Winning Perennials For Your Garden

By Melinda Myers
After a busy summer of vacations, BBQs, and garden care, it is fun to turn our attention to planting. Fall is a great time to plant perennials and many garden centers are busy refreshing their supply of perennial plants. Consider including one or more of these winners when making your perennial plant selections this fall.
Hostas are an excellent choice for those shady spots in the landscape but with so many cultivars to choose from the selection process can be overwhelming. The America Hosta Growers Association (AHGA) decided to help growers and gardeners with the selection process by introducing the AHGA Hosta of the Year. Each year since 1996, members of the AHGA select and feature a Hosta of the Year. The winning hosta must grow well in all regions of the country, be widely available, and have a retail price of about $15 the year it was selected.
Island Breeze is this year’s winner. Hardy in zones three to nine, its strong growth rate, thicker leaves and wide green leaf margins with bright yellow centers made it a winner. The leaf centers emerge a brilliant yellow then turn chartreuse in the summer when grown in heavy shade and a lighter yellow in more sun. The leaf stems, petioles, have red speckles that bleed into the base of the leaves, adding to their ornamental appeal. Dark lavender flowers appear on red stems in mid-summer, attracting hummingbirds to the garden.
You may also want to consider this year’s Perennial Plant of the Year little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and its cultivars for those sunny spots in the landscape. Each year, Perennial Plant Association (PPA) members select a winner based on the plant’s suitability to thrive in a wide range of growing conditions, its ability to provide multiple seasons of interest, have good insect and disease resistance, and be low maintenance. This year’s selection of the native little bluestem and its cultivars allowed perennial experts the opportunity to promote the species or the cultivars that will do the best in their region.
The native little bluestem is hardy in zones three to ten and grows two- to four-feet tall. The blue-green leaves turn reddish bronze in fall and are complemented by fluffy white seeds that persist into winter. This grass prefers full sun with loam or sandy soil and tends to flop or decline in heavy clay soil and damp sites.
PPA Board members helped gardeners across the country and in Canada by sharing the top performing little bluestem cultivars in their regions.
A relatively new introduction, Jazz, was a favorite in both the Central and Mid Atlantic regions. This shorter cultivar is 24 to 30 inches tall and 18 inches wide, with sturdy stems and silvery blue leaves.
Carousel is another dwarf cultivar, growing 30 inches tall and wide and was recommended by the Great Lakes PPA Board member. Its bowl-shaped growth habit, upright flower stems and kaleidoscope of copper, pink, tan, and dark orange-red fall color make it a nice addition to the garden.
Standing Ovation is a favorite of the Canadian, Western and Mid-Atlantic PPA Regional Board members. The spiky bluish-green stems in a tight upright growth habit provide a vertical accent in perennial borders. The brilliant orange, red and yellow fall color ends the season with a blaze of color.
Western and Mid-Atlantic PPA Board members both added The Blues to their list of preferred little bluestem cultivars. It has deep blue leaves that transform to a rich purple and burgundy in the fall. This cultivar is usually a foot taller than Jazz, growing up to four feet tall and two feet wide.
These are just a few of the many beautiful perennials suitable for home gardens. Check out past winners and of course leave room for a few new plants you just cannot resist.
Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including the recently released Midwest Gardener’s Handbook, 2nd Edition and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” instant video and DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and her website is

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