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Exciting New Plants This Summer

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Home gardeners aren’t the only folks anticipating the spring introductions of new annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs. Janine Pumilia asks our local greenhouse experts which ones they’re most excited about.

Yellow Slice Calibrachoa (Proven Winners photo)

Rejoice, gardeners! Jubilant days of overfilling our greenhouse carts are here! After long months of sensory deprivation, we can now feast our eyes on neat rows of potted eye candy, from pussy willows to pansies, calibrachoa to coral bells. Home gardeners aren’t the only folks excited about what’s latest and greatest at the greenhouse. Anticipation is rising among greenhouse managers, too. We asked a few to dish about the 2013 introductions catching their interest, as well as recent ones that have earned their approval.

Annuals

Customers are excited about several new annuals this year, including Proven Winner’s Lemon Slice calibrachoa hybrid, says Jessica Salisbury, general manager of Village Green Home & Nursery, 6101 E. Riverside Blvd. and 2640 N. Main St., Rockford. Calibrachoa look like miniature petunias and bloom from spring until frost. “Lemon Slice has little pinwheels of bright yellow and white,” she explains. “It’s a very welcome addition, because we needed more options in yellow annuals, and this is a nice, true yellow.”

Another of her favorites is the Supertunia Picasso in Pink, with its violet-colored petal edged in chartreuse. It has a more compact habit than its predecessor, Pretty Much Picasso. Salisbury is a fan of two new white petunias, too: White Russian and Silverberry Vista. White Russian is antique white with dark chocolate veins; Silverberry Vista is pure white with delicate pink-streaked centers, and it appears luminous and silvery in moonlight.

For shady locations, coleus is colorful and dependable, with an ever-expanding selection of leaf shapes and textures. Salisbury especially likes the new Under the Sea Bonefish coleus by Hort Couture, with its unusual, highly dissected lacy leaves in bright fuchsia and chartreuse. “The leaf shape really does resemble a fishbone,” she says. “It’s not like anything else.”

Also new this year is deep-plum Marooned, a member of the ColorBlaze series. Other forms of coleus that have received a warm welcome from buyers in recent years include burgundy/lime Dipt in Wine, coppery Keystone Kopper, magenta Kingswood Torch and cream/lime Alligator Tears, which has long, pointed leaves.

For dependable color, it’s hard to beat geraniums (sun) and begonias (part-sun to shade). Salisbury has seen many customers gravitate toward Calliope and Martha Washington geranium varieties in recent years. The new foolproof Calliope combines excellent performance with rich color, including a true red unlike any other geranium. New shades this year include burgundy, lavendar rose and hot pink.

“The Martha Washington geraniums have really ornate blossoms that are trimmed with contrasting colors,” says Salisbury. She also recommends the Big or Dragon Wing begonia for season-long color and easy care in areas with less than full sun.

Other newcomers introduced by Proven Winners in 2013 include Blue My Mind, a dwarf morning glory with that rare, true blue color that many gardeners long for and seldom find. This heat-tolerant sun-lover grows 6 to 12 inches tall, with a trailing habit up to 24 inches, and has a nice, mounded habit, making it an ideal “spiller” in containers, and also a good groundcover plant.

The Lanai series of verbena is already known for its mildew resistence and large dome-shaped blossoms. This year’s addition, Candy Cane, is a fresh and cheery flower with white- and red-striped petals. Butterflies and hummingbirds love it, but deer don’t. Use it in baskets, containers, planters and borders.

In stark contrast to cheery Candy Cane verbena is Black Velvet petunia, a blossom as dark and sultry as it sounds, introduced a few years ago by Ball Horticultural Co.

“The Black Velvet petunia will sell out quickly this summer, because of its novelty,” says Salisbury. “For people who like something really different, this is it.”

At just 30 years old, Salisbury is a young general manager, but she’s worked at Village Green since she was 16. Among other things, she’s always been “a real whiz” at designing container gardens, says Village Green Owner Larry Smith. “Jessica is always very up-to-date on plant design. She’s very talented,” he says.

Salisbury enjoys trying out new plants each year in her container designs, and notes it’s often the more subtle plants that can make a big difference.

For example, this year she’s excited about two “support” plants that bring an updated look to container arrangements. One is sedum Lemon Coral, with its fine, feathery lime-green foliage. “It provides a really interesting texture,” she says. The other is doreanthus Mezoo Red, “a trailing green and white succulent that produces small red or pink flowers that look like strawflowers.”
The Wojo’s Jem vinca vine is another good trailing plant for containers, with its creamy white and bright-green variegated foliage, she says.

White plants are often added to containers or baskets to help make bright colors “pop.” This may include a foliage plant like silvery-white Dusty Miller or bloomers like bacopa, lobelia, angelonia, white calibrachoa, allysum or its cousin, lobularia. In shade, mostly white coleus, impatiens or white begonias can work well.

“We’ve found the new Snow Princess lobularia to be a good, profuse bloomer, and it has a very sweet scent,” says Salisbury. She also likes both White and Sky Blue lobelia in the Laguna series by Proven Winners.

No matter what annual plants you choose, follow a few simple guidelines to keep them looking their best. “Choose the right plant for the right lighting conditions – sun, shade or part-sun,” Salisbury says. “Keep them watered well, and make sure the water can drain. And fertilize them at least every two weeks. Just follow the instructions on the fertilizer package.”

Perennials

When it comes to planting perennials (plants that return by themselves each spring), local gardeners have something working in their favor to make gardening easier: Midwest soil.

“For the most part, we just have great dirt around here, compared to a lot of other places in the country,” says Chris Williams, production manager at K & W greenery in Janesville. “You may want to give a perennial some extra help when you plant, like adding compost if the soil has a lot of clay or rocks in it, but once you get them going, they’re pretty self-sufficient.” It also helps that commercial growers are producing perennials that are more colorful, sturdy, cold-hardy and well-behaved than their ancestors.

“For example, coneflowers have really taken off over the past few years, because of all the new colors and improvements,” says Williams. “When growers first started working with them, they came up with a new orange color, but the plant sort of flopped over. The improved versions have a wonderful sturdy upright habit and come in several rich, true colors. And there are new double-petal versions, too.”

Williams offers a rundown on some new perennial varieties.

Coneflowers grow about 16 to 24 inches tall and have a relatively long bloom time. Newer varieties include Glowing Dream, a watermelon/coral color; Heavenly Dream, with 4-inch white flowers and a high flower count; Secret Affair, with double rose-colored blooms (new in 2013); Secret Love, with double red flowers and a very high flower count; and Secret Glow, with double golden flowers.

Last summer’s drought has some folks wondering what they can plant that won’t require constant watering, says Williams. One answer is the blanket flower, or gallardia, which thrives in arid climes. “The breeding on these has really been intensified,” he says. “They’re tough, durable plants that are very heat- and drought-tolerant, and they’re also very long-flowering.”

New in 2013 is Gallardia Red Sun, a 10-inch tall by 20-inch wide plant that produces very showy orange-red flowers edged with yellow. It blooms all summer long. “This plant can grow in any soil – I’ve seen it grow in gravel,” says Williams. “But it does need good drainage. It doesn’t like soggy roots.”

Along the lines of the novel Black Velvet petunia comes the Decadence Dutch Chocolate baptisia (false indigo), a 30- to 36-inch tall plant with velvety chocolate purple flowers that grow in a large, upright clump.

Once thought of as a rather simple old-fashioned plant, the coral bell (heuchera) has exploded in its variety of color and leaf texture and shape over the past decade. It’s also been crossed with the foam flower to produce a hybrid called “heucherella,” such as the new Buttered Rum variety. It enjoys part-shade to shade, is about 7 inches tall and has attractive, deeply cut caramel-colored leaves that turn rose-red in fall.

“Coral bells are one of those groups of plants that, 10 to 15 years ago, came in about three choices. Now there are hundreds,” says Williams. “I think Plum Pudding is probably one of the most reliable, but there are new ones every year. The flowers are sort of an afterthought with these plants, because it’s the leaves that are most interesting. But with Gotham, which is new this year, the bright-yellow flowers really do stand out against the dark-purple foliage.”

One reason coral bells are prized is because they tolerate shady conditions well. They’re also a nice addition to containers, but should be planted in the ground before winter.

Newer varieties include Galaxy, with large purple-red leaves splashed with pink, about 9 inches tall; Paprika, with reddish-coral leaves and multi-season color, about 8 inches tall; Sugar Plum, with plum-purple leaves in spring and fall that turn silvery in summer and winter, about 12 inches tall; and Gotham, mentioned earlier, at about 6 inches tall.

No discussion of perennials is complete without awknowledging hostas, the beloved and ever-dependable staple of shade gardens, now in thousands of varieties. The 2013 Hosta of the Year is Rainforest Sunrise, about 8 inches tall by 18 inches wide, with cupped and puckered golden leaves with green margins. Another newcomer: Afterglow, about 24 inches tall, with large heart-shaped green and yellow leaves.

Another traditional and much-loved perennial is the bearded iris, which produces large, showy spring flowers in many colors. It stands tall in the garden, at 24 to 36 inches. Newer varieties include Anaconda Love (plum with white splotches), Devil’s Lake (deep solid blue), Hello Darkness (deep purple), Mystic Muse (soft salmon) and elegant Orinoco Flow (white edged in purple.)

Daylilies (hemerocallis) are wonderful landscape plants with arching, grassy foliage, most about 30 inches high. They produce large, bright flowers and many varieties re-bloom throughout the season. Williams is a fan of the unusual Ruby Spider, new in 2013. “It has huge strappy, yellow-throated, ruby-red petals, not the usual tightly rounded petals, which makes it kind of exotic-looking,” he says. The blossoms are a whopping 7 to 8 inches wide. Other new daylilies this year include white to pale-yellow August Frost; and Mighty Chestnut, a fragrant red-orange blossom with a burgundy eye. Daylilies prefer full sun or part shade.

Willams notes that along with annuals and perennials, commercial growers are coming up with much better versions of edible plants, shrubs and trees. Examples include the BrazelBerries line of small fruit bushes like Raspberry Shortcake and Jelly Bean dwarf blueberry, designed to be grown in patio containers. Along with producing tasty fruit, they have a neat, mounded shape and attractive foliage. They should be stored in a garage or shed during winter.

“There are a lot of plants these days that are really easy to grow, that don’t require much care,” says Williams. “If you don’t know what to choose, ask for help. It’s why we’re here.”

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