Deciding what to grow always involves some risk. What maintenance will the plant require? How will it stand up to inclement weather? What will it look like when it matures? To help answer these questions, different associations sift through trial and evaluation results to choose their plants of the year — and GPN lists them in an annual winner’s showcase.
These associations have analyzed numerous plants and awarded those with the most favorable results — some with low maintenance, some with high durability. This information can be a useful marketing tool. Garden centers may want to sell plants that have been put to the test and come up with gold medals. Plants that have proven themselves at trials may also garner higher prices.
All-America Selections relies on judges that have a minimum history of 2-3 years conducting side-by-side comparison trials. The site where the trials are conducted must also have a record of testing in an environmentally safe landscape. The plants are judged on their vigor, productivity and ability to thrive across North America.
‘Fresh Look Gold’ (Ernst Benary of America). Celosia plumosa ‘Fresh Look Gold’ grows to about 1 ft. tall and wide. It grows best in full sun to partial shade with well-drained media and humidity levels between 90 and 95 percent. Allow 7-14 days for germination of the uncovered seed at 72-77° F; after germination, keep the pH level between 5.5 and 6.0. For spring and fall sales, 6-inch production is recommended.
‘Opera Supreme Pink Morn’ (American Takii). ‘Opera Supreme Pink Morn’ is an F1 petunia named for its iridescent, pink blooms. The plants should be capable of spreading 3 ft. in sunny locations. For spring sales, plants can be produced in 6-inch pots. The 21?2-inch flowers are white in the center and have a yellow throat. Pruning or deadheading should not be necessary for this landscape variety.
‘Pacifica Burgundy Halo’ (PanAmerican Seed Co.). Vinca ‘Pacifica Burgundy Halo’ is named for the burgundy ring around its white center. Plants should be produced in 392-cell plug trays with a well-drained medium and a pH of 5.8-6.0. Coarse vermiculite should cover the seed, which should germinate in 3-5 days. Keep the soil temperature at 70-72° F during germination and 72° F during the cotyledon stage. No light is necessary for germination.
Since 1996, the American Hosta Growers Association has tried to select hostas that are widely available and retail for about $15 in Á the selection year. As hosta cultivars increase, the association strives to help growers find the hostas it considers the best.
‘Stained Glass’ (Shady Oaks Nursery). ‘Stained Glass’ reflects the bloodlines of the 2002 Hosta of the year, ‘Guacamole’. This year’s winner should grow up to 20 inches high and 45 inches across, mimicking the growing habit of ‘Guacamole’. ‘Stained Glass’ develops lavender flowers in late summer. It does well in bright light with consistent watering. High light accentuates the color difference in the plant’s green-bordered, yellow leaves.
Color, durability and fragrance are some of the qualities the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers (ASFCG) looks for when naming their fresh- and dried-cut flowers of the year.
‘Ruby Star’ (Terra Nova Nurseries). Echinacea purpurea ‘Ruby Star’, ASFCG Cut Flower Of The Year, should grow 2-4 ft. tall with more than one ruby-centered flower on each stem. ‘Ruby Star’ may benefit from the application of 25-30 lbs. of nitrogen per acre. Growers should watch for caterpillars, grasshoppers and Japanese beetles, and root rot and aster yellows phytoplasma can also be problematic. The plant does well in Zones 4-9 and should flower from late spring to mid summer the second year after it is planted.
‘Grosso’. Lavandula x intermedia ‘Grosso’, selected as ASCFG Dried-Cut Flower Of The Year, produces violet flower spikes on plants that get to be 2-3 ft. tall. It thrives in Zones 5-9 and is susceptible to crown and root rot. Growing in raised beds or well-drained soil can promote healthy plants, but be careful not to overwater or grow under high humidity. Stems should be harvested while the florets are well colored and before they begin to turn brown.
Fleuroselect focuses on innovators — plants that push the limits in breeding. Trials held in Israel, Europe and South Africa test plants for pot performance, indoor pack performance and annual garden performance.
‘Infiniti Scarlet’ (Floranova Ltd.). This geranium gets its name — ‘Infiniti Scarlet’ — from its scarlet flowers, which should grow to 3-4 inches in diameter and highlight the plant’s upright form and round leaf shape. Á The plant should grow to roughly 12 inches high and 10 inches wide. It should be grown at 59° F in standard light, with a planting distance of approximately 12x12 inches. It has a cultivation period of about 95 days.
‘Aztec Sunset’ (Thompson & Morgan UK Ltd.) This annual, two-toned zinnia can display flowers 2 inches in diameter and bloom from June to first frost. ‘Aztec Sunset’ should grow to roughly 6 inches high and 10 inches wide. It is most receptive to temperatures of about 64° F; it should be covered lightly with vermiculite and transplanted after the first true leaf has grown. It is bred to have a compact habit and good resistance to mildew.
‘Prairie Splendor’ (S&G Flowers). Echinacea purpurea ‘Prairie Splendor’ is a first-year-flowering perennial with 4- to 6-inch blooms that should start in late June. Copious fertilizer should encourage the growth of this plant’s lanceolate leaves and promote its 39-inch-high upright form. ‘Prairie Splendor’ should be cultivated with a pH of 6.5-7; it develops best in full sunlight at 59° F.
‘Noverna Clown’ (Kieft Seeds Holland). With blooms that change from color to color, this Dianthus barbatus was given the name ‘Noverna Clown’. Bushy and branched with deep-green lancelot leaves, this plant should reach roughly 16 inches high. It develops best when grown at about 57-64° F in standard light. It should be transplanted 3-4 weeks after sowing.
‘Sydney Blue Picotee’ (Kieft Seeds Holland). Delphinium consolida ‘Sydney Blue Picotee’ adds blue to the colors in the Sydney series. Like the varieties in the series, it should grow early and uniformly. It has an erect plant form with vertical branching and an indented leaf shape. It should reach about 47 inches high when grown at 50-59° F. Maintain 4,000 lux light for 14 hours for optimal growth. Be careful not to disturb the taproot while transplanting.
‘Presto’ (Clause Tezier). Coreopsis grandiflora ‘Presto’ was bred for a combination of profuse flowering and a naturally short habit. The plant’s small size — it forms a ball shape about 8 inches in diameter — means there should be no need for PGRs. A distance of roughly 8x8 inches should separate one plant from another. Plants grow best at 59° F in high light.
‘Blue Glitter’ (Ernst Benary of America). Eryngium planum ‘Blue Glitter’ requires no vernalization. If grown at 57° F, plants should reach a height of about 32 inches and a width of 8 inches. These erect plants can be cultivated in a container. The plants can be forced into flowering at 53-64° F.
‘Avant-garde Blue’, ‘Avant-garde Pink’ (Thompson & Morgan UK Ltd.). Each of these laurentia brings a different color to the hybrid F1 series. ‘Avant-garde Blue’ and ‘Avant-garde Pink’ should have vigorous growth habits, long flowering periods and good basal branching. At full growth, plants should reach about 10-12 inches high and 12-14 inches wide. They can be grown in pot sizes ranging from 4 inches to 1 gal. The plant develops best when grown between 59 and 68° F.
Florastar analyzes plants grown throughout the United States. It judges plants on form, disease resistance, fragrance and shipping ability, among other qualities.
‘Global Red’ (Oglevee, Ltd). Ivy geranium ‘Global Red’ has dark-green foliage and is bred to provide a large number of flowers. It grows in a 41?2-inch format using one plant per pot. Keep pH levels between 5.5 and 5.8. After roots have developed, temperature should be kept between 64 and 72° F during the day and 54 and 56° F at night. Use cool morning treatments once side shoots develop. This should encourage compact growth, a better branching habit and earlier flowering. Pinch once two weeks after potting.
‘Royal Light Pink’ (Selecta First Class). Ivy geranium ‘Royal Light Pink’ is bred to flower early and have several flowers open simultaneously. Analyze soil before planting; a substrate that contains 15-25 percent clay may lead to better leaf wetness and help keep the pH between 5.6-6.0. Feeding should start when the first roots can be seen at the pot’s side. Pinch once during development. Flowering can increase during high light periods.
‘Kenai Grande Pineapple’ (Selecta First Class). Osteospermum ‘Kenai Grande Pineapple’ performs best when grown on the dry side and under high light levels. Crop time from a rooted cutting is about 8-10 weeks. This osteospermum needs one pinch after roots have developed. At that time, start a constant feeding program using a balanced fertilizer. The plant’s large, cream-yellow flowers should remain in bloom all summer long.
Each year, the Perennial Plant of the Year Committee selects four winners from a list of varieties nominated by Perennial Plant Association (PPA) members. Then, the members pick one overall winner. Since 1990, the PPA has been awarding plants based on their low maintenance and suitability for a broad range of climates. Easily propogated plants are also a plus.
‘Firewitch’. Dianthus gratianopolitanus ‘Firewitch’ grows best in full sun and well-drained soils with a pH of 6.0-6.5. Do not plant the crown too deeply. This plant does best in Zones 3-9. Watch for potential disease problems such as rust, leaf spot, root rot and Fusarium wilt. Mature plants should have foliage from 3-4 inches tall and 6-12 inches wide and flowers that reach 6-8 inches high.