The weather keeps playing tricks on us but soon enough it will be time to plant colorful summer annuals.

The weather keeps playing tricks on us but soon enough it will be time to plant colorful summer annuals. You can find annuals to suit any spot or brighten any corner. In fact, the selection of shade and sun loving annuals is larger than ever, with new varieties released every year. Visit the New Hanover Arboretum, 6206 Oleander Drive, during the New Hanover Extension Master Gardener plant sale, April 4 through 7, to shop for some of the latest releases and other great plants for our region.

Annuals versus perennials

When shopping for flowers, you will find both annuals and perennials for sale. The biggest differences between the two are how long they live and bloom. Annuals only live for one season, but will typically bloom all summer and into the fall. Perennials, on the other hand, typically only bloom for three to eight weeks but live for several years, returning from the same roots each year.

So why do we plant annuals when they only live from April to October? For continuous, high impact color! A good annual will have a uniform shape, hold up well in weather, be pest resistant, and provide reliable color all season without having to be deadheaded. In comparison, most perennials will only provide color for a few weeks or months.

Caring for annuals

Most annuals prefer well-drained soil amended with organic matter. Remember that summer annuals will die if exposed to 32 degrees or less and some varieties can even be damaged at temperatures below 50 degrees. Many tropical annuals are heat lovers and may be slow to get going in spring but will last till frost.

Most annual plantings are considered “high water zones”. In other words plan on watering these little beauties at least once a week. They also tend to be heavy feeders so do not forget to fertilize them. You can use a slow release fertilizer like Osmocote or an organic fertilizer such as Plant-tone, to feed up to 6 months. If you use liquid fertilizers such as Peters or MiracleGro, make sure you apply them every other week

New petunia varieties

Petunias and their miniature relative, Callibrachoa (also known as million bells), are among the most popular summer annuals in the world. New Hanover Extension Master Gardeners will feature several exciting varieties during their Spring Plant Sale, April 4 – 7 at the New Hanover Arboretum, including the following:

‘Supertunia Raspberry Blast’ is a must have, offering a new breakthrough color in Petunias with pink blooms edged in deep violet. Its trailing habit and low maintenance makes it a winner for both baskets and beds.

The ‘Cascadia’ series of petunias are vigorous with spreading to mounding habits. ‘Indian Summer’ has large flowers that are a mix of yellow to orange to pink shades with a terra cotta type pattern. It is early flowering with a semi-trailing plant habit.

Calibrachoa ‘Superbells Sweet Tart’ is sure to be a head turner. It has rose pink petals with dark yellow throats. Covered in blooms all season long, its vigorous mounding , trailing habit will quickly fill in sunny window boxes, combination planters and hanging baskets. No deadheading is required.

‘Lemon Slice’ Calibrachoa has a unique pinwheel pattern of bright yellow-and-white blossoms and is a stylish accent trimming white or yellow companions. This exciting new Million Bells variety flowers early and continues into fall, with a neat mounding habit that suits baskets and borders alike.

Calibrachoa ‘Superbells Cherry Star’ has a great upright, mounding habit. The rich cherry color of the flower petals is dissected by a bright golden star that runs from the petal’s edge to the center of the flower’s throat.

In addition to annuals, the sale will feature a huge selection of locally adapted trees, shrubs, perennials, herbs, and vegetables, as well as bird houses, plant stands and garden crafts made by our volunteer carpenter group. Come early for the best selection! All proceeds benefit Extension’s educational programs, including the Arboretum gardens. Plan your visit so you have enough time to tour the six acres of gardens, open free to the public seven days a week!

Learn more!

For lmore recommended annuals, visit For lawn and gardening advice, contact your local extension office: If you live in Pender County, call 910-259-1238; in New Hanover County, call 910-798-7660; in Brunswick County call 910-253-2610. Or visit where you can post your questions via the ‘Ask an Expert’ link,


North Carolina Cooperative Extension is the consumer horticulture agent with the New Hanover County Cooperative Extension of NC State University, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences.