With the weather we’ve endured these past months, few would argue that it’s too early to start thinking about gardening.
In fact, gardeners are likely to be more eager than ever to start planning what to put in their garden beds, flowerpots and window boxes.
But thinking and planning are really all we can do right now, because even though spring is officially here, it’s still too early to start digging.
That makes it the perfect time to check out some of the new plants that will be available this year. And there is plenty to choose from.
While we trudged through winter, growers were busy propagating new plants that not only look great, but also behave better, and garden centers were busy ordering them.
“We’re going for a more beautiful plant that requires less effort to make it look that way,” said Susan Martin, director of marketing communications at Walters Gardens, a wholesale perennial grower in Zeeland, Mich.
Some new plants will have “the most flowers possible for a concentrated show of color,” Martin said, while others boast longer bloom seasons, are more disease resistant or keep their shape better in the garden.
“You won’t have to spray chemicals on them to get rid of powdery mildew or other things…” Martin said. “Some also have stronger stems so you don’t have to stake them up, or are grown so they don’t have to be trimmed to keep them looking good.”
One of her favorite perennials is a tall phlox called “Glamour Girl” that is an example of both beauty and disease resistance.
“It’s named that because it’s picture-perfect, centerfold-type material,” Martin said. “She’s tall, long-stemmed and has squeaky-clean foliage. In trials (this plant) was in flowerbeds with other phlox that had mildew, but this one didn’t get it.
“It’s a glowing, hot coral pink, and you can see it from 500 yards away,” she continued. “It has fragrant, large flowers….It’s 32 inches tall and hardy to zone three.”
Two new catmint plants — also perennials — should also be considered.
“Cat’s Meow” grows 17 to 20 inches tall and 2 to 3 feet wide and has silvery green foliage and sky blue flowers. “Purrsian Blue” is a smaller plant good for containers or the front of a border.
It grows about 15 inches tall and 2 feet wide and has green foliage and periwinkle flowers.
Walters said gardeners will love these new varieties because they “keep their nice compact habit without having to trim them. They stay neat and tidy through the whole season.”
As a wholesale grower, Walters Gardens doesn’t provide plants to the general public; however, the Walters Gardens website shows where their plants are available.
Walters said her firm introduced about 100 new plants this year, and many of them are hardy in our area.
But “new” doesn’t always mean new this year in the world of plants.
Amy Kolden, sales development coach for Monrovia, said even though Monrovia releases 20 to 50 new plants each year, when she talks about “new” plants, she includes flowers introduced within the last three to five years. That’s because when plants are initially introduced, there’s not always an abundance of stock available.
What’s big this year in newer plants are those that are smaller in stature, Kolden said. “They’re becoming increasingly important…as are plants that are more adaptable to different situations” such as drought tolerance or clay-packed soil.
Kolden, who lives in Viroqua, said some of her favorite new perennials are clematis and two hostas.
The clematis, called “Sweet Summer Love,” has multicolored blooms that run from deep red to magenta and a rich grape/purple color.
When mature, it can get more than 2,000 blooms in a single summer-through-fall season on plants that can reach 8- to 12-feet long and up to 6 feet wide.
The new “Frosty Ribbon” hosta has lush green and creamy white variegated foliage and dainty tubular flowers that appear above mounds of foliage in summer and attract hummingbirds.
Kolden said a dwarf hosta called Fantasy Island is perfect for the front of the shade border with its deep green/cream-colored variegated leaves that are slightly wavy. It can tolerate more sun and has spikes of deep lavender flowers.
Monrovia plants are available at some garden centers, but consumers also can order them through the Monrovia website for delivery at area garden centers.
Angela Pipito, horticulturalist for Stein Gardens & Gifts, said gardeners will want a zinnia called Zahara Sunburst, which has a long bloom season.
It has a red-striped flower with edges that look like they were dipped in gold.
“Butterflies love it,” Pipito said. “It’s a great flower for a sunny, hot and dry location. The blooms are brighter and larger than other varieties, and it’s more disease resistant.”
A perennial she likes is Sedum Hot Stuff.
“It’s shorter and a hotter pink color than some of the traditional sedums we think of,” Pipito said. “It has huge flower heads. They get to be 9 inches across. But because the plant only gets 10 to 12 inches tall, it doesn’t flop over.”
Calling all coleus
Paul Budzisz, owner of Custom Grown Greenhouses, said annuals gardeners are sure to want plants in the ever-popular coleus, impatiens and petunia families.
“Coleus are becoming more popular than ever because of newer foliage and color combinations,” Budzisz said. “It’s very exciting to see what they come out with every year.”
Two newer series to check out are “Under the Sea,” which has plants that look like pieces of coral, and “Stained Glassworks,” which has brightly colored plants, each with different characteristics.
Two of Budzisz’s favorites in this series are “Molten Lava,” which has leaves in vivid shades of red, and “Kiwi Fern,” which has slender, burgundy fern-shaped leaves edged with gold ruffles.
“A newer petunia called ‘Cha-Ching Cherry’ is going to be very popular,” he added. “Everyone fell in love with it. The color is cherry, and it’s a two-toned petunia that’s very eye-catching.”
Eva-Lisa Neske, a landscape designer at Bayside Garden Center, Mequon, said she favors a petunia series called “Crazytunia” because they come in “fun colors” and have stars in their centers.
She said there are also new colors in the “Sombrero” and Double Scoop” coneflower series. The sombrero series has a new, soft yellow-colored plant, while the Double Scoop series has a vivid cranberry-colored plant with a soft double center.
Kolden said that in addition to looking for plants suitable for zones 4 and 5, gardeners should look at plants cultivated for warmer climates, because they can be used as annuals in pots.
Many of these new releases are “true plant-nerd annuals…for people who enjoy cool and unusual new varieties in their containers,” she said.
One of her favorites is “Rock and Roll Peruvian Lilly,” hardy in zones 8 to 10. It has two-toned foliage, huge clusters of vivid scarlet-orange blooms, is compact and attracts hummingbirds.
A new combination of plants introduced this year through the Proven Winners “national combination” program, which pairs plants that are popular with growers and consumers, should also be considered, Pipito said.
Strawberry Kiss combines a calibrachoa called Superbells Pink, a petuna called Supertunia Mini Appleblossom and a verbena called Superbena Royale Whitecap. Pepito said the combination can be purchased already planted together, or gardeners can buy the plants separately.
MORE PLANTS TO ADORE
Burning Heart Amour Rose
A perennial with billowy mounds of bright rose-pink flowers over lacy blue-green foliage. Has an abundance of flowers and an extended bloom time.
Coneflower Cheyenne spirit
Has different colored flowers on the same plant. Colors can include tomato red, a nearly fluorescent orange, magenta, golden yellow and white. A compact perennial with stronger stems that doesn’t need deadheading. Drought tolerant, rabbit and deer resistant, attracts butterflies.
Coneflower Supreme Cantaloupe
The color of a ripe cantaloupe, this compact perennial has long-lasting flowers that bloom from July to October. Looks similar to a gerbera daisy. Drought tolerant, rabbit and deer resistant, attracts butterflies.
False Indigo, Vanilla Cream
The newest plant in the Decadence series, it has 10-inch long flower spikes, pastel yellow buds and creamy vanilla flowers. It’s 2 ½ to 3 feet tall, so it will fit into any garden without giving a prairie look. This perennial develops decorative seedpods in summer or late fall.
New plants are being added to this non-genetically modified line every year. Check out the line of Mighty ‘Mato tomatoes, that are more disease resistant and double the yield of normal plants. Also the Big Birtha Pepper, a large, thick-walled bell pepper that can grow 7 inches long. It ripens from bright green to shiny red and has few seeds.
Hibiscus Cherry Cheesecake
The newest addition to the Summerific series, this perennial has white flowers with a lot of magenta streaking and shading with a cherry-red center. The flowers unfurl from rose-like, magenta-tipped buds to 7- or 8-inch flowers; buds come all the way up the stem. It offers color in the garden from late July almost to frost, and grows in clay and sand.
Heuchera Cinnamon Curls
Part of the Dolche series, this perennial is a distinctive red color and has ruffled foliage, a dense crown and lots of leaves. When it first comes up in spring, it’s a glowing fire-orange red color, then turns to a blend of copper, orange, red and purple tones from summer to fall. This compact plant works well in containers or at the front of a border; grows 8-to 12-inches tall and 16- to 20-inches wide.
Heuchera Fire Alarm
Is bright red in spring and fall and darkens to a brown-red during the summer. This perennial has thick, leathery red leaves that make a medium size mound.
Hosta Curly Fries
A small shade perennial with very narrow and extremely rippled leaves. It has lavender flowers, grows only about 6-inches tall, but increases in width every year.
New Guinea Impatiens, Divine Series
A series of annuals that comes in vivid colors, has larger flowers and is resistant to mildew. Two new colors are Blue Pearl and Scarlet Bronze Leaf.
Primrose Blue Zebra
This shade- to part-sun annual has a blue flower with white striping and a yellow center. Can be planted in early spring. Grows 6 inches tall and 8 inches wide, making it a good choice for containers or borders.
Shasta Daisy, Goldfinch
One plant can have different colored flowers at the same time; can range from the color of a goldfinch to a soft yellow or creamy white. Perennial has a semi-double flower, grows about 24 inches tall and wide and attracts gold finches.
Russian Sage, Lacy Blue
This hardy, heat- and drought-tolerant perennial has an improved, sturdy, compact form that doesn’t flop over in the landscape. Has lavender-blue flower sprays, is aromatic and has deer-resistant foliage.