2016 Top Ten Performing Annuals

Steve Poppe, Senior Horticulture Scientist

Esther Jordan, Communications Specialist

Begonia Whopper Rose Bronze Foliage

Annual flowers have long been used to enhance landscapes, improve curb appeal, or simply to provide aesthetic beauty.  Their wide variety of color and texture makes annual flowers extremely attractive to consumers; annual flower sales exceed $1.3 billion each year in just the top 15 states (Floriculture Crops Summary 2014, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service).  

Annual flower variety trials for the University of Minnesota (U of MN) are conducted at the West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC) Horticulture Display Garden in Morris, MN.  The Garden features impressive displays of the newest cultivars of annual flowers from plant breeding companies around the world.  Cultivars are grown from seed or are vegetatively propagated in our greenhouse, and later transplanted into the Garden in late May.  

Plants are evaluated three to four times during the growing season in order to assess each variety’s performance.  We use a 1 to 5 scale for providing a horticultural rating (1=poor, 2=below average, 3=average, 4=above average, 5=excellent).  Plants are rated on performance, color, vigor, uniformity of habit and flowering, flowering numbers relative to others, insect and disease resistance, and uniqueness.  The data is taken by the same individual every time to reduce variability in scoring.  Only the highest rating cultivars earn the distinction of a Top Ten Performing Annual recommendations for Minnesota.

Plant breeding companies rely on valuable feedback from annual flower trials conducted throughout the nation in order to market and improve their cultivars.  Evaluations from the WCROC annual flower trial are shared with participating plant breeding companies; they may in turn make plant improvements to their cultivars and enter the flower back into trial for another season.  Our annual flower report is also made available to commercial nursery producers, floriculture professionals, grower associations, U of MN Extension and U of MN Master Gardeners in order to provide cultivar recommendations.

Petunia Supertunia Vista Fuchsia (Imp)

Petunia Supertunia® Vista Fuchsia (Imp)

Even though the annual flowers are under evaluation, the plants are placed into an aesthetically pleasing design, allowing visitors to enjoy the beauty of the Garden.  The Horticulture Display Garden has been an All-America Selections (AAS) Display Garden since 1990.  The AAS award recognizes a flower or vegetable variety proven to have superior performance throughout the North American continent.  An AAS Display Garden provides the public an opportunity to view the new AAS winners in an attractive well-maintained setting.  Additionally, the Horticulture Display Garden is the only AAS Trial Ground site in Minnesota, where AAS entries are planted next to comparisons and evaluated by an AAS Trial Judge. 

Hundreds of cultivars are trialed each growing season in the Horticulture Display Garden.  Near the end of the season, we review all data in order to determine the top ten performers in the annual flower trial.  A Top Ten winner must receive all 5’s at each evaluation, and appear to be a promising cultivar for Minnesota.  Below is our list of Top Ten Performing Annual Flowers from the U of MN WCROC annual flower trial in 2016.

2016 Top Ten

Coleus French Quarter

Angelonia Angelface® Super Pink is a heat and drought tolerant plant that blooms all season long with fragrant grape-scented foliage.  This is a low maintenance plant that requires no deadheading and is a great cut flower.  Angelonia’s are heat-loving plants that will grow most vigorously and bloom best in the heat of the season. 

Begonia Whopper Rose Bronze Foliage offers outstanding performance with extra-large pink flowers against a background of glossy bronze foliage from spring through fall.  Whoppers are a big vigorous plant which fills out garden beds and large containers well. 

Coleus French Quarter* is a high impact coleus, perfect for large pots or in the garden landscape.  Elegant pink and green leaves add a dramatic touch to the garden in either sun or shade.   

Impatiens Interspecific Bounce™ Bright Coral boasts a massive amount of stunning, bright pink bicolor blooms with tons of color to brighten your garden, be it in shade or sun.  Bright Coral offers the habit and flower count of seed-grown impatiens, but with the added benefit of resistance to downy mildew disease. 

Impatiens SunPatiens Spreading Shell Pink

Impatiens SunPatiens® Spreading Shell Pink

Impatiens SunPatiens® Spreading Shell Pink delivers unsurpassed garden performance with season long soft pink flowers that never slow. These vigorous spreading plants keep their shape all summer; they do just as well in full sun as in shade. These low-maintenance plants are perfect for gardeners looking for impatiens that are resistant to downy mildew disease. 

Petunia African Sunset F1 has an attractive orange flower color that was outstanding during the summer of 2016. This petunia grows evenly and uniformly in the garden as well as in containers, all while producing a prolific number of blooms all season-long.

Petunia Supertunia® Vista Fuchsia (Imp) is very vigorous and continues to flower with numerous blooms all season long.  Supertunia® Vista Fuchsia has a mounding habit that can reach up to 1 ½ feet in height in the landscape and will trail over the edges of baskets and containers up to 3 feet by the end of the season.  Deadheading not necessary.

Vinca Solar Avalanche Red is a compact trailing plant and an excellent choice for pots and containers.  The large flowers have unique overlapping petals making it a real eye-catcher in any type of container.  Solar Avalanche Red performs very well in warm and humid conditions.

Zinnia Solmar Rose

Zinnia Solmar Rose is an early flowering and large flowered zinnia variety that will provide a fabulous display of color in a garden display.  Zinnia Solmar Rose is a vigorous variety with good disease tolerance and is well suited to challenging weather conditions.  Solmar Rose was a stunning performer in our 2016 garden beds. 

Zinnia Zahara XL Fire Improved* is an ideal choice for a disease resistant zinnia with reliable, season-long performance.  These 18-24” tall plants offer exceptional uniform plant habit, growth and vigor with a knock-out orange/red color.  For optimum performance, plant zinnias in a well-drained garden soil.

* denotes top consumer favorites at the 2016 U of MN WCROC Horticulture Night

All flowers in the Horticulture Display Garden are labeled, allowing visitors to take note of top performing cultivars under regional conditions.  The Horticulture Display Garden is open daily from dawn until dusk; admission is free.  The Garden is located at 46352 State Hwy 329, Morris, MN.  Location and directions to the Horticulture Display Garden.  

Want to know more?

Print out a copy of the 2016 Top Ten Performing Annuals, which includes specific variety descriptions, honorable mentions, and flower photos.

Data from all 350 annual flower varieties grown in 2016 can be found in our Annual Flower Performance Report.

Looking for Top performers from previous years?  Visit our flower research page.