Flowers worth a try in your yard

Flower trials serve as a guide for our flower choices

By: Sandy Feather 2007
Penn State Extension

Below is my review of our various garden plants' performance in Penn State Cooperative Extension's demonstration gardens in South and North parks, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania during 2006. The gardens' primary purpose is to show home gardeners plants that perform well in local soils and climate with minimal maintenance. Master gardener volunteers work in the gardens one night a week. Pesticide use is minimal, primarily a little glyphosate (Roundup) to control weeds prior to planting in the spring.

demonstration garden sign

We focus on annual flowering plants because they remain the top-selling horticultural crop. Both gardens also include an assortment of perennial flowers and ornamental grasses, each marked with a sign. The North Park garden is at Babcock Boulevard and Wildwood Road, at the Veterans Monument across from North Park Lake. The South Park garden is at Corrigan Drive and McConkey Road.

Both gardens are exposed to full sun and are open and unfenced. Plants that are damaged by deer (or groundhogs or rabbits) for three consecutive years are not planted again.


This year's weather seesawed back and forth between hot, dry days and torrential rain. Deer pressure in South Park was much higher than in North Park. Roughly one-third of our plants were destroyed there. Those plants are indicated below with a "DS."


Outstanding performers are annuals that bloomed all summer with minimal deadheading and no signs of insect or disease problems.


Outstanding Performers

  • Angelonia 'Serena Purple' -- bloomed all summer without deadheading; good in containers as well as beds and borders. More compact than older varieties. DS
  • Annual butterfly weed (Asclepias curassavica 'Red Butterfly') -- trouble-free and long-blooming; attractive to butterflies and pollinators. Best in beds and borders.
  • Begonia x 'Red Dragon Wing' -- attractive dark green, glossy foliage. Bloomed all summer with little or no deadheading. Use in beds, borders and containers. DS
  • 'Black Pearl' ornamental peppers (Capsicum annuum) -- fruits ripen from purple-black to red. Can be eaten -- VERY hot. 2006 All-America Selections Winner. Problem-free, heat- and drought-tolerant. Use in beds, borders or containers.
  • 'Chilly Chili' ornamental peppers -- fruits are not hot and are safe around curious children and pets. Problem free. Fruits showy even after they have dried on the plants.
  • Annual vinca (Catharanthus roseus 'Sun Devil Extreme Mix' -- clean, glossy green foliage and constant bloom. Vigorous plants that are good for massing, edging and containers.
  • Spider flower (Cleome hasslerana 'Sparkler Mix') -- heat- and drought-tolerant, attractive to butterflies. More compact than older varieties.
  • Angel's trumpet (Datura metel 'Cornucopia') -- unusual double purple flowers and evening fragrance. Use as an accent in beds, borders and large containers.
  • Euryops (Euryops pectinatus 'Viridis') -- dark green foliage shows off bright yellow, daisy-type flowers nicely. Blooms late in the season, often trained as a standard. Heat- and drought-tolerant.
  • 'Strawberry Fields' Gomphrena -- very heat- and drought-tolerant. Long blooming and problem-free. Excellent dried flower. Use in bed and borders.
  • Helen's flower (Helenium amarum 'Dakota Gold') -- free-blooming, very compact relative of our native sneezeweed. Problem-free. Use in beds, borders and containers.
  • Lantana 'Landmark Gold' and 'Peach Sunrise' -- attracts butterflies and pollinators. Nonstop blooming with little or no deadheading. Very heat and drought tolerant. Use in beds, borders and large containers. DS
  • Four o'clock (Mirabilis jalapa 'Broken Colors' and 'Limelight Rose') -- Flowers open late afternoon or early evening. Long-blooming heirloom that tolerates hot, dry weather very well. Best in beds and borders. DS
  • Millet (Pennisetum glaucum 'Jester') -- Foliage starts out chartreuse then hardens to deep purple. Very heat- and drought-tolerant. Good accent in beds, borders and large containers. Minor deer or groundhog damage in South Park early on.
  • Purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum') -- outstanding in all types of weather but not winter hardy in our climate. Use in beds, borders and large containers.

Purple Fountain Grass

  • 'Magilla' Perilla -- grown for colorful foliage. No maintenance except for periodic watering. Good for beds, borders and large containers.
  • New Zealand flax (Phormuim tenax 'Atropurpureum') -- Excellent foliage plants; foliage ranges from bronze to red or green stripes. Problem-free, tolerates hot, dry weather as well as torrential rain. Use in beds, borders and large containers.
  • Cape leadwort (Plumbago auriculata 'Escapade Blue') -- Tender shrub grown as annual here; sky blue color not found in most plants. Combines with almost any other color. Heat- and drought-tolerant, problem-free. Use in beds, borders and containers.
  • 'Evolution' mealy cup sage (Salvia farinacea) -- good dried flower, 2006 All-America Selections Winner. Very long-blooming, heat- and drought-tolerant. Use in beds, borders and containers.
  • 'Victoria' mealy-cup sage -- attractive to butterflies, hummingbirds and pollinators. Very long-blooming and problem-free.
  • Fan flower (Scaevola aemula 'New Wonder') -- Heat- and drought-tolerant, long-blooming and problem-free. Use in beds, borders, containers and hanging baskets.
  • Dusty miller (Senecio cineraria) -- silver foliage useful to break up clashing colors and as foil for bright flowers. Very heat- and drought-tolerant. Use in beds and containers.

Dusty Miller
Dusty Miller

  • Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyeranus) -- colorful foliage, does well in hot, dry weather. Use in beds and containers. DS
  • Buenos Aires verbena (Verbena bonariensis) -- long-blooming, airy flower spikes; useful "see through" plant. Self-sows enough to be a nuisance in some situations.
  • Moss verbena (Verbena tenuisecta 'Imagination' and 'Sterling Star') -- attractive to butterflies, hummingbirds and pollinators. Long-blooming, heat- and drought-tolerant.
  • Hybrid verbena 'Temari Patio Blue' -- dark green, attractive foliage; long season of bloom. Very heat- and drought-tolerant.
  • Zinnia 'Magellan Mix' -- outstanding, compact grower; long- blooming, large flowers. Disease-resistant foliage. Attractive to butterflies and pollinators.


  • 'Profusion' series zinnias (cherry, orange and white) -- bloom all summer, All-America Selection Gold Medal winners. Very heat- and drought-tolerant, disease-resistant. Good in containers and beds.


Best bloomers 2014

Photos of annual flowers

Red Thread Disease


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