Use proven performers and
re-seeders for garden color

August 27, 2009

by Suzann Herricks, Victoria County Master Gardener

edited by Charla Borchers Leon, Victoria County Master Gardener
The periwinkle or vinca is a sure bet with the summer heat. It comes in several colors including the frequent white and light pink with a darker pink center. Seeds that have fallen into the ground will germinate the following summer.
This year, my yard was on the Master Gardener annual garden tour - and it was quite challenging to make sure everything was perfect for those two days.

I chose plants that would perform well and then placed them where they would perform best. Many gardeners become confused when selecting flowering plants for home landscapes, because there are so many available.

How disappointing it is to spend a substantial amount of money and effort and be unhappy with the results. You can have a garden filled with color, easily and economically, by using plants that are outstanding performers in this area and by adding some that will re-seed and re-sow.

Proven Summer Favorites

Three high-performing, almost bulletproof annuals for hot summers are periwinkle, also called vinca, profusion zinnia and standard zinnias. They are practically pest and disease free. The hotter it gets, the better they look.

The old saying "You can't rush the season," is true for these. There is no advantage to planting them early, so wait until mid-May for best results.

Periwinkles are available in several bright colors. A few years ago, a disease called phytophthora wiped out many plantings of periwinkles in Texas. Horticultural experts developed the Cora series that is resistant to the disease. Even if plants become infected, they quickly recover. Don't pull them until they finish blooming. Seeds that have fallen into the ground will germinate the following summer.

Profusion zinnias are dwarf, mounding plants filled with daisy-like blooms. Several colors are available, but the orange hues hold color better in our hot sun than pinks and corals do. The whites are also good. Seeds from the orange variety usually come back true-to-color.

Zinnias are among the best nectar flowers for attracting butterflies. Sprinkle a few seeds in your beds in early spring, and get ready for color. They will re-seed each year.

An additional favorite is Dahlberg daisy. Covered with hundreds of small bright yellow blooms, it is a good choice for borders and edges. It pairs well with blue flowers such as blue-daze or salvia Farinacaea.

Other Re-seeding Annuals for Summer

Additional proven annual re-seeders are melapodium, impatiens (shade only), ornamental peppers, cosmos and larkspur.

An old adage states, "Pluck not the flower if you cherish the seed." As plants form seed heads in late summer, they begin to look a bit puny. Resist the urge to pull them out and let them finish their growth cycle. Save a few seeds and let others drop to the ground. If you don't like where something comes up the following spring, transplant it to another area after it gets a second full set of leaves. Saved seeds serve as a buffer against crop failure.

Add Other Bedding Plants

To supplement re-seeders, add verbenas, drifts of Marguerite and blackie sweet potato vines or 'wave' petunias. Include a variety of salvias for a kaleidoscope of color. Another plant that blooms nonstop all summer is angelonia Serena. Referred to as the summer snapdragon, it has numerous delicate spikes of purple, lilac or white blooms.

Fill in with diamond frost that serves as the landscaper's baby's breath and your garden will be the envy of the neighborhood. Leave the sweet potato tubers in the ground, and they will sprout the next summer. Cut the angelonia back, and it will return the following spring. Diamond frost grows year-round.

Second Summer Planting

If you plant your summer annuals early in the season, they could use a pick-up planting about this time, particularly anticipating the heat to continue well into September. If planted and watered properly, they will last until the first frost and continue to add color to your landscape. Most nurseries continue to carry select proven and re-seeding annuals later into the season for this purpose.

Fall/Winter Selections

Annual winter color can be a challenge, so I usually rely on nursery stock. One exception is the Johnny jump-ups that feature tiny pansy-like blooms. Once planted, it demonstrates the appropriateness of its name and re-seeds each year. Other selections to purchase are pansies, snapdragons, alyssum and petunias. I prefer petunias for winter months, rather than summer with the exception of the Wave series.

Perennials That Self-Sow

Perennials are plants that come back year after year from the same root, but some perennials will re-seed as well. Some of the best are coneflower, yarrow, tickseed (coreopsis), sage (salvia), blanket flower (Gaillardia) and thryallis. Sprouting plants will need to be thinned out, but that is a small chore for the resulting free plants.

A Few Don'ts for Seeds

To help seeds germinate, don't treat the soil with a pre-emergent because it cannot distinguish from the seed of a weed or the seed of a flower. Don't mulch too heavily because seeds need light in order to germinate. Don't cultivate the soil too much. Constant hoeing will destroy the young sprouts.

Seeds from Hybrids Will Not Breed True

Many plants have been hybridized in order to breed out weaknesses and add strengths. Plants that grow from the seed of a hybrid often do not resemble the plant it came from. It may be a different color or size. This is not always a bad thing and may result in a really great new variety. When purchasing plants, the label should indicate if it is a hybrid.

Try a few of these selections and your yard should soon be bursting with color with a minimum of cost and effort.
Another high performer in the heat is the Profusion zinnia. These dwarf-sized, mounding plants hold its color well, especially in the orange varieties, in the scorching sun. They work well with the white variety for continuous true color.
The angelonia blooms nonstop all summer long. Referred to as the summer snapdragon, it has numerous delicate spikes of purple, lilac or white blooms.
The yellow Dahlberg daisy and the blue daze both relish the sun and nicely complement one another as border plants in a colorful bed planting.

Don't collect until the seed head is dry and mature.

Pick dry if needed and package seeds.

Label immediately.

Store in a dark, cool, dry place.

Save some in case of crop failure.


Profusion zinnia
Dahlberg daisy
Johnny jump-up
Ornamental pepper

Blanket flower
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or, or comment on this column at