Gardening in 2017: New Plant Varieties

"Bloomstruck" Hydrangea

Story and photos provided by Cheryl Boyer

In my world, it’s the season for winter trade shows and education sessions. Many industries wind down a bit in the cold parts of the year, particularly those who focus on outdoor work like landscaping and growing plants. When they’ve slowed down a little, we, in Extension, are busy providing resources and events to meet their off-season training needs. It is not a quiet time of year for me.

Bare-root plants.

It IS a good time of year, however. This month I’m visiting with landscapers, growers, city parks folks, and garden center operators at the Western Nursery and Landscape Association trade show in Kansas City. Attendance has been good, an indicator that the economy is rebounding. Among the highlights of the show is the opportunity to see new plants and trends in the green industry. Breeders like to use the occasion to show off their new (and “old”) offerings to buyers. Eventually (in 1 to 3 years) the plants seen here will trickle down to consumers. But first they have to be liked, ordered, grown and marketed by nurserymen.

As predicted several years ago, we continue to see more and more Hydrangea introductions. ‘Endless Summer’ Hydrangea was the first re-blooming cultivar released (in 2004). Traditionally, hydrangea has been one of those plants that has an incredible flower display, but only once per year. The development of ‘Endless Summer’ Hydrangea introduced the remontant (blooming more than once per season) gene into the breeding landscape and since then we’ve been holding onto our hats as new hydrangea after new hydrangea has been released, even new varieties that don’t re-bloom but have amazing colors. It’s cool and fun and also a little difficult to keep track of everything new, much less how it actually performs locally. But, boy, are those marketing photos pretty!

According to at least one very large breeder I spoke with, we’ll continue to see new hydrangeas enter the market for the next 3 to 5 years before the trend dies down. Then…on to the next “new” plant.

Edibles are still a very big trend. We’re seeing more patio vegetables and fruit plants. The very popular “BrazelBerries” brand of patio fruit plants (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries) has recently rebranded to “Bushel and Berry.” Growers are helping market these types of plants to a new generation of gardeners.

New perennial plants (those that come back year after year, but are not necessarily woody like trees and shrubs) continue to increase in popularity as gardeners seek to get the most bang for their buck. Perennials are generally a little more expensive than annuals, but they’re a great investment in the future garden. Annuals often cost less and have a bigger show in the landscape, but they have to be replaced every year. If you enjoy that, as I do, it’s no big deal. I think a mix of both is really nice. I need to add a little trial area in my yard to try out some of the new perennials—they’re just so cool!

Plants with dark-purple leaves are a big trend as well. My favorite new annual is a dark-purple leaved dahlia with peach colored flowers. Beautiful! I’ve also seen perennial hibiscus with dark-purple leaves and deep strawberry-pink blooms. I used to think purple-leaved plants were strange, uncommon and should be set apart in the garden as a feature. Not so much anymore with all of the new options that can easily be grouped into a large mass for incredible curb appeal.

If you’d like to see more new plant introductions, check out the December issue (free online) of American Nurseryman magazine for a huge lineup. Keep in mind they are new and most likely un-tested in Stillwater…yet. Don’t forget that gardening is a fun adventure—if your sweet, new-plant find doesn’t work out, there will always be a new crop of plant introductions at the trade shows every single winter. I’ll keep an eye out for noteworthy new ones for you.