A steady stream of new cultivars has given this old standby annual a whole new dazzle. The colors are more intense, the color combos more numerous and some — the "sun coleus" — can stand up to full sun. Plus, most of the new ones don't bloom, so you don't have to worry about constant deadheading. Planted in masses, these globs of vibrant color will carry your garden through from spring till frost.
If you're lucky, you may be able to find them in containers at your garden center. If not — or if the weather or climate won't let you plant now — put these on your shopping list for the next growing season.
Alternanthera 'Purple Knight'. Stunning, lush, easy, vigorous — all describe this foliage plant that puts on a show of rich dark-purple foliage from late spring to frost. It's an annual that's very easy to grow and tough enough to handle rough weather and the summers of subtropical climates. The plant can reach 1 1/2 to almost 3 feet high and almost as wide.
The fire-engine-red flowers of pineapple sage, a tender perennial in USDA Zone 7, start in earnest in late summer. The common scarlet sage (S. splendens), an annual that blooms from spring to frost, also comes in a host of other colors, including cream, pink, orange, salmon, purple and bicolor.
Scabiosa. The pincushion flower, so named because the stamens stand above the petals, blooms from late spring to frost. 'Butterfly Blue' and 'Pink Mist' are favorite renditions, as is the prolific bloomer 'Samantha's Pink'. Perennial, hardy to USDA Zone 4
Dwarf crape myrtles. The lovely woody shrubs and trees gardeners have come to depend on in August can also provide color close to the ground. The semi-dwarf and dwarf forms can easily be tucked into landscape beds.
Some of the smallest:
'Chickasaw' (2 to 3 feet, pink-lavender)
'Centennial' (3 to 5 feet, lavender)
'Victor' (3 to 5 feet, dark red)
'Monink' (3 feet, bright pink)
'Moned' (3 to 4 feet, rose red)
'Bourbon Street' (2 to 3 feet, watermelon red, weeping)
'New Orleans' (1 1/2 to 3 feet, lavender, weeping)
Strawflower. Perfect for hot, dry places in the yard, this annual forms a low mound about 6 inches tall, with a cap of bright yellow flowers covering the gray-green foliage. Provide water until plant is established; after that, little to no supplemental irrigation is needed. (Pictured: Flambé)
Salvia. This is a huge family of annuals and perennials, some of which bloom over long periods, including into fall. All salvias need good drainage and most grow quickly. Many are favorites of hummingbirds. The Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) has spectacular lavender and white (or all lavender) spikes from late summer to frost. Hardy to USDA Zone 7b, it's grown as an annual in cooler areas. Salvia 'Indigo Spires' bears dark purple flowers on arching stems all summer until frost (hardy to USDA Zone 7b). Autumn sage (S. greggii) is a staple in desert landscaping because of its tolerance to heat and drought. A perennial that's hardy to USDA Zone 7, it blooms over long periods, depending on climate, and is available in purplish-red, red, white, pink and salmon.
Black-eyed Susan. A welcome splash of color as summer comes to an end, these sunny perennials look great with ornamental grasses, and you'll also enjoy their ability to re-seed. USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 9
Plenty of easy-care roses repeat-bloom in late summer and early fall. Pictured here: 'Carefree Spirit'