them back to prevent flopping.  I love the bold, vibrant color!  Another wonderful surprise is that they don’t need deadheading. Not only do they bloom just fine without it, but the dying blooms (above) still look good right up until they fall off, so why bother?

Pollinator-wise, they performed like the champs you guys promised they’d be. Honestly I’d need a much better camera to capture the critters in stills, but I took videos throughout the season and I’ll have a short compilation to show you soon. (Preview: it’s the hummingbirds, sometimes two at a time, that steal the show.)

Here in my back garden, by mid-July I’d given up on the grasses in these pots and replaced them with some ‘Havana Red Sky’ lantanas that I found at my local farmer’s market.  They took off right away and at the end of the season they were this size. And what a great match for the pots!

I was also happy to learn that lantanas are less thirsty than other annuals – I don’t think I ever saw them wilt.

What I Bought – Verbenas

The other completely new-to-me plant I bought from Select Seeds is this ‘Vanity’ verbena, which did attract some bees and butterflies but didn’t have much impact in my border.  I’m going to try a shorter, bushier variety next time.

Extended Season for Pollinators – Done!

My tiny front garden was already attracting critters to the Joe Pye Weed, bronze fennel, Nepeta and wood aster, but with the addition of tropical annuals like verbena and especially lantana, the wildlife action now goes on continuously for a very long season.

A Happier Gardener – Done!

So yeah, I love upping my garden’s game at performing important eco-services, like supporting pollinators.

But I’ll tell ya, adding SO many flowers to this small space outside my front door,  near the patio where I sit and gaze upon the garden – that’s been thrilling!  The combination of floral beauty with stunning insects swarming over them in the sun. You could say it’s upped my mental well-being.

Flowers just make us happy! They attract people to gardening and then reward their efforts with beauty to be enjoyed by them and their family and visitors.

A Happier Shopper – Done!

Finding a good online supplier meant I could stop driving around search of the unusual annuals I might want and rarely succeeding.  Of course I knew there were reliable seed suppliers but I prefer plants because I want the flowering to start right away.  I’ll own it. 

So as a bigger fan of annuals than ever, next week I’ll be ordering some more of your suggestions – to plant in pots and also to fill in open spots in my borders:

  • More ‘Red Spread’ lantana, plus some ‘Cherry Sunshine’
  • ‘Graffiti’ pentas
  • ‘Lollipop’ verbena
  • ‘Black and Blue’ salvia
  • Cosmos seeds
  • Purple Bell vine
  • I’ve already ordered a dwarf canna from a specialist, to replace the (nonblooming) banana in my largest pot.

That’s a lot to look forward to, for not a lot of money, or effort.