Feeling stumped about what to put in your garden? Do you like what you see at nurseries but feel uncertain that the plants will do well in your yard? Many local garden centers and online nurseries have professional horticulturists on staff who will gladly answer your questions. However, be wary of “impulse buys.” Garden centers often feature the plants that are blooming that week because they sell well. A plant might look great in the nursery, but it may not be a winner in your garden.
A few tools will help you make educated decisions. Know your site’s growing conditions. Come armed with knowledge from plant reference books, reputable internet sites, or local public gardens or universities. Your local land-grant university works with the horticulture Cooperative Extension Service for your area (http://www.nasulgc.org/About_Nasulgc/members_land_grant.htm). They may also have plant databases, ongoing plant trials, new plant introductions, or recommendations.
A plant awards list can also be one of the best tools to narrow the field of choices. These awards are given to plants with proven performance in different regions. Awards help set the standard for plant breeders and give the public a quick reference for superior performers. The U.S. National Arboretum has introduced several award winners of its own (discover our Gold Medal plants at http://www.usna.usda.gov/Newintro/awards.html).
Awards and recommendations may be based on trials, popularity polls, horticultural society competitions, conventions of professional organizations, and the experience of amateur growers. Plant trials are usually completed by botanic gardens, professional plant growers, universities, or other horticultural institutions. Plants are rated on various features, such as ornamental value or disease resistance.
Choosing plants from the following award lists can add to your gardening success. So, next time you’re stumped, think about adding some tried and tested award winning plants to your garden. Happy planting!
Magnolia 'Galaxy' (USNA Introduction) The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Gold Medal Award, 1992 (top image); Dianthus gratianopolitanus 'Feuerhexe' (Firewitch) 2006 Perennial Plant Association Plant of the Year (middle image); Capsicum annum 'Black Pearl' (USNA Introduction) All-America Selection ® 2006 (bottom image).
The U.S. National Arboretum provides links to the following websites as useful tools for our visitors. The Arboretum does not claim responsibility for or affiliation with their content.
National Awards and Recommendations
AAS Winners (Flower, Bedding Plant, Vegetable)
Daylily of the Year
The American Daylily Society
Hosta of the Year
The American Hosta Society
Plant of the Year (Perennials)
Perennial Plant Association
Regional Award-winning Rhododendrons
The American Rhododendron Society
Rose of the Year
All-America Rose Selections
Urban Tree of the Year
The Society of Municipal Arborists
Regional Awards and Recommendations
The Cary Award (Trees and Shrubs)
Tower Hill Botanic Garden - Massachusetts
Gold Medal Plants Program (Trees and Shrubs)
Pennsylvania Horticultural Society
Athens Select ™ Ornamentals (Annuals tested for heat and humidity)
Athens Select Marketing Association
Dr. Allan Armitage, University of Georgia
Georgia Gold Medal Plants (Annuals and Perennials)
The University of Georgia Plants Selection Committee http://www.caes.uga.edu/departments/hort/extension/goldmedal/
Plants of the Year (Plants recommended for Florida)
Florida Nurserymen & Growers Association
Theodore Klein Plant Award (Trees and Shrubs)
University of Kentucky, Yew Dell Gardens, Kentucky Nursery and Landscape Assn., and Kentucky Dept. of Agriculture
GreatPlants® -Plants of the Year (Trees, Shrubs, Perennials, Grasses)
Nebraska Nursery & Landscape Association and the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum.
Plants of Merit (Annuals, Perennials, Shrubs and Vines, Trees)
Missouri Botanical Garden Kemper Center for Home Gardening
South and South Central:
Arkansas Select Winners (Annuals and Perennials, some Trees and Shrubs)
Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service and the Arkansas Green Industry Association
Mississippi Medallion (Bedding plants, Vegetables, Trees or other plants)
Mississippi Plant Selection Committee, MSU Extension Service and the
Mississippi Nursery and Landscape Association.
Oklahoma Proven Selections (Trees, Shrubs, Perennials and Annuals)
Oklahoma State University (OSU) Department of Horticulture & Landscape Architecture, OSU Botanical Garden, Oklahoma Botanical Garden & Arboretum, and Oklahoma Garden Industry Cooperators.
Texas Superstar ™ Plants (Trees, Shrubs, Perennials and Annuals)
Texas A&M Agriculture Program
Plant Select ® (Water-wise and other recommended plants)
Colorado State University and the Denver Botanic Garden
Utah’s Choice (Plants native to Utah)
Intermountain Native Plant Growers Association
Great Plant Picks (Perennials and Bulbs, Shrubs and Vines, Trees and Conifers)
The Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden in Seattle, Washington
Around the World:
RHS Award of Garden Merit (Shrubs, Perennials, Annuals, Vegetables)
Royal Horticultural Society
Plants trialed and recommended by RHS plant selection committee
Plant Evaluations and Trials
Annual Flower Cultivar Ratings
Missouri Botanical Garden Kemper Center for Home Gardening http://www.mobot.org/gardeninghelp/plantfinder/cvratings.asp
All-America Selections (Vegetables and Bedding plants)
Trials are held at universities around the country. The yearly AAS Winners come from these trials.
Chicago Botanic Garden Plant Evaluation Program (Trees, Shrubs, Perennials, Bulbs and Vines)
Comprehensive evaluations on various plants
East Texas Bedding Plant Pack and Garden Trials
Texas A&M University Agricultural
Research and Extension Center at Overton
Proven Winners® Trials (Annuals and Perennials)
Trials held at universities and botanic gardens for Proven Winners®, a company that introduces new plants.