Picking the “best” cherry tomato is an impossible task, but we can make some recommendations based on plant size, fruit color, and flavor. The first consideration is size of the plant—how much space do you have available for each tomato plant? An indeterminate variety can become an enormous, sprawling vine of 6’ or more. A determinate Tumbling Tom or semi-determinate Lizzano can spill gracefully from a hanging basket or off the side of a raised bed. If you need a very compact plant, try a red or yellow Sweet ‘N’ Neat, which will stay under 16” high. They do best when they can trail a bit, though. They are so short that the fruit can hit the ground in a traditional planting.
Fruit color is a fun factor for many tomato lovers. Combining yellow tomatoes with purple basil is a colorful twist on traditional Caprese salad. Cherry tomatoes come in red, orange, yellow, purple, brown, and black. Fruit can be anywhere from traditional grape shapes to 1” orbs or pears. Not –red varieties include Sunsugar, SunGold, Yellow Pear, Black Cherry, Brown Cherry, Indigo Rose, and Sweet N Neat Yellow.
Cherry tomato flavor is generally quite sweet in comparison to other types of tomatoes, which makes them great for snacking and popular with kids. If you are overwhelmed by your cherry tomatoes (which can happen in August) consider a tomato exchange with an equally overloaded friend or neighbor. You may not have fewer tomatoes at the end, but you’re likely to have a mix of varieties and flavors.
Hanging baskets can be a quick and easy way to add color and style to a patio or porch, but it’s important to select the right plants for the spot you have chosen. A basket of petunias is never going to be happy in a shady nook, and tuberous begonias will crisp up in the afternoon sun. When choosing plants, you also want to consider how easy it will be to water. If watering the basket is going to be a challenge, you can help compensate by choosing plants that can take dry conditions, or choose larger pots or self-watering pots and soil amendments that will help you maintain moisture around the root zone.
Available sunlight is the starting point for all plant selection, so it’s important to determine the number of hours your plants will receive in the location you plan to plant. Do you have a northern exposure or heavy shade from a tree? It doesn’t matter if “it’s really very bright!”—you will have poor performance from sun lovers like petunias. Our visual perception of light isn’t necessarily an accurate measurement of available light to the plant.
Full sun is 6+ hours of direct sun that will shine on the foliage of your plants, each day. These are going to generally be southern, western, or south-western sides of the house, and not tucked back under an awning. If it’s a spot you want to avoid in the middle of the afternoon, odds are good that it’s the perfect spot for a basket of upright geraniums or calibrachoa.
Easy plants for sunny baskets include petunias, scaevola, calibrachoa, trailing portulaca, lantana, trailing verbena, and bidens. A blend of petunias, verbena, and bidens will provide a mix of both colors and textures with long-blooming flower power. An easy care combo for full sun could include a salmon geranium, 3 ‘Bombay Blue’ scaevolas, and 3 light-yellow calibrachoas.
Part-Sun is less than 6 hours of sun per day, which typically amounts to morning sun only. These are usually eastern exposures or an area that would have all day sun, if it weren’t for that gorgeous maple planted two owners ago. An area with dappled shade for the full day can be counted as part-sun for planting purposes.
Easy plants for morning sun include New Guinea impatiens, torenia, many begonias, ivy geraniums, and bacopa. Bacopa can sometimes stop blooming at the peak heat of the summer, but the foliage remains as a lovely cascade and will bloom again once the temperatures cool a bit in late summer and fall. Pansies can also be included in this group, but like bacopa (and most of us!), high temperatures induce a resting phase. A quick and lovely part-sun combo might include a few yellow or salmon ‘Mocca Mix’ begonias, a few ‘Gold n Pearls’ bacopa, and a 4-pack of deep blue torenia.
Full Shade is quite literally no direct sun in a day. Common shade zones are under a porch or patio awning, under dense tree shade, or in the shade of buildings.
An easy basket of shade-loving plants could include pansies, compact or trailing coleus, bacopa, begonias, fuchsia, and traditional impatiens. For a quick combo, try 3 Illumination begonias and 3 white bacopas.
With all basket plantings, it is important to monitor the growth of your plants so that you don’t end up with one vigorous plant taking over the entire pot (I’m looking at you, trailing petunias!). Mild, selective pinching and pruning throughout the summer will encourage new growth from the top of the basket and help keep your baskets looking full and fresh.
A word about feeding your plants – Yes! We’re asking our annuals to entertain us with beautiful blooms all summer long, through any sort of weather or challenge that comes their way. They can’t do that without regular fertilization. Try Jack’s Classic Blossom Booster for the majority of your flowering plants, outdoors and indoors. Petunias prefer a special diet, so try Jack’s Classic Petunia Feed. Follow the instructions on any fertilizer you select. Enjoy!
Your patio bakes like the surface of the sun, you say? We can work with that! There are a number of annuals that are simply built and bred with extra heat tolerance, and it pays to know who’s who BEFORE July hits and your plants shrivel in protest. Try these heat-loving favorites from the start and by the time the heat settles in, you will have gorgeous plants that are ready to fight back.
The ultimate annual for high-impact color! Petunias come in almost every color and there is a petunia for every need- mounding, trailing, or spreading. Old-school grandiflora plants have blossoms that can reach a diameter of 4” and newer choices include amazing color combinations, often on the same plant. Other innovations include varieties that do not require deadheading and shades that fade into a blend of colors (such as Indian Summer, which shows off yellow, peach, and orange flowers as the blossoms age).
Every garden should include some zinnias, whether tall or small, single or double. Zinnias are available in red, orange, yellow, pink, salmon, white, and magenta with heights ranging from 8” to 3’. Taller plants will provide cut flowers all summer! Both showy and durable, zinnias are an outstanding choice from seeds or starts.
Like petunias, geraniums can be traditional or modern. A classic red geranium in a terracotta pot will always be in style, but why not try a salmon variety with lime-green leaves? Another new introduction pairs crisp white and Kelly green leaves with scarlet petals, and still others have a blend of shades in each flower. The new interspecific varieties are bred for even more heat tolerance and the intense colors are eye-catching. A little bit old and a little bit new, geraniums have something for everyone… and they are easy to propagate to bring in for the winter. Marigold
Just about everyone has grown a marigold from seed at some point, and it’s that ease that makes them so appealing. Diminutive dwarf varieties are great in the front of a bed and the taller French varieties are a solid choice for containers and vegetable gardens. For serious impact, try the large-flowering African types- plants can reach 2.5” and blossoms up to 5” across. Bees love marigolds, so expect to share your flowers. If not deadheaded regularly, marigolds are likely to re-seed themselves and become a permanent part of the landscape (for better or worse!)
Also known as vinca and available in white, pink, coral, red, magenta, and now deep purple. Great combination or filler plant and would do well in a border or container.
Annual salvias come in red, coral, white, lavender, deep purple, deep blue, and red/white. Some are tall (up to 3’!) and wispy, while others are more compact with a solid block of flower color. Depending on height and the desired look , salvias can function as either thrillers or fillers in a combination planting.
Portulaca can be upright or trailing and thrive in hot, dry spots. Flowers are 1-2” across and available in brilliant orange, yellow, magenta, cherry red, salmon, or white. Upright varieties are prolific self-seeders and may come back on their own each year. The trailing portulaca are less likely to re-seed and are outstanding in baskets or containers.
Available in white, pink, cerise, and chocolate, cosmos are a cheery addition to any sunny garden. They will self-seed aggressively and form maintenance-free meadows if left alone.
These are workhorse plants with massive flower power. Calibrachoas come in every color and unlike their petunia cousins, need NO deadheading at all. They are outstanding in containers and baskets and can be pruned back to create a bushy effect (rather than a cascade of color). They are an easy filler/spiller and can be tucked in almost anywhere when small. A rapid growth habit makes them knot together if planted in packs, so calis are typically sold as individual plants. This is balanced out by the size that one plant can achieve (fewer plants are needed).
A traditional favorite of children and the young-at-heart—who doesn’t love making the blossoms “snap”? This family includes both tall and small varieties, which makes snapdragons useful as either a thriller or filler. A row of ‘Rockets’ at the back of a bed will provide colorful height for the whole summer, and short-stuff ‘Montego’ plants are excellent for a more subtle effect. Snaps readily reseed themselves, so be prepared for volunteers in the spring (or be aggressive about cutting off spent flower spikes). Available in red, orange, yellow, white, pink, magenta, and burgundy.
Coleus is the amazing chameleon of the shady garden. It comes in a riot of colors, shapes, and textures and is equally at home in formal or unstructured areas. Large-leaf coleus such as the Kong series provide a sizable focal point, and the lacy Under The Sea series makes an exotic statement by itself. Coleus can even be a shady trailer (Meandering Linda) or tall backdrop. Try the brighter colors for the darkest areas to get a pop of color and the darker colors where you can see them close-up.
Show offs abound in this group! There is simply nothing subtle about these sizable plants with hot red, orange, yellow, salmon, white, or pink flowers. Leaves can be either green or deep purple, and several of the varieties are either trailing or pendulous, (the Illuminations series has 2” blossoms hanging like fruit). These plants are at their best in containers or hanging baskets.
Wax begonias are a steady mainstay of shaded beds, but they can also handle sun. Flower colors are red, pink, or white and leaves can be either green or chocolate. Plants are uniformly compact and bushy with blooms all summer long. Truly a set-it-and–forget-it plant.
Nobody has ever accused a fuchsia of being drab! This family includes both upright and trailing varieties that can be used in beds, baskets, and containers. Flowers are typically bicolor (some pastels can give a white-on-white impression from afar). Fuchsia are outstanding for attracting hummingbirds and the blossoms are characteristically a teardrop shape with contrasting sepals. Petals are silken in appearance and may be red, pink, white, orange, or lavender. Classic and lovely, fuchsias are a worthy addition to any shady nook.
New Guinea Impatiens
These burly impatiens have larger leaves and flowers than their more delicate cousins. New Guineas are also resistant to Impatiens Downy Mildew, which makes them a perfect candidate to use in place of traditional impatiens. Unlike traditional impatiens, New Guineas are content with morning sun and will get to be a blocky 1’ x 1’ per plant—a great size for containers and beds. Try them anywhere you would have planted an old-school impatiens for an updated, floriferous burst of bright color.
Torenias are perfect for shady baskets, beds, or containers. Plants will trail if given an opportunity and mound in a flat area. Blossoms have a characteristic “wishbone” crossing of stamens and can be found in lavender, blue, magenta, white, and yellow. They are an excellent “filler” plant and do well in combination plantings.
Lobelia is often at its best in the “shoulder seasons” of spring and early fall, though more heat-tolerant varieties appear every year. Colors range from sky blue to cobalt, with white, pink, and magenta options as well. Lobelias are available as an upright “bedder” plant and as a fluffy , trailing cloud of blues. Some newer varieties will take full sun, but most are happiest in part to full shade to prolong the bloom season. Flowers are delicate and attract butterflies.
Pansies are a wonderful cool-season choice for a shady area. Available in just about every color, pansies are a cheery sight in early spring and provide a burst of color in the fall. Flowers are larger than those of their perennial cousins, the violas, and can be found in both mixes of colors or single-color packs. Though usually dormant in the heat of summer, pansies can survive light snow cover and Icebreakers in particular are likely to come back in the spring.
No, not that kind of oxalis—not the invasive, weedy variety that lives forever in sidewalk cracks. A well-chosen oxalis can be a gorgeous addition to a shade or part-sun container. Leaves range from green & purple to brilliant yellows and pinks with white, pink, or yellow flowers. Oxalis stays compact and would do well in a border or patio pot. Some varieties have very distinct color patterns and are best used in an area where they can be seen up-close.