Vinca minor or Madagascar periwinkle was immensely popular, then lost fans due to disease problems. Those were overcome several years ago, and traditional annual vincas do well for us. Plant in well-drained soil, in sun or mostly sun, and water regularly. The trailing vincas that are even more vigorous than and just as full of sweet pinwheel-shaped flowers as the classics. White, pink, rose, and very red flowers are large and some petals overlap, green leaves are glossy and stems are strong in trailing vincas. Use these vincas in hanging baskets or let them trail across a well-drained garden bed in full sun.
The Southern favorite summer annual might be Zinnia elegans or Old Maids as they are unfortunately known. From little ‘Lilliput’ and ‘Cut and Come Again’ to ‘Berry Basket’ and ‘Cactus’, zinnias come in a variety of heights, flower shapes and colors. Zinnias need full sun, at least 6 hours each day, and do not benefit from richly organic soils. Grow zinnias with very light mulch in very well-drained soils and try to keep the leaves dry. Use soaker hoses or time watering for the morning hours with plenty of time for the plants to dry out before dark. Water deeply just often enough to prevent wilting. Spacing is very important for zinnia plantings, since overcrowded conditions are ideal for leaf disease development. If spots or gray mildews appear on the leaves, withhold water and use a sulfur dust to control its spread. When seeding traditional tall varieties like ‘State Fair’ and the odd green ‘Envy’, sow seeds an inch apart and thin to stand 4-5” apart. Transplant pots of zinnias like ‘Dreamland’ to stand 6 inches apart. The balls of Zahara narrowleaf zinnias are especially bright and disease resistant.
Two other plants can cheer up any tired garden bed or patio pot. Do not overlook moss roses for their sweetly swollen, pointy leaves and huge flowers. Usually no taller than 8” at most, moss roses can edge a bed or spill out of a container all summer without missing a beat. Vibrant colors make the flowers irresistible, from white to deepest purple. Equally tough and full of flowers is portulaca, another succulent-leafed plant. This one makes ropes of fat leaves covered in pinwheel shaped flowers in pinks, reds, yellows and orange shade. You won’t see these two plants wilt, so water them deeply, weekly and fertilize every other week.
More for the summer garden: golden candelabra plant (Cassia), plumbago and butterfly flower (Clerodendrum) for cool blue hues, and sanchezia, a bold yellow and green striped beauty.