Dynamite Annuals

By Charlie Nardozzi

Among the many new varieties of flowers introduced in 1998, two annuals caught my eye: All-America Selections (AAS) winner 'Prism Sunshine' petunia and disease-resistant Oklahoma Mix zinnia.

Petunias grow well here at National Gardening, in a large, sunny raised bed near our parking lot. But pale yellow petunias have never inspired me. Others I've grown just aren't as vigorous and free-flowering as the purple and magenta varieties I've tried. However, after growing 'Prism Sunshine', I've changed my mind. As I write this in November in Vermont, they're still flowering profusely. The single blossoms are 3 inches across and pale yellow with a dark yellow throat. 'Prism Sunshine' forms a low, 18-inch-wide mound -- about half the spread of 'Purple Wave'. The plants aren't as vigorous as my favorite 'Purple Wave' petunias, but they bloom from June to November and provide great contrast among darker flowers and vegetables.

I've avoided growing zinnias in the garden here because by midsummer, mildew usually makes them look sickly. I changed my mind, though, when I saw the Oklahoma Mix Series. These 3-foot-tall zinnias produced 1 1/2-inch-diameter blooms that range from white to scarlet. The selling point for me is that Oklahoma Mix zinnias resist powdery mildew and alternaria leaf spot better than most other zinnias on the market. Minimal care and abundant flowering are a winning combination.

Charlie Nardozzi is senior horticulturist at National Gardening.

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