Step inside the greenhouses of K&W Greenery, in Janesville, and explore the many new plant varieties sprouting up this season. Who knows? Maybe you’ll add a few to your garden this summer.
Among the finest and largest greenhouses in our region is K&W Greenery in Janesville, Wis., now in its 35th year, founded and owned by the Bill and Phyliss Williams family.
A remarkable 90 percent of annual, perennial and vegetable plants sold here are grown on site, inside greenhouses that cover nearly 2 acres.
“Growing our own plants allows us to control the quality to our standards,” says Chris Williams, horticulturalist and part owner of K & W. Here, he describes some new plants he’s excited about this year.
“I’m a petunia nut and the varieties of petunias just keep expanding,” he says. “I think the Crazytunia hybrid series is up to 20 colors now, and we carry 12 of them, including the new Citrus Twist, Passion Punch, Moonstruck, Lucky Lilac and Red Blues. The Citrus Twist is a bright red-orange combination and the plant has a nice, tight, mounded growth habit. The Passion Punch has a rim of soft pink with a magenta center and the Moonstruck is really unusual – it has a dark purple edge, nearly black, with a lavender and yellow center.”
Williams also likes the Sweetunia series, which this year introduced Miss Marvel, a deep plum color with crisp white edges, and Suzy Storm, “a magenta star pattern trimmed in rose pink.”
There are also new varieties of calibrachoa, the petunia’s mini-cousin.
“If you fertilize and care for calibrachoa, they’ll bloom non-stop all season. They’re great in hanging baskets and pots because of their trailing habit.”
He likes new Tropical Sunrise, which is part of the successful Superbells series.
“Tropical Sunrise is an improvement upon Tequila Sunrise, its predecessor, which everyone loves,” says Williams. “Tropical Sunrise has a nice bright coral color with a stripe pattern and it’s a tighter plant that doesn’t get rangy.”
He also likes the calibrachoa Chameleon introductions of Cherry Banana and Sunshine Berry. “Each flower on the plant has a unique blend of colors,” he says.
Use petunia-specific fertilizer rather than an all-purpose blossom booster, he advises. “Petunias and calibrachoa need a food that’s higher in iron content.”
Another great new annual is the Portulaca Colorblast series, a semi-trailing moss rose known for heat and drought tolerance. “It can also be used as a ground cover that will bloom all summer long,” says Williams. “The new Mango Mojito is really striking, with orange flowers trimmed in yellow and white; Watermelon Punch, Lemon Twist, Plumberry and Grenadine are great, too.”
Coleus is valued for its season-long foliage color and shade tolerance. Williams likes the new Dutch Mill Drive, which has green leaves with wide yellow margins. “What’s makes it unique and really striking are its feathery edges,” he says.
Also unique are the new red-yellow Macaw and purple-green Quetzal dwarf coleus varieties that grow just 9 to 12 inches tall, making them ideal for containers and fairy gardens. If you’ve ever had a coleus take over a container, this attribute will be greatly appreciated.
Those who love King Tut and Baby Tut Egyptian papyrus plants for their regal bearing will welcome new mid-sized Prince Tut, which grows 30 to 48 inches tall and can thrive in ponds or containers.
If you’re wary of impatiens plants because of a recent downy mildew outbreak, Williams recommends the mildew-resistant Sunpatiens series. Its new Tropical Rose not only offers bright red flowers but also variegated green and white foliage. Impatiens are known as a shade plant, but Sunpatiens thrive in full sun to part shade.
“These are also more compact impatiens that grow 18 to 24 inches tall rather than 3 feet,” says Williams. “They tolerate full sun just fine but do best in partial shade. Morning sun is ideal for them.”
Finally, Williams is excited about new Calliope geraniums, which took 14 years to develop. They combine the glossy, semi-trailing foliage of ivy geraniums with the larger blossoms of zonal geraniums and come in Dark Red, Scarlet and Pink Flame colors. “The Dark Red now comes in a more compact version that works better in smaller pots,” says Williams.
While annuals dazzle us with non-stop color all season long and then disappear with the first hard frost, perennials are old friends who pop up each season with little effort or expense on our part. Breeders are working to extend their bloom times.
“The new coreopsis Sizzle & Spice series has a super-long bloom time for a perennial,” says Williams. “There are more colors than ever. This year, three new ones are Crazy Cayenne, Curry Up and Zesty Zinger, which has flashy magenta and white blooms.” They have a compact growth habit and do best in full sun.
Williams also is impressed with new Double Scoop coneflowers (echinacea), such as Cranberry and Mandarin. “They’re more compact and very well-branched, which means you get more flowers,” Williams explains. “The blooms are double pom-pom types.”
Native to our region, coneflowers attract wildlife and bloom best with full sun. We see their cousins, the blackeyed-Susan and the purple coneflower, growing along roadways.
Some perennials provide season-long color with their foliage, not their flowers. Sunsparkler Wildfire sedum, with variegated red and hot-pink leaves that turn orange/purple in autumn, are new. This low-growing succulent plant is very hardy and drought-tolerant, and ideal for rock gardens, where it forms a dense, colorful mat that reliably returns each year.
As for perennials that delight us for a short while in springtime, few are better loved than bleeding hearts. Williams is impressed by the new Fernleaf bleeding heart called Fire Island, which has unique frosty blue foliage and a much longer bloom time than its predecessors.
“It’s very vigorous, with cherry-red hearts fringed in white,” he says.
For a late-summer treat, the ligularia offers golden daisy-like flowers set against dark leaves, even when planted in shade or part-shade. The new King Kong ligularia grows 3 to 4 feet tall. “People are less familiar with this perennial than some, but it’s really a great plant,” says Williams.
The daylily is a perennial staple and Williams is fond of new Tiger Swirl.
“It has a large flower, more than 6 inches long, and a triangular shape that makes it unique,” he says. It pairs well with predecessors Primal Scream and Ruby Spider.
Williams recommends doing a little homework before you choose plants for a particular location. Observe the hours of sunlight and shade and choose plants that are compatible with those conditions.
“Growing beautiful plants isn’t that difficult. You develop a feel for it, over time, and learn to water and fertilize when they need it, not just on a rigid schedule. Weather conditions change day by day and plants are living things.”