Today, I visited our local big box store to buy some summer annuals for my containers.  Each time I visit, I mentally prepare myself ahead of time because I usually get frustrated at the fact that they frequently sell the wrong plants for the wrong time of year.  I have posted about this before, which you can read here if you like.

In the meantime, I thought I would give you a pop-quiz.  I know, I know….no one likes pop quizzes.  In high school, those words would create a sinking feeling in my stomach every time.  But I promise, I will give you the answers and I am an easy grader 😉
The following are flowers that were offered for sale today.   Some are summer annuals for our area and some are winter annuals, which will soon die from the coming summer heat.  Are you ready for the quiz?  There are two possible answers for each question – summer or winter flower. 
Winter or Summer Annual?
 Winter or Summer Flowers?
Winter or Summer?
Winter or Summer Annual?
Winter or Summer Flowers?
Winter or Summer?
Winter or Summer Annual?
Red Salvia
Winter or Summer?
Winter or Summer Flower?
Winter or Summer Annual?
I told you I would give you the answers, so here they are:
Petunias – Winter
Celosia – Summer
Vinca – Summer
Lobelia – Winter
Verbena – Summer
Alyssum – Winter
Impatiens – Winter
Red Salvia – Summer
Begonia – Winter
Portulaca – Summer
How did you do?  It is not easy to tell looking at the flowers which one will do well in summer and which ones do best in winter. 
I do go to big box stores and buy plants because they are usually inexpensive.  BUT, I DO NOT rely on their advice or the fact that if they are carrying certain plants, that they are appropriate to plant at that time of year.  Shopping at big box store nurseries only works if you do your research ahead of time.  Just because they have a plant on display does not mean that it will survive for long in your garden.
For example, the big box store had winter and summer annual flowers displayed right next to each other (above).  There was no way to know that the one on the right would survive the summer and that the one on the left would soon be dead from the summer heat.
If you are uncertain about what plants to purchase, then I recommend doing your own research OR going to a local nursery, where you may pay a little more, but you can receive expert advice on the right type of plant to plant the right time of year.
I ended up buying two Radiation lantana for my front containers.  Lantana are great summer flowers and I then transplant them into my garden in the fall.
**Butterfly update – the caterpillars are still within their chrysalis.  I am hoping they emerge early next week.  I have had to bring them indoors the past two nights because the temperatures have dropped below 55 degrees.  I will keep you updated 🙂
I hope you all have a great weekend!
Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a horticulturist, certified arborist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."

20 replies
  1. Curbstone Valley Farm
    Curbstone Valley Farm says:

    Well, I didn't do too badly. I got Vinca wrong, I expected it might not quite tolerate prolonged heat. I've lived in Coastal conditions as well as California's hot Central Valley, so I knew the Celosia would do great, but that the Petunias would go crispy where you are. I actually get a little cranky when I see nurseries and garden centers selling plants either out of season, or that aren't adapted to the local environment.

  2. Hocking Hills Gardener
    Hocking Hills Gardener says:

    Well I flunked. LOL! I would have figured petunias would grow anywhere at any time and the Alyssum too. So they are still offering a lot of winter flowers at your stores.
    Have a wonderful weekend.

  3. Kathleen
    Kathleen says:

    I flunked too. 🙁
    If I ever move there, I'll have to relearn everything. At least there are great resources available to tell the difference.
    You would think the buyers for each store would know this info and order the appropriate plants???
    I've been eyeing some Japanese Maples at our local big box store but now I'll definitely research the specific ones I'm interested in to make sure they'll survive.

  4. Antique ART Garden
    Antique ART Garden says:

    Hi ! All I know, which may be questionable, is I have had great success with impatiens, begonias in the Summer here in the Deep South ( for about 25 years ). Did you mean to say Spring Annuals and not Winter ? Pansies are the hands down winter annual here. Have a great day ! Gina

  5. Patchwork
    Patchwork says:

    I guess it depends on the area of the country and the type of winter you have. I've had begonias last through a mild winter, but never impatiens.

    I've never tried petunias in winter. Usually by the time we see them here, there is only a small window to enjoy them, before the heat does them in. I do cave in occassionaly, when there's one just too pretty to pass up.

    I'm less patient with the perennials they put out, that would do well in milder climates, but will fry here, in Texas. Full sun isn't always TEXAS full sun…or AZ.

    I guess, it's just always best to do some homework, first.


  6. Nancy in Sun Lakes AZ
    Nancy in Sun Lakes AZ says:

    Hi Noelle,
    I'm so happy you are posting about this problem with big box nurseries. I often go in and I see people walking out with the wrong plants and I'd just like to stop and tell them (but I don't). Yesterday I saw a worker "helping" someone pick annuals and they were definitely NOT being helpful.
    I hate it because it discourages people from growing plants when the plants die and they think it is something they have done wrong.
    Another thing that annoys me is that they have so many of the wrong plants and too few of the correct ones. For instance, I have been looking for purslane for summer and I can't find any at all among the seas of petunias.

  7. Ami
    Ami says:

    Yay, I did not do too badly 🙂 I got Lobelia wrong since I never had any experience of it. I had bad experience last summer with wax Begonia. As a complete newbie, I planted wax begonia in a sunny area. Think about how it went in south Florida summer heat? lol. They all melted away! But this year, I planted them in a container in shady area since winter, want to see how it will go in the summer.

  8. Nicole
    Nicole says:

    Well that was an easy one for me, as all those that are popular in the Caribbean are "summer" flowers and all those that don't grow here are the winter flowers. While people do grow begonias in the Caribbean, its in shaded gardens. Of course all the "summer annuals" are perennials here.

  9. Catherine@AGardenerinProgress
    Catherine@AGardenerinProgress says:

    It's interesting to see what are summer and winter annuals there. Here those would all be summer annuals. And our day temps are barely above your night time temps now. I think I need a vacation to Arizona now.

  10. Rosie@leavesnbloom
    Rosie@leavesnbloom says:

    That was quite hard for me as all of them are summer annuals for me. I guessed wrong with vinca, celosia and verbena. Vinca we rarely see offered as a summer annual, celosia normally rots if there is too much rain and looks awful if its been wet for too long – but verbena is normally ok in our summer……… I've got quite a few growing in the house to go into my summer containers.

  11. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    Well, I got them all correct, but I have had a lot of experience replacing dead plants. That is why I started my blog because I moved to AZ from NJ and living in the desert is like gardening on the moon!

    I did manage to keep some alyssum alive all summer last year, but I had it in partial shade and watered it many, many times.

    One way to keep the big box stores from doing this is to return the plants that die within the one-year period. I have done this and it is a pain, but maybe they will get the message.

    Thanks for the post! – [ Jeff ]

  12. Christine
    Christine says:

    I realized after trying to answer the first few questions that I wouldn't do well on this quiz. Most of the flowers you have listed are summer flowers where I live. In fact, ALL flowers are summer flowers where I live. :}
    But I do get and appreciate your point Noelle.

  13. Kyna
    Kyna says:

    I got everything right except lobelia 😀 I've never planted lobelia, so I'm ok with that 😉

    I not only get frustrated with plants that are the wrong season, I also get frustrated with plants that are sold out of their zones.

  14. Rose
    Rose says:

    I definitely would have failed this quiz, Noelle–these are all summer annuals here:) I wonder if the big box stores use the same plant order for stores all across the country. Great advice for everyone here. I know I cringed several weeks ago when our garden centers first started putting out annuals, and I saw several customers with carts full of them. I wondered what happened to all their flowers on the nights we've had frost since then:)

    If you had added the beautiful lantana from your last post, I know I would have gotten that one right! I seem to add more and more lantana every year; it loves our hot and humid summers here as well.

  15. Meredehuit
    Meredehuit says:

    Your post gives me a greater appreciation for gardening (and the gardeners)all across this beautiful world. All of your flowers would be Summer here as in nothing blooms in Winter. Today is Winter/Spring… snow on the ground with Spring flowers peaking their heads through the snow hoping for sunshine. No hint of global warming here.

  16. debsgarden
    debsgarden says:

    Arizona ain't Alabama! if I moved there, i would have to re-educate myself! I have noticed the big box stores selling plants, especially trees, that are marginal at best in our area. I think they sell the same plants across the nation at the same time, no matter the zone. Buyer beware!

  17. Brad
    Brad says:

    I did so-so. I based some of my guesses on when things flower here, but tempered with my knowledge of 110+ degree heat. Some were definitely a surprise.

Comments are closed.