Maria Zampini is the owner of UpShoot LLC, which markets and licenses new plant introductions. She is a featured writer in consumer magazines and horticultural trade journals and is the co-author of Garden-pedia: An A-Z Guide to Gardening Terms. Visit

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Hottest Plants for 2016
by Maria Zampini    

Who wouldn’t fall in love with star-shaped violet-blue, sweetly-scented flowers of ‘New Love’ clump-forming clematis

Check out these cool new plants for the new gardening season. 

Although the frost-free date in your area is probably a couple of weeks off, there is no reason you can’t dream of spring — sun, warmer temperatures, birds chirping, digging in the soil and the smell of earth and rebirth. Of course you look forward to replanting favorites that perform well year after year. But you can’t help but ponder what “new” items you might want to incorporate into your landscape.     

Some of the hottest new plant introductions debuted in this year’s New Varieties Showcase at the Farwest Trade Show in Portland, Ore., and they’ll be available soon through your local growers, landscapers, retailers and mail-order nurseries.     

Tomato or potato? Have both with ‘Ketchup ‘n Fries’, a sweet cherry plant grafted onto a delicious white potato plant.

Let’s start with some incredible edibles. One of the Plant of Merit award winners was ‘Ketchup ‘n’ Fries’ (Solanum lycopersicum/Solanum tuberosum 'Ketchup 'n' Fries'), a cherry tomato grafted onto a white potato (no, I’m not joking). This crazy, cool duo has been featured on “Good Morning America” and “The Colbert Report.” On this plant you can pick tomatoes throughout the growing season, and then cut the plant off at the base. Wait a couple weeks to season and sweeten the potatoes, and then you can harvest those. You can grow this two-in-one plant in large containers or in the ground.     

Purple Pixie grape (Vitis vinifera 'Pinot Meunier Purple'), also sold as Patio Pinot in the HGTV Home Plant Collection, is the first true dwarf grape in the world. It provides clusters of miniature grapes with a sweet, tart flavor. The fruit can be enjoyed fresh or as a garnish. It is best grown in a container, but it can also perform in the landscape. Hardy to USDA Zone 3.     

The Brazelberries brand has added a new blueberry to their line called ‘Perpetua’ (Vaccinium corymbosum 'Perpetua'). It is a true double-cropping blueberry that bears a midsummer crop followed by a second crop in the fall. The berries are somewhat small, mild and sweet. The shrub is upright, vase-shaped and hardy to USDA Zone 4. It will reach 4-5 feet tall and wide, and as with all blueberries prefers acidic soil. The new canes are bright yellow and red in the winter providing color against the snow.     

For the perennial lover and pollinator provider, consider Butterfly ‘Rainbow Marcella’ coneflower (Echinacea 'Rainbow Marcella'). Unlike other Echinacea spp., this beauty goes through a unique color transformation opening a bright tangerine-orange, and then changing to a deep mauve from the center outwards. Sturdy stems provide a mounded bushy habit reaching 18-24 inches tall and wide; it is hardy to USDA Zone 5. It will perform well in the mixed perennial border or as a focal point with long-lasting color in a mixed container.  

Butterfly ‘Rainbow Marcella’ coneflower is like getting two echinacea for the price of one due to its unique color change;  bright tangerine-orange blooms change to a deep mauve.

While Digiplexis Illumination ‘Apricot’ of the Southern Living Collection is only hardy to USDA Zone 8, it is a worthy container plant for northern gardens. It is undeniably a pollinator magnet as bees and hummingbirds will simply flock to it. It performs well in full sun to part shade. Digiplexis come in other colors, too, including ‘Flame’, ‘Berry Canary’ and ‘Raspberry’.     

Brighten up a container or the landscape bed with the striking chartreuse with green edge foliage of ‘Eversheen’ carex.

If you’re after fine foliage, which provides consistent color all growing season while other plants go in and out of flower, then here are a couple of prime choices. First up is ‘Eversheen’ sedge grass (Carex EverColor 'Eversheen'). Part of the EverColor Series of Carex spp. from breeder Pat Fitzgerald of Ireland, ‘Eversheen’ provides a striking chartreuse foliage with a green edge. Reaching around 16 inches tall, this compact, mounding ornamental grass is ideal in mass plantings, the perennial border or in a mixed container.     

Another fine foliage option is ‘Old Fashioned’ smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria ‘Old Fashioned'). But don’t let the name fool you; it’s not the Cotinus sp. your Grandma had. This more compact version boasts purple new growth that matures to a eucalyptus-like blue-green color. In autumn, the leaves turn a fluorescent mix of red, pink and orange that will knock your garden boots off. At approximately 6 feet tall and 5 feet wide, it is best used as a specimen in the landscape, but can also be trained into a small tree. An added benefit is that its airy blooms make a great cut flower. Oh, and did I mention it is deer resistant, too?   

‘Old Fashioned’ cotinus is a perfect shrub choice for its deer-resistant foliage.

No matter what they say, you can always make room in the yard for another rose or hydrangea. From the breeder of Knock Out roses, Will Radler, comes Peach Lemonade rose (Rosa 'Radpastel'). It provides multiple colors as the blooms begin a pleasing lemon yellow then as they fade, turns to a blush pink. Because it can bloom from summer through fall, you’ll end up with both yellow and pink flowers at the same time. This carefree, disease-resistant rose is hardy to USDA Zone 3 and matures at 3 feet tall and wide.     

This multi-colored rose starts out lemon yellow and fades to a blush pink; Peach Lemonade is sweet as the drink.

As gardeners we’re always looking for something to brighten up shady areas. That’s where Back in Black ‘Zebra’ hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla Back in Black 'Zebra') comes in. The bright white flowers contrast against the lush green foliage and black stems (yes, I said black). Each individual bloom on this mophead looks like it was edged with pinking shears. It flowers on both new and old wood reaching 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide. 

A truly unique hydrangea, Inspire (Hydrangea macrophylla 'H21-3'), is a mophead but the individual flowers look like stars. The “stars” start as small flowers, and then turn into large, double flowers. It, too, blooms on both old and new wood, but it will get 5-6 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide. 

For a ruffled flower look, then ‘Spike’ hydrangea (H. macrophylla 'Spike') is the one for you. The mophead blooms will vary in color depending on soil pH. Its size ranges from 4 feet tall to 3 feet wide.

Any of these hydrangeas are excellent in the landscape in mass plantings, in the shrub border, as a specimen or in larger mixed containers.     

If you’re a better-than-average gardener, love tropicals, and don’t mind bringing them inside after the summer season has ended, then try either ‘Little Angel Blush’ brugmansia (Brugmansia × hybrida 'Little Angel Blush'), also an Award of Merit winner or ‘Little Angel Yellow’ brugmansia. Large, fragrant, trumpet-like flowers hang from this subtropical shrub and bloom all summer long with no breaks. These are beautiful in larger containers and can reach 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide. Please note that all parts of a brugmansia plant are toxic, so this may not be a good choice for homes with pets or small children.     

Oh, so many new plants to choose from, so little room in the landscape. It reminds me of a line from one of the “Indiana Jones” movies: “Choose wisely.”  

Photo Gallery

The white flowers of Tuxedo weigela (Weigela × 'Velda') give a contrasting pop against its dark foliage.

Digiplexis, such as Illumination ‘Apricot’, while not hardy to our area, are a pollinator magnet for bees and hummingbirds. That makes them a worthwhile seasonal container plant. 

Purple Pixie grape is the first true dwarf grapevine. Enjoy it in a container on your patio deck or in the landscape; it is USDA Zone 3 hardy.

A version of this article appeared in a Jan/Feb 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
All Photos Courtesy of the Oregon Association of Nurserymen.


Posted: 03/28/16   RSS | Print


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