Editor’s Note: Kip McConnell, Director of Plant Development Services in Loxley, recently spoke at Bellingrath Gardens and Home as part of our Wonderful Wednesdays summer series. His talk, “New, Better, Yours: Plant the Newest, Best Plants,” gave our guests an evaluation of the latest plants available to solve landscape challenges. Here are some highlights of the presentation. All photos are courtesy of the Southern Living® Plant Collection.
By Sally Pearsall Ericson, Director of Marketing and Public Relations
Encore Azaleas: Most new plant varieties being considered for the marketplace are evaluated for many years before they are introduced to professional growers. By contrast, Encore Azaleas were the first new brand to be marketed directly to the consumer. They have been around for 20 years; have 31 varieties; and are the most sun-tolerant azaleas on the market.
In the Gulf Coast climate, the latest varieties of Encore Azaleas will have three to four reblooms. Encore Azaleas were created by Robert “Buddy” Lee of Plant Development Services in the late 1980s, and the first five varieties were introduced to the retail market in 1998. Some are hardy all the way north to Zones 6A, which includes New York and Connecticut. Encore Azaleas can also do well in containers. The best time to trim is right after the plant’s spring bloom; most will have their second bloom in June-July and their third bloom in the fall. For the best results, Encore Azaleas need four to six hours of direct sunlight.
The newest addition to the line is the ‘Autumn Fire’™ Rhododendron series, dwarf azaleas with velvety, semi-double blooms. The compact growth means little pruning is required. To learn more about the varieties, visit EncoreAzalea.com.
Here are highlights of the Southern Living® Plant Collection:
Low-maintenance shrubs: ‘Miss Lemon’ Abelia; and ‘Orange Rocket’ Barberry. These are easy to care for and provide dramatic foliage from spring through fall. They are also useful as a vertical element in landscaping.
Grasses and Groundcovers: The Evercolor Carex series adds drama to shady spots. It’s a good groundcover plant and a good choice to enhance a container planting. It offers bright, colorful foliage, year-round. Varieties include ‘Everest’ and ‘Everillo.’
Annuals, Perennials and Tropicals: ‘Design-A-Line’ Cordyline, with its rich, burgundy red leaves, adds color and height to gardens. ‘Clarity Blue’ Dianella has lovely, clear blue upright foliage, perfect for containers and for landscapes. It’s a tough plant, cold hard and easy to grow. In the spring, it produces blue flowers. The ‘Crazy Pink’ and ‘Crazy White’ varieties of Echinacea (coneflowers) offer pink or clear white flowers mid-summer to fall. These varieties do well in full sun to part shade. ‘Olive Martini’ Elaegnus is an evergreen shrub that features green leaves lined with gold. This hardy plant prefers full sun. The ‘Lime Sizzler’ Firebush loves the heat and boasts beautiful, variegated foliage. It puts out red-orange flowers from late spring throughout the summer. It prefers full sun. The brand-new ‘Coppertop’ Sweet Viburnum is a compact, rounded shrub, similar to the old-fashioned Red Top shrub. It prefers full sun, and is a tough, disease-resistant selection to enhance your landscape. The foliage colors range from green to bronze, copper and pink. It puts out berries in winter and lacy white flower clusters in the spring.
Evergreen shrubs: The ‘Romeo’ Cleyera has attractive, buttery golden variegation in spring; the leaves turn rose-colored in fall and winter. It is very heat tolerant. The ‘Juliet’ Cleyera can grow to 8-10 feet and adds color and texture to a landscape. The ‘Meerlo’ Lavender has brightly variegated foliage, is heat and drought tolerant and has an amazing fragrance. It’s a compact plant and good for containers, growing to 2-3 feet. Use lavenders when you can, even though they struggle in the heat.
Classic Southern blooms: The ‘White Wedding’ Hydrangea Paniculata has become very popular. It features large, white, conical blooms. It grows fast and has strong stems that hold up oversized clusters of creamy flowers. It prefers full sun. The ‘Dear Dolores’ Hydrangea Macrophylla is fast-growing and produces repeat blooms. It prefers shade to part shade. If you need to prune it, do so lightly after the first bloom. The Southern Living Delta Crapemyrtle series features seven varieties of versatile, small trees, 8-12 feet tall with brightly colored blooms. They thrive in full sun to part shade. Because of their unique, burgundy-colored leaves, they make a stunning garden accent all year long.
Underutilized plants: The Gaillardia series includes ‘Sunset Flash,’ ‘Sunset Orange’ and ‘Celebration.’ These are rich, red blooms from spring to fall. The ‘Jubilation’ Gardenia is a charming improvement on a Southern favorite. It grows compactly and blooms heavily during the spring and summer. It prefers full sun. The ‘ScentAmazing’ Gardenia produces fragrant white blooms in late spring and reblooms in the summer and fall. It likes full sun to part shade. The ‘Mojo’ Pittosporum is cold hardy and drought tolerant.
Low-maintenance landscaping selections: The ‘Sunshine’ Ligustrum offers year-round, golden foliage, and is easy to grow. It doesn’t bloom, which is good news for allergy sufferers! Height is from 3 to 6 inches. It prefers full sun. It is a sterile, non-invasive cultivar and is ideal as a hedge in the landscape. The ‘Platinum Beauty’ Lomandra is a wonderful ornamental grass. It is drought and salt tolerant. Its creamy yellow flower spikes complement the foliage from autumn to spring. This is a tough, showy plant, great for containers and garden beds. It prefers full sun to part shade. It has long, green, graceful leaves and thrives in challenging environments.
The ‘Purple Daydream’ Dwarf Loropetalum offers dark, purple foliage year-round and is versatile and drought-tolerant. It’s great in containers because its foliage eventually drapes and covers the pot. The ‘Marvel’ Mahonia has yellow, fragrant sprays in late fall, early winter. The ‘Soft Caress’ Mahonia loves dry shade and is a tough, drought tolerant choice. It produces bright yellow flowers in early winter. The ‘Lemon Lime’ Nandina has lime green new growth and gets to about 4 feet in height. It favors full sun. The ‘Blush Pink’ and ‘Flirt’ Nandinas also like full sun. The ‘Obsession’ Nandina has rich, red foliage.
Other recommendations: The ‘Chef’s Choice’ Culinary Rosemary has a high oil content and a spicy flavor; the ‘Little Bonnie’ Dwarf Spiraea favors full sun, is heat-tolerant and produces lavender-pink blooms in spring; and the ‘Bells of Fire’ Tecoma prefers full sun and puts out bright, red flowers continuously until frost.
Plant Development Services brands include Encore® Azalea, the Southern Living® Plant Collection on southernlivingplants.com, and the Sunset Western Garden Collection®. For details, visit http://plantdevelopment.com/.