Sunday, December 13, 2009

Top Performing Annuals

Last week I watched a “web” inar by Dr. Alan Armitage of the University of Georgia, Athens. For us plant geeks, Dr. Armitage is like a hero as a plant breeder and promoter of annuals and perennials alike. His webinar topic was “Best Performing Annuals,” and it covered both flowering and foliage annuals. At the trial gardens the plants are evaluated every two weeks for number of flowers, leaf color, disease and insect resistance and over all performance. The data are then combined to come up with a single performance score.

It is important to us as retailers to only sell plants that we know perform well. It is also important to everyone up the marketing and production chain. So seed companies, growers and retailers all have an interest in making sure the plants we grow and sell will perform for the end user, you our valued customer. There are all kinds of trials that are done to make sure we all get it right. The most famous is probably the California Pack Trials, but other organizations also host these types of trials, including our land grant universities. When I was a grad student at Michigan State University, the entire campus was an All American garden and it was a big deal during the summer when the seed company execs would come to see how their plants had performed well and which would be going on to full production.

Well Dr. Armitage offered up some really cool plants and here are just a few that caught my eye. As you look through your gardening magazines and start to plant for your containers for next summer keep these in mind. Also here is the link to Dr. Armitage’s web site. You can see pictures from their trial gardens and learn about how you can visit if you are ever down that way.

Breathless Blush– This is a euphorbia similar to Diamond Frost but with a pink blush to the flower. It makes a great “filler” plant in a container and would go well with silver toned foliage plants and darker purple petunias.

Sun Patiens– These impatiens are bred to be more sun tolerant than regular impatiens, tho even those will do well in sun if given enough water. The cool thing about some of the sun patiens (I think) is the foliage. Several varieties have variegated foliage, which is quite stunning.

Zinnia– Zinnias are some of my favorite annuals. Their flowers are very colorful and last a long time on the stem. They are a traditional flower for the cutting garden. That said they are somewhat spindly and need to be planted at the back of the garden. The Zahara series was profiled on the webinar and were very nice. Another more compact zinnia is the Profusion which comes in a variety of flower colors.

Celosia– Michael is not a fan of celosia because it is prone to mildew with the type of flower that is has. The “plumed” varieties retain a lot of water and fall over due to the weight in the flower head. I think the “cocks comb” variety is very unique and would look good toward the front of the container.

Ornamental Peppers– We most often think of these as accent plants for our fall containers, but when I was at MSU all the summer annual beds were edged with ornamental peppers. It was truly beautiful.

Pennisetum Jade Princess– This is a relative of the purple fountain grass that is so popular in containers but has that brilliant jade coloring. Like the purple fountain grass it is not hardy in our climate so don’t expect it to come back the next spring. Like its purple cousin the seed head will attract birds in the fall.

I hope this has given you some ideas for next spring when planning your containers and gardens.  I know after this last week and our frigid temps it probably seems like light years away but it will be here sooner than you think.  Remember we are always available at Countryside to help with any of your gardening questions.  If you are interested in seeing what a trial garden looks like, the closest one to us is the Ball Seed Garden in West Chicago.  They have a big "Open Day" in August when visitors are welcome to visit and Master Gardeners are on hand to answer questions.