New Flower Varieties Brighten up the Garden

Get a head start planning this year’s garden, and add a little color with these fun new varieties at your local garden center.

(Proven Winners photo)

Whether you’re a green thumb with a big garden or you just want a cheery pop of color on your front porch or deck, it’s fun to see what new plant cultivars have come to market. Here’s a rundown of some new offerings by Proven Winners, the largest plant brand in North America.

Remember that locally owned greenhouses can offer valuable guidance, unlike most chain stores. The locals also tend to carry superior plant stock that’s better adapted to our region.

All new plants profiled here are just that – new – and therefore untested in local gardens. Information in this article is provided by Proven Winners and the National Garden Bureau (ngb.org). Other good gardening resources include websites of the University of Illinois and University of Wisconsin county extension services, The Morton Arboretum and Chicago Botanical Gardens, and our own Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Gardens in Rockford and Rotary Gardens in Janesville.

Annuals

For spring-to-fall color, annual plants are unbeatable. They’ll perish each fall and need to be repurchased and replanted in springtime, but the variety and color they offer is unparalleled.

Lantana: You may remember these old-fashioned favorites from your great-grandmother’s garden, since they first appeared to northern U.S. gardeners in the 1800s. Cousins of verbena, lantana offer bright, saturated colors in round clusters of blooms, spring to fall, in solid or multi-color hues of yellow, red, orange, pink and white.

They’re prized for their beauty, heat tolerance, longevity into late fall and ability to attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

Lantanas are sold in mounding or trailing habits, so check the tag before you buy. Trailing forms are more prolific, according to the National Garden Bureau, which named lantana Plant of the Year in 2020. Deer and rabbits avoid it, but leaves may be toxic to pets.

A new variety of lantana is Luscious Citron, which has soft yellow blooms.

Calibrachoa: Also called mini-petunias or trailing petunias, and branded as Million Bells, Superbells and other names, calibrachoas burst onto the U.S. market in the late 1980s. While they resemble small petunias, they’re not actually in the petunia genus.

Native to Latin America, calibrachoas often take center stage in containers and hanging baskets because of their attractive trailing habit and staggering array of colors. Some have double blooms or markings of stripes, streaks, stars and even brush strokes. A happily situated calibrachoa can produce thousands of bell-shaped blooms over the course of a season.

The National Garden Center recommends a full-sun location, well-drained soil that’s kept consistently moist but not soggy, and a balanced fertilizer to optimize blooming. Heavy clay soil, lack of water or soggy roots can wilt or kill the plant.

Proven Winners now offers 38 varieties of calibrachoa, including the 2022 introduction of Superbells Double Twilight, a lavender double-petal beauty with a purple center.

Dwarf Morning Glory: The new Blue My Mind dwarf variety brings that rare, true-blue color to a form that can thrive in containers or the landscape. It grows just 4 to 8 inches tall but spreads out 20 inches and blooms continuously spring through fall, attracting bees. It thrives in full sun, is heat tolerant and moderately vigorous, and has a mounding or trailing habit that spills from containers. Water it well the first several weeks as roots establish. It’s sensitive to frost, so don’t plant too early.

Cyperus Papyrus: This fun sedge plant emerged in local greenhouses a few years ago but has a long, storied history dating back to ancient Egypt. Picture the plants baby Moses might have seen while floating down the Nile River in his basket. Today’s hybrid sprouts feathery, umbrella-shaped grass plumes that regally flutter atop tall, green woody stems. It makes a dramatic “thriller” (tall element) in large containers and also grows well at the edge of ponds. It’s a fun accent for dramatic floral arrangements. Local gardeners have had great success with 6-foot-tall King Tut and 2-foot-tall Baby Tut. This year we meet Prince Tut, 18 to 30 inches tall. Like the rest of its family, it likes part-sun and plenty of moisture.

Perennials

Perennial plants spring back to life each year after winter dormancy. They offer dependable color and texture to a landscape, and many are easy to divide or cultivate.

Hosta: This beloved staple of shady Midwestern backyards boasts 70 species and more than 3,000 registered varieties. Hostas come in various shades of green, with differing textures and markings. They bloom with tall spikes of white or lavender flowers but are primarily loved for their lush mounds of foliage.

A new hosta on the market this year is Shadlowland ‘Hope Springs Eternal.’ Its heart-shaped blue-green leaves are ruffled with creamy white edges. Its blooms are pearly white and attract hummingbirds. This is a large hosta that grows nearly 2 feet tall and spreads out 4 feet wide. It’s happiest in dappled shade.

Sedum: Believe it or not, this genus of succulents includes more than 400 species native to the Northern Hemisphere. Groundcovers like SunSparkler sedum are great for sunny, dry areas and rock gardens. Tall mounds of stonecrop sedum are an old-fashioned choice for showy flowers that turn from green to pink or bronze by fall.

New this year is Rock ‘N Grow Back in Black, a fall-blooming sedum with nearly black leaves for contrast in the garden. This sun-lover grows up to 3 feet tall and wide. Its off-white to pink flowers have red centers. It’s heat, drought and salt tolerant, rabbit resistant, and pollinator attracting. Its water needs are low, but it needs good drainage.

Tickseed: This is a great cutting flower that likes full sun (6-plus hours). New this year is Li’l Bang Starlight Tickseed, a coreopsis hybrid with bright white flowers accented with magenta centers. Deer don’t like it, but pollinators do. It grows just 6 to 10 inches tall and is easy to grow.

You don’t have to be an expert to grow beautiful plants. Just make a good match between the plant and its light, moisture and space requirements, and then it’s time to enjoy!

Protect Your Landscape with Irrigation
A beautiful home landscape takes time and money to achieve. But weather is unpredictable. Those new bedding plants that were thriving a month ago may be withering under a hot sun when rain eludes us week after week.

That’s why many homeowners are making the decision to install a law irrigation system they can count on to keep lawns and garden beds healthy, no matter what the weather does.

“It’s an investment in your property that you might not think much about until drought strikes,” says Jeff Page, co-owner of RainMaster Irrigation, in Loves Park, Ill. “But when it doesn’t rain, you’re awfully glad you have it.”

Page designs, installs and maintains irrigation systems with his business partner, Kim Schuler. The pair purchased RainMaster Irrigation in 2019 from former owner Jim Johnson, who retired after running the business for 30 years.

“We’re still servicing irrigation systems installed 30 years ago,” notes Page. “When they’re regularly used and maintained, these systems hold up well over time.”

Regular maintenance involves a visit in the fall to remove water from pipes before a hard freeze, and a visit in spring to reopen the system and fix problems like broken sprinkler heads or rodent damage.

“Like most everything else these days, you can buy a system that’s as simple or as ‘smart’ as you need it to be,” says Page. Some people use a phone app to remotely turn their wireless system on or off.

A system controller with timer is often located in a garage and plugs into a regular electrical outlet with no special wiring required.

So, what does it cost?

“Installation of an irrigation system for a typical yard that’s a quarter- to half-acre in size runs from $4,500 to $9,000 depending on specific needs,” says Page. Flower beds have different needs than lawns and should be designed to run separate cycles, he says.

Will the installation process cause a big mess in the yard?

“No,” says Page. “We basically make very narrow slits to install the pipes and wires. It’s not obtrusive. Within 10 to 14 days, you won’t be able to see we were there.”
RainMaster Irrigation serves homes and businesses within a 50-mile radius of Rockford. Learn more at rainmasterirrigation.net or call (815) 885-2566.