University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter Article

TOP PERENNIAL PICKS FOR 2003

Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor

One problem many gardeners have with perennials is deciding what to choose among the thousands of plants available.  If you're indecisive about perennial selection, or just want to include some of the best in this year's garden, consider the following four.  All came out winners in a survey of professional growers and designers in the Perennial Plant Association (PPA). Their top picks include a Shasta daisy, a dianthus, a hosta, and a sedum.

Becky Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum) is one of the top cultivars of these daisies.  It has white flowers, grows about two to three feet tall, and has sturdy stems that don't need staking.  It is hardy to USDA hardiness zone 4 but also tolerates heat and humidity.  It was named for Decatur, Georgia, landscape designer Becky Stewart.  Flowers may start to emerge in late June.  If you remove flowers when faded, the plants may rebloom until August or even September.  As with most other Shastas, this cultivar likes average, well-drained, loamy soil and lots of sun.  It does well in containers as well as in borders.

Firewitch Dianthus (Dianthus gratianopolitanus) also may be sold under the German name 'Feuerhexe.'  Like many of the pinks (another name for Dianthus), this one has attractive blue-green foliage and fragrant flowers.  It is hardy over a wide range, from zones 3 to 8 or even 9.   It needs well-drained soil and sun.  Firewitch has single magenta flowers in late spring.  Snip these off when past bloom, and they should flower again in summer.  These grow only 10 to 12 inches tall so should be placed in the front of perennial gardens or borders.  They also work well in rock gardens or containers.

Patriot Hosta is one of the top selections of PPA members of the hundreds of hostas available and was named "Hosta of the Year" in 1997 by the American Hosta Society.  Like most hostas, it tolerates light to heavy shade, but can take sun if given plenty of water.  The soil, however, needs to be well drained.  This plant is medium sized, as far as hostas are concerned, reaching about 18 to 24 inches tall.  As such it could be used as a background for other plants although it is elegant enough to be featured by itself in a prominent place in the garden or in a container.  It has leaves with pure white edges and dark green centers.  The white on the leaves helps brighten up shady areas.  It has lavender flowers in early summer although the leaves are the main interest.

Many gardeners already grow or are familiar with Autumn Joy Sedum, which is also referred to by its original German name of 'Herbstfreude.'  It has been around a long time, having been introduced prior to 1920 in Ronsdorf, Germany, by the George Arends Nursery.  It is very popular because of its rose-pink flowers in early fall, which are long lasting and may be left on the plant for winter interest.  This sedum reaches 24 to 30 inches tall and does best in dry soils and sun.  In wet years, or if soil is too moist, plants may flop over.  If this usually is a problem, pinch shoots back a few inches in early summer to promote branching.


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