Editor’s note: This year, more than a dozen trial garden managers submitted their best-in-show annuals and perennials for our 2016 Plant Trials report. Descriptions and photos of all varieties were submitted by their respective trial garden managers.
Best drought-tolerant annual
Vinca Soiree Kawaii Lavender (Suntory Flowers), Young’s Plant Farm
An excellent summer performer. It produces a mass of small lavender flowers that completely cover the plant. Very heat and drought tolerant.
Lantana Lucky Red (Ball FloraPlant), The Gardens at Ball
This plant never showed color fading or signs of weakness. It was the star of our Garden Gateway.
Celosia argentea ‘Asian Garden’ (Mukarami Seed), Iowa State University
I’ve been admiring this celosia in the garden for two years now and it was announced as a 2017 All-America Selections Flower Award Winner. This celosia starts out a lovely pinky-purple and even through the hottest of days, maintains its splendor. I planted this winner in a prominent photo location and looking through all of the images, it looks spectacular in every shot — filter or not! I knew we needed plants that would look great through hot, dry days and heavy traffic and ‘Asian Garden’ delivered. I love how wild and wooly the flowers are by fall — great transition into Halloween!
Artemisia 'Quicksilver' (Proven Winners), Kansas State University
The hot and dry portion of the summer did not phase this artemisia one bit. Exhibiting incredible vigor, the plants kept expanding beyond the plot borders. The silvery foliage was attractive all season long and never wilted or flopped over.
Bidens Bee Alive (Ball Floraplant), Smith Gardens
Bee Alive flowers for all season long here in the Northwest with little to no deadheading required. The two-tone flower pops against the dark foliage. It’s not compact and not overly aggressive either.
Portulaca ColorBlast Mango Mojito (Westflowers), Mast Young Plants
This new bicolor portulaca was extremely eye-catching and flowered throughout the summer. This variety was another visitor favorite.
Ornamental Pepper ‘Sedona Sun’ (PanAmerican Seed), North Carolina State University
This ornamental pepper lives up to its name, ‘Sedona Sun’. The golden glow of the Arizona desert sun is called to mind when looking at this plant. The small conical-shaped fruit start out white, progress to yellow and then to orange. Be careful if you eat this fruit – it is hot. Each plant provides a mass of color well into the fall.
Catharanthus Soiree Kawaii Coral Pink (Suntory Flowers), Costa Farms
Good performance in the garden during dry and wet periods of time. Very floriferous, very attractive.
Best drought-tolerant perennial
Agastache ‘Mango Tango’ (Proven Winners), Walters Gardens
This plant shines on its own, and its drought tolerance is merely the icing on the cake. The habit is compact and round with a rich, mango-orange flower color. At a closer look, flowers are light peach to dusky orange with dusky rose calyxes.
Perovskia Blue Steel (Kieft Seed), The Gardens at Ball
A rockstar performer that took what the season dished out and still looked great.
Perovskia Caspian Blue (Green Fuse Botanicals), Mast Young Plants
This Russian sage from is more compact than many, and had a ton of large blue flowers.
Carex x Feather Falls (Pacific Plug & Liner), Smith Gardens
This new variety of Carex is spectacular. It can handle sun or shade as well as wet feet and dry feet. Feather Falls fills the pot nicely and is a great addition to perennial borders.
Mandevilla ‘Sun Parasol’ (Suntory Flowers), Costa Farms
Grows year around in Miami. Likes and performs best under drought.
Best pollinator-friendly annual
Gomphrena ‘Ping Pong’ (Sakata Seed America), The Ohio State University
Gomphrena made OSU’s top-3 pollinator list, which was determined by four weeks of evaluations where observers counted all the pollinators present for 1 minute.
Salvia Mystic Spires Blue (Ball FloraPlant), The Gardens at Ball
Mystic Spires was always covered in bees and butterflies. A magnet!
Verbena Endurascape Pink Bicolor (Ball FloraPlant), Boerner Botanical Gardens
With so many pollinator options this year in the gardens, this was one of the standouts. It didn’t have the summer burnout as many Verbenas often do. The continual blooms made it a favorite of bumblebees and Monarch butterflies.
Canna 'Cannova Mango' (Ball Ingenuity), Kansas State University
These easy-growing cannas put on prolific blooms that the bees loved visiting. The unique mango color is simply beautiful and the plants are a great addition to any landscape.
Gaillardia x grandiflora ‘Mesa Red’ (PanAmerican Seed), Iowa State University
‘Mesa Red’ is the newest addition to the family, and all of them are super popular with bees, butterflies, and many other things with wings! If you passed this collection of flowers in early summer, you couldn’t help but hear the hum of many insects congregating and collecting. Intimidating for many, but also inspiring in the effort to attract and support our pollinator population.
Angelonia Alonia ‘Big Indigo’ (Danziger), Plantpeddler Trial Garden
Bees loved this plant. Out of the 1,000 pots we had in our gardens, this plant ranked the highest with our bees. Impressive indigo-colored spikes work well for height in combos or flower beds, as it does well in both conditions. It was also loved by people as it was picked in the top-15 at our Variety Days this year.
Salvia ‘Summer Jewel’ (Takii), Costa Farms
Very floriferous, long flowering window, a true attraction for pollinators.
Asclepias Monarch Promise (Hort Couture), C. Raker & Sons
These were planted all over our landscape and were constantly covered in bees and other pollinators.
Salvia splendens Grandstand (Green Fuse Botanicals), Smith Gardens
The Grandstand series was covered in flowers this past spring through summer. Hummingbirds and bees alike flocked to this plants 6-inch tall flower spikes. Great in the garden as well as makes an excellent center piece to planters.
Lantana ‘Bandana Landscape’ (Syngenta Flowers), Costa Farms
Floriferous, long flowering window, very showy and attracts pollinators.
Best pollinator-friendly perennial
Monarda 'MO 011' (Dümmen Orange), North Carolina State University
Monardas are known for being pollinator-friendly but this one was exceptionally friendly. It is still in the experimental phase, but one to keep a watch on.
Symphyotrichum novae-angliae (North Creek Nurseries), South Dakota State University
These are great plants for the last of the Monarchs to catch a snack on before their long migration south, as well as a food source for the butterflies that linger here in the fall, like this painted lady.
Best heat-tolerant annual
SunPatiens Tropical Rose (Sakata), Plantpeddler Trial Gardens
Great performing variety during the heat of the summer in Iowa. Loves the full sun and high temperatures. The variegated foliage and hot pink flowers are outstanding in flower beds and large landscape projects. Big plant, big color. Picked in the top five favorite plants in the trial gardens.
Alternanthera Purple Prince (PanAmerican Seed), Young’s Plant Farm
The Alternanthera is exciting because it is from seed, it lasted all summer long, held its deep purple-red color, and compact in size. It is perfect for the front of a landscape bed.
Impatiens hybrida ‘Bounce Pink’ (Selecta), Iowa State University
We had three of the Bounce series in trials this year (violet, bright coral and pink) and all three were stars through a very hot, dry summer! The pink variety didn’t show any sign of fading (and coral and violet kept their colors fairly nicely too). While other plants nearby slowed flower production and overall growth, the Bounce series continues to impress! They can brighten up any shaded area, but perform just as well in full sun.
Vinca Kawaii ‘Soiree Coral' (Suntory Flowers), Kansas State University
When the temperatures increased, these vinca came on strong. Despite the small petal size, the plants put out a tremendous amount of color and visitors loved the different look than the typical vinca.
Scaevola Surdivine Blue Violet (Suntory Flowers), Mast Young Plants
A new scaevola that has a great compact-mounded habit and very dark purplish-blue flowers.
Monarda SugarBuzz Cherry Pops (Proven Winners), Smith Gardens
This plant was definitely buzzing this summer. A great pollinator plant covered in hot pink flowers. Great powdery mildew resistance and has a nice compact habit.
Best heat-tolerant perennial
Pennisetum setaceum Fireworks (Proven Winners), Mast Young Plants
Fireworks is a variegated form of fountain grass that starts flowering in mid to late summer. The striking foliage and plumes look great in beds, in containers by themselves, or in combinations with other plants.
Coreopsis Uptick Gold and Bronze (Darwin Perennials), Costa Farms
Loves the heat, continue to flower over the summer, did not show any signs of heat stress.
Petunia Amore Queen of Hearts (Danziger), Mast Young Plants
This new petunia in the Amore series did extremely well everywhere we had it in the trial gardens this summer, whether in containers or in beds. The striking bicolor red and yellow flowers with the heart-patterned petals drew a lot of attention from our visitors.
Dianthus ‘Paint the Town Fuchsia’ (Proven Winners), Walters Gardens
This is a new series of Dianthus is prized especially for its performance in hot and humid summers. The bright flower color is perfect for a pop of color in early summer. Single, serrated fuchsia flowers have lavender centers. Flowers completely cover the foliage like a blanket when it’s in peak.
Best overall performance – annual
French Marigold Fireball (PanAmerican Seed), The Gardens at Ball
This plant still looks great in The Gardens, even with the temperature change. It performed well even in our extremely humid summer.
Geranium Brocade Cherry Night (Dümmen Orange), Smith Gardens
This variety got a lot of attention in our gardens this year. The contrast of the hot pink flowers against the dark foliage is striking. It looked great in the pot for retail and it looked amazing in the garden.
Begonia Vermillion Red (Beekenkamp), Raker Trial Gardens
This was placed into a hanging basket and it was a showstopper all summer. It was covered in long-lasting bright red flowers well after the other baskets around it were spent.
Angelonia angustifolia ‘Archangel Cherry Red’ (Ball Floraplant), Iowa State University
It is eye-catching from afar and has great dark detail in the throat when you get up close and personal. Strong, upright habit and it really lasts through summer with little pressure from pests, heat or drought.
Mecardonia Magic Carpet Yellow (Sakata Seed America), Costa Farms
Great ground cover, with green foliage and yellow flowers. Looks good for months and months.
Begonia Angel Falls Soft Pink (Beekenkamp), Plantpeddler Trial Gardens
Large trailing pink flowers over lush green cascading foliage. A beautiful hanging begonia that withstood almost everything Mother Nature threw at it. It handled full sun to part sun and stayed in color through it all. Hot, cool, humid, dry: a plant for all seasons. Picked in the top-15 of annuals at out Variety Days 2016.
Scaevola aemula ‘Scala Bicolor Blue 01’ (Dümmen Orange), North Carolina State University
Uniform plants with total flower coverage make this beautiful purple-blue fan flower a must have for all gardeners. All-season flowering.
Coleus Under the Sea, Sea Urchin Copper (Hort Couture), Kansas State University
The miniature nature of this coleus makes it perfect for containers. The compact plants were full and attractive at every point in the season. The copper and chartreuse colors on the leaves were a striking combination and they practically glowed in the part-shade. The plants never bloomed, allowing no distractions from the foliage.
Salvia Velocity Blue (Syngenta Flowers), Mast Young Plants
This tender perennial flowered all season for us in the gardens. The season-long performance combined with the large, dark blue flowers and strong habit make this plant ideal for landscape use but it also shines in combinations with other varieties.
Petunia Supertunia Vista Bubblegum (Proven Winners), South Dakota State University
Petunia Supertunia Vista Bubblegum has consistently been our best-performing petunia and I would have to say that it is the most impressive annual this year, once again. It is extremely floriferous in large containers and performs nearly as well when planted in the ground. There are literally so many flowers that the foliage is seldom visible.
Gerbera Garvinea, Sweet Memories (Florist), Young’s Plant Farm
This Gerbera flowered all summer long with large, bright pink flowers held high above the foliage. We tested it in the ground and in containers and Sweet Memories was awesome in both.
Best overall performance – perennial
Coreopsis UpTick, Gold & Bronze (Darwin Perennials), Boerner Botanical Gardens
Neat, full mound with flowers held high. The unique color combination looks great from a distance.
Angelonia angustifolia ‘Archangel Cherry Red’ (Ball Floraplant), Iowa State University
I heard a lot of great compliments on this bright pink entry. Angelonia is slowly gaining momentum as a popular annual and I think this is another outstanding color option. It was eye-catching from afar and has great dark detail in the throat when you get up-close and personal. Strong, upright habit and it lasts through summer with little pressure from pests, heat, or drought. I love how simple and clean the foliage is and because it is so wonderful, [that] it really lets the flowers shine.
Baptisia DECADENCE ‘Lemon Meringue’ (Proven Winners), South Dakota State University
[This variety] has been an awesome perennial for us for the last several years. It is quick to emerge in the spring, then puts on its glorious display of bright yellow flower spikes, nicely contrasted by the darker stems. The blue-green foliage is clean, stands up to our South Dakota winds and looks great all summer long.
Heuchera PRIMO ‘Black Pearl’, (Proven Winners), Walters Gardens
You’ll be impressed by how quickly this Heuchera finishes! This new black leafed Coral Bells was chosen for its shiny black, scalloped leaves and vigorous performance. The vigor translates to a fast finishing pot, finishing a trade gallon in as little as six weeks.