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Vermont Garden Journal: Unusual Annuals

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Forest & Kim Starr
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The torenia plant.

Are you tired of the same old impatiens, begonias and coleus in your shade flower bed? This year why not try some unusual annual flowers that will brighten up a dark area and provide months of color right until frost. Here are some of my selections for unusual shade loving annuals. These grow well in part shade, but do need some sun to flower well. They also grow best on moist, well-drained soil.

Balsam is an old Victorian annual that still can be found in garden centers. It grows 1 to 2 feet tall with pink, blue, red, or white colored, trumpet-shaped, almost gaudy-looking flowers. Balsam self-sows readily so you can have it for years, for better or for worse. It's also a nice alternative to downy mildew plagued impatiens. 

Torenia or clown flower is one of my favorite shade annuals and another good impatiens alternative. This mini-snapdragon like flower usually comes in multiple colors that remind you of a clown's face. They can grow up to one foot tall, flower all summer in shades of pink, blue, yellow and white, are hummingbird favorites and deer resistant. They make great container annuals, especially the trailing types.

Browallia is a tidy, mounding annual that has white or vivid purplish-blue colored flowers on 1 foot tall plants. It brightens a shade garden and can be brought indoors to be grown as a houseplant in winter. 

Not all annuals for the shade show their colors through their flowers. Polka Dot plant is becoming more common. The flowers are insignificant. But its leaves are spotted or freckled with splotches of white, pink, green, or red.  It grows 6 to 12 inches tall and also can be grown as a houseplant.

And now for this week's tip, okay, yes you can start your tomatoes now. Keep seedlings well watered and fertilized, perched under grow lights, turned on 14 hours a day. Gently brush the top of the tomatoes with your hand daily to help keep them short and stocky.

Next week on the Vermont Garden Journal, I'll be talking about straw bale gardening. Until then, I'll be seeing you in the garden.

Broadcast on Friday, March 28, 2014 at 5:57 p.m. and Sunday, March 30, 2014 at 9:35 a.m.

The Vermont Garden Journal with Charlie Nardozzi is made possible by Gardener's Supply, offering environmental solutions for gardens and landscapes. In Burlington, Williston and Gardeners.com.

Resources:
Balsam
Polka Dot Plant
Torenia
Browallia

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