EAST LANSING, Mich. — As we near the end of 2017, another successful trial garden season has come to a close at the Michigan State University Horticulture Gardens. The purpose of our trial gardens is to grow and evaluate new species and cultivars of a wide range of plants under our mid-Michigan climatic conditions. Every trialing season is different in terms of the plant breeding companies represented, diversity of plant material entered into the trials and the weather conditions. The temperature and rainfall was much closer to the historical average this year and gave us a needed reprieve after the drought conditions of 2016.
Plants were evaluated throughout the growing season based on vigor, uniformity and ornamental value of the flowers and foliage. We also take note of susceptibility to diseases and insects, and tolerance to changes in climatic conditions when appropriate. At the end of the season, we produce trial reports that summarize the six or seven separate evaluations completed throughout the summer. These results are provided to the participating companies and are available to the general public at our MSU Trial Gardens website.
Overall, 2017 was an excellent trialing season. With the help of the cooperative weather, all submitted varieties had a chance to show off their full potential. As a result, our displays were some of the showiest we’ve had in years. Plant varieties that receive full marks at every single evaluation end up in our “Best of the Best” category. These truly outstanding varieties are featured at numerous industry events, in horticultural publications and during presentation with local garden clubs.
Here is a selection of our top performers in the following four categories: foliage plants, sun plants, shade plants and edibles.
- Alternanthera ‘Purple Prince’ from PanAmerican Seed: Uniform, dark purple foliage with a clean, tidy look all season long. Great en masse or used as an accent plant to make other colors pop!
- Coleus ‘Flamethrower’ series from Ball FloraPlant: A nice selection of highly textured, colorful coleus that fills space quickly in either full sun or shade.
- Hypoestes ‘Hippo Red’ and ‘Rose’ from Proven Winners: Like the regular polka dot plant, but on steroids! The large leaf size really highlights the unique speckled coloration.
- Argyranthemum ‘Butterfly’ series from Proven Winners: Nonstop color on full and tidy plants. There is no need to deadhead these floriferous plants because the new blooms continuously cover up the older blooms.
- Dianthus ‘Jolt Pink Magic’ from PanAmerican Seed: Huge, ball-like blooms of multi-colored pink flowers. Strong re-bloom, providing color all summer long.
- Gerbera ‘Sweet Memories’ from Florist Holland: Many blooms per plant and consistently blooming throughout the summer. Very impressed by the performance of this typically potted plant in our in-ground trial.
- Salvia ‘Rockin’ Deep Purple’ and ‘Playin’ the Blues’: Huge, impressive, landscape-sized blue salvia. Great pollinator plant, absolutely covered in bees and hummingbirds too!
- Begonia ‘Megawatt’ series from PanAmerican Seed: Vigorous and consistently perfect throughout season. Shiny, glowing foliage with lots of color.
- Eggplant ‘Jewel Amethyst’ from Comense: Very healthy foliage for an eggplant. Heavy fruit set of nice compact purple fruit on patio-sized plants.
- Pepper ‘Pikito’ and ‘Paragon’ from Comense: Well-branched patio variety with heavy fruit set. Pikito would make a nice ornamental variety as well.
- Tomato ‘Little Bing’ from PanAmerican Seed: Very compact patio variety with healthy dark green foliage and heavy yield of snack-sized fruit.
— Daedre McGrath, Michigan State University, Department of Horticulture
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