Published January 8th, 2010
Plant breeders never sleep. In our lifetime we’ve seen a revolution in genetically engineered plants, giving us such innovations as “Roundup-Ready” soybeans. When a variety is introduced that is clearly superior it becomes well known and other plants are forgotten. A good example of this is Silver Queen corn.
We’re now seeing an explosion of genetically engineered landscape plants. Plant breeders invest millions to develop and promote new varieties and make them household words almost overnight. These plants sometimes turn out to be fads and fade away, but the best ones make gardening easier and are embraced by home landscapers. We call these varieties “plants on steroids”. Here are some of our favorites; if you haven’t tried them you should:
“Purple Wave®” Petunia: We just love these vigorous petunias because they grow so fast, bloom so profusely and look so good. One “Wave” plant takes the place of three or four regular petunias, spreading as much as three feet. Fresh blooms of stunning purple with blue centers never stop coming. They don’t need pinching back or deadheading to look good. This is somewhat less true of the subsequent “Lilac Wave”, “Blue Wave”, “Red Wave” etc. etc., but the Wave series is extremely popular with good reason.
“Stella D’Oro®” Daylily: This is the easiest perennial of all to grow, forming a showy clump and re-blooming all summer from May until frost with golden yellow trumpet-shaped blooms. “Stellas” can be divided every two or three years to rapidly fill in sunny hillsides and hard-to-mow culverts. Brand extensions like the “Mini Stella” and “Black-Eyed Stella” are more like regular daylilies. The key to re-blooming daylilies is to keep the clump growing; re-blooming comes from the new roots formed by an expanding plant.
“Knock-Out®” Shrub Rose: Forget about the typical rose problems of leaf spot, yellowing and funguses. “Knock-Outs” perform and perform without spraying or deadheading, survive through hard winters with only minor damage, and are covered with blooms constantly all season. They are truly low-maintenance. The original red and pink single Knock-out roses perform the best, followed by the double versions. “Blushing Knock-out” and “Rainbow Knock-out” are relative wash-outs, and the new “Sunny Knock-out” has yet to prove itself but our first impression is that it needs regular deadheading to look good.
“Endless Summer®” Hydrangea: The ultimate shrub for shade. These sturdy plants are covered with stunning blue or pink flowers all season long. Growing about four feet, “Endless Summer” is the perfect compact size for foundation plantings, will thrive in part sun or shade, and flowers on new growth each year for dependable bloom. “Endless Summer Blushing Bride” is a pale pink version, and the new “Twist ‘n Shout” hydrangea is a lace-cap version with deep pink centers and showy red fall foliage.
Brace yourself for a tidal wave of new plant introductions with catchy names. With any luck, one out of five will actually prove to be superior to the tried and true plants we already have in our gardens. This is where a knowledgeable nursery can be a helpful reality check. For all the hype, a heavily promoted brand can turn out to be no better than many lesser-known or traditional varieties.