Gardeners are always looking for new plants and we're tempted by what we see in catalogs, magazines, on television and elsewhere. Even at the garden center, plants call to us, begging for a home in our landscapes.
But what to try? Here are three to consider:
New reliable pink hydrangea
Gardeners often long for a reliable hydrangea that blooms any color but white. Experienced gardeners know to avoid big-leaf hydrangeas because they frequently don't live up to their promise of blue or pink flowers, if they bloom at all.
Although root hardy and with reliable foliage, the flower buds on big-leaf hydrangeas (H. macrophylla) form in late summer of the previous season, making them susceptible to killing freezes the following spring from Columbus, Ohio, to Minneapolis.
One of most reliable to avoid this has been "Annabelle," a cultivar of the native, smooth-leaf hydrangea (H. arborescens). Gardeners in Chicago, St. Louis and elsewhere will find Invincibelle "Spirit" hydrangea in their garden centers, the first pink-blooming, "Annabelle"-like cultivar.
Recently, I received Invincibelle "Spirit" in a four-inch pot. I transplanted the baby shrub in part sun and by the end of summer, it was 24-inches tall and had seven branches with dusty-pink flowers. At maturity it will be 3- to 4-feet tall and wide.
It is hardy to USDA Zone 3. The flowers can be allowed to stay on the plant for winter interest, or you can cut a few for indoor bouquets or for drying for everlasting arrangements.
Developed by Spring Meadow Nursery in Grand Haven, Mich., a Proven Winners/ColorChoice branded plant, the company will donate $1 for each flower sold to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
Many of us battle fungus disease on the leaves of dogwood shrubs (Cornus). Although popular, the variegated leaf dogwoods seem to show this damage more than the all-green types.
A new, variegated, bush honeysuckle called Cool Splash provides a beautiful, disease resistant option. Don't be put off by the common name honeysuckle. Cool Splash is a trademark name of a cultivar of a native honeysuckle (Diervilla sessilifolia), developed at Cornell University and introduced by Bailey Nurseries of Newport, Minnesota.
This dwarf shrub, which gets about 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide, has cool green and white leaves. The yellowish, trumpet-shaped flowers are slightly fragrant, but not very showy.
This plant, which thrives in shade to part sun, is prized for its spectacular foliage. It is winter hardy to USDA Zone 4.
Reliable, red coreopsis
"Route 66" is a reliable, reddish-yellow, threadleaf coreopsis (C. verticillata), a cultivar of an Eastern U.S. native plant that thrives throughout USDA Zone 5 in the Midwest. A few years ago, many of us were disappointed with the lovely "Limerock Ruby" coreopsis sold as a hardy perennial, but unfortunately, it did not survive Midwestern winters.
"Route 66" is the hardiest red coreopsis on the market and it blooms for four months in summer," says Chris Hansen, co-owner of Great Garden Plants, a Michigan-based online retailer.
Also called tickseed, plant coreopsis in full sun and well-drained soil. The flowers will have some variation of red and yellow. At maturity, this perennial will be about 24 inches tall and wide. Most threadleaf coreopsis are a bit late to break ground in spring and the foliage resembles baby grass, so be careful of them when weeding. I speak from experience.
Sometimes known as the Hoosier Gardener, Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp lives in Indianapolis and is part owner and editor of Indiana Living Green magazine. Her work has also appeared in many other publications, including The American Gardener, Garden Gate and Greenhouse Grower. Meyers Sharp also speaks about gardening and sustainable living throughout the Midwest and is a director of the Garden Writers Association.