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Refresh and replant for the new season

How some plants get to be “hot,” and who says so



I attend a lot of garden and nursery industry trade shows and seminars, and never miss the talks on the best/new/trending plants and products. That’s partly because, like many of you, I’ve been yearning to see green and flowering things over the long winter. My report: though not everything reported to be “hot” is suitable for Western New York, some plant introductions are just fabulous. Here’s why:


Proven Winners seriously tested

When a brand becomes tip-of-the-tongue familiar, it sometimes loses respect, but that should not be the case with Proven Winners. If you’re buying from a retailer that has cared for the plants appropriately, you will get a high-performance plant that was thoroughly trialed and tested. The average time of testing and trials for a Proven Winners woody plant is ten years before introduction to the market. For woodies, annuals, and perennials, the testing process is serious. PW judges plants for bloom time, color, disease resistance, hardiness, size and habits, with the focus on what consumers and landscapers want.


You will also see shrubs bearing the Spring Meadow brand, ColorChoice Flowering Shrubs. Spring Meadow (Grand Haven, Michigan) has introduced success stories like ‘Wine & Roses’ weigelas, ‘Limelight’ hydrangeas, and ‘Black Lace’ elderberries. A recent presentation in Skaneateles by ColorChoice spokesperson Jane Beggs-Joles focused on the following introductions:


Aronia melanocarpa, ‘Low Scape Mound’

A dwarf version of native Aronia (Black Chokeberry), this has huge landscape as well as pollinator value. Picture white flowers in spring, black fruit in summer, and glossy green leaves turning bright red in fall, and then use it for mass plantings. Some have suggested it’s an alternate for ‘Gro-Low’ sumac (also red in fall) because deer rarely touch the Aronia.
Sun/Part Shade; 1.5 x 2 feet tall and wide
Why chosen: The first short Aronia (extremely useful)


Diervilla ‘Kodiak’® Orange’

Diervillas have been useful shrubs for even dry shade; some of us have found them boring, but at least they are deer-resistant, drought-tolerant, and provide pollinator-pleasing yellow flowers. Also see Diervilla Kodiak Black, and Kodiak Red. Personally, I trialed the red diervilla last season, with no deer or drought troubles; the leaves are pretty—but this orange one is better.
Sun/Shade—brightest with sun; about 3.5 x 3.5 feet.
Why chosen: Fabulous colored foliage!


Sambucus ‘Lemony Lace’


Sambucus ‘Lemony Lace’

Who can resist the gold color of the lacy elderberries of recent years? Derived from a native plant parent, it’s gorgeous, although quite delicious to deer. Some spring flowers and red fruit.
Sun/Part Shade; 3 to 5 feet tall and wide
Why chosen: A stunning, shorter version of the former beauty, claiming better sunburn resistance and brighter reddish new growth.


Which are worth getting?

I admit that part of the fun of gardening is shopping, browsing catalogues and new books, and listening to speakers about exciting plants—new or just new to me. Plant lust is a real condition. You’ll know it when you see it in the eyes of some garden center shoppers or visitors at plant shows. Sometimes the drooling gardener (including myself) really does have to have it!


My advice: enjoy discovering new plants. Savor the excitement. Then, stop long enough to read the label and have a plan for where to place the new plant. It will only be as good as the site and care provided. The growers, testers, and retail sellers have usually done everything possible to sell you something good. After that, it’s up to you.


May your favorite new plant truly be a winner—“proven” or not.


Great landscape shrubs

The trend is toward smaller.


Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)


Forsythia X ‘Show Off’®: compact


Deutzia ‘Yuki Cherry Blossom’®: fragrant, more compact, deer-resistant


Cephalanthus occidentalis ‘Sugar Shack’® (Buttonbush): native, compact, great for wet sites


Microbiota decussata ‘Celtic Pride’®: Shade-tolerant replacement for short junipers; deer- and disease-resistant, better winter color, about 2 feet wide x 4 feet wide.


And too many more.


Hydrangeas not to be ignored

Breeders from the Netherlands to North Carolina keep working for bud-hardier Big-Leaf Hydrangeas (H. macrophylla) and shorter panicle hydrangeas—the easy ones that used to be seven feet tall. More native Hydrangea arborescens, like your old friend ‘Annabelle’ (but shorter and not so big and floppy), can be found this year, some even blushing or mauve colored.


Tim Zimmerman, a grower from New Jersey representing the greatly respected Medford Nursery, recommends new and improved Hydrangea arborescens, chosen for smaller size and strong stems, such as the tiny ‘Wee White’ (one to two feet tall), ‘Mini Mauvette’ (three by three feet), Invincibelle® ‘Limetta, and Lime Rickey. Hydrangea paniculata ‘Little Lime’ is smaller than the ever popular and tall ‘Limelight.’


If your H. macrophylla disappoints—no “endless” blooms or any at all—or your Annabelles are too floppy, look further into the wonderful world of hydrangeas. The breeders know what you want. Just do read the labels for size and habit.


Perennially favorite perennials—improved?

Perennial growers far and wide readily admit that the industry has made mistakes in premature introductions in the past. The result: some lost credibility when a “new” or “best” or “proven” beauty—at a high price per plant—disappointed gardeners and embarrassed retail sellers. After those debacles, the pressure mounted, so that today, any brand worth its trademark proceeds much more carefully. Expect some true winners, such as the examples listed below.



Genus, species, cultivar


Reason “Improved”

Hosta ‘Lakeside Paisley Print’
American Hosta Growers ‘Hosta of the Year’ 2019

Thick heart-shaped leaves, creamy white center, wavy green margins; 10 x 20 inches.

Thicker leaves, less slug-prone, and just gorgeous

Hemerocallis (Daylily) ‘Double Pardon Me’

Really reblooms lots;
18 x 18 inches

Darker red than earlier re-bloomers, truly much less dead-heading.

Penstemon (Beardtongue) ‘Onyx & Pearls’

Hummingbird attractor, 10 x 20 inches

Denser than earlier ones such as ‘Husker Red’, darker leaves

Helianthus helianthoides (False Sunflower) ‘Sunstruck’

Variegated leaves, bright yellow flowers, 18 x 18 inches

Much tougher than ‘Larraine Sunshine’, with constant flowers


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