Design

Best New Plants: Nativars

Each year we do a feature in our big spring issue introducing folks to a slew of new offerings from plant breeders. But this is not simply a list of plants that we think look interesting. Our standards here at Fine Gardening are higher. We interview breeders, marketers, and the heads of trial gardens across the country to dig deeper into why a particular new plant is worthy of praise. Below, you’ll find nativars that are making their way to garden center shelves in 2022. In some cases, this cadre of perennials and shrubs are naturally occurring cultivars of straight native species. Which new plants are right for you? Read on to find out.

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A color breakthrough for a popular perennial

Burgundy Blast baptisia
Photo: courtesy of perennialresource.com

‘Burgundy Blast’ baptisia

Name: Baptisia ‘Burgundy Blast’

Zones: 4–9

Size: 3 to 4 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun; moist, well-drained soil

Nativar range: Central and eastern United States

OK, so this flower color isn’t exactly burgundy, but it certainly is different. The hue is more of a merlot to our eye, but regardless, it’s beautiful and truly unique. You can count on the same ruggedness that comes with most baptisias, including a tolerance of clay soil and drought.

Introduced by: Walters Gardens

 

The darkest foliage yet for a ninebark

Darkstar ninebark
Photo: courtesy of Monrovia®

Darkstar® ninebark

Name: Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Minbla3’

Zones: 4–8

Size: 4 feet tall and 4 to 5 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun; moist, well-drained soil

Nativar range: Eastern North America

Many ninebarks have claimed to have black foliage in the past 10 years, but Darkstar® might be the first one to come close. Even in summer when others fade to a copper-green, this cultivar holds its deep purple tone. A compact habit and a plethora of pinkish blooms in late spring are a bonus.

Introduced by: Monrovia®

 

This beautiful clumper won’t get weedy

Humility ruellia
Photo: courtesy of Plant Delights Nursery

‘Humility’ ruellia

Name: Ruellia ‘Humility’

Zones: 5–9

Size: 16 inches tall and 3 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moist, well-drained soil

Nativar range: Hybrid of two eastern

North American species Found in Alabama as a natural hybrid of two native species (R. humilis and R. strepens), ‘Humility’ is a well-behaved, clumping perennial that is covered with amethyst flowers in early summer. In trials the plants appear to be sterile, so you won’t have to worry about the reseeding that is common with other ruellias. This would make a beautiful, billowy ground cover in any full-sun bed.

Introduced by: Plant Delights Nursery

 

It’s the sweetest-smelling sweetshrub you’ve ever sniffed

Simply Scentsational sweetshrub
Photo: courtesy of Proven Winners® Color Choice®

Simply Scentsational® sweetshrub

Name: Calycanthus floridus ‘SMNCAF’

Zones: 5–9

Size: 6 feet tall and 4 to 5 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moist, well-drained soil

Nativar range: North America All sweetshrubs, as their name suggests, are fragrant. But this new cultivar is said to be especially potent, smelling like a spicy honeydew melon. The unique flowers are a velvety chocolate color, and the dense growth provides great bird habitat.

Introduced by: Proven Winners® Color Choice®

 

Expect moody fall colors all year long

Holy Smoke big bluestem
Photo: courtesy of Intrinsic Perennial Gardens; Illustration: jemastock/dreamstime.com

‘Holy Smoke’ big bluestem

Name: Andropogon gerardii ‘Holy Smoke’

Zones: 4–9

Size: 6 to 7 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun; tolerates a wide range of soil types

Nativar range: North America

Most gardeners are accustomed to the great fall color that big bluestems sport in autumn, but this new variety embraces those vibrant hues from spring through frost. The silver blades are highlighted with purple and red almost year-round, while the tawny plumes are an added perk in the final weeks of fall. Like all big bluestems, this is one tough cookie, persevering through drought and the poorest soils imaginable.

Introduced by: Intrinsic Perennial Gardens

 

Same great shrub, now in a bite-size package

Legend of the Small fothergilla
Photo: courtesy of Proven Winners® Color Choice®

Legend of the Small™ fothergilla

Name: Fothergilla × intermedia ‘NCFI1’

Zones: 3–9

Size: 2 to 3 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun; moist, well-drained soil

Nativar range: Hybrid of North American species

A few years back we sang the praises of Legend of the Fall® fothergilla, and now here’s the petite version of that powerhouse shrub. Does it have the same bottlebrush flowers in spring that are so important for early pollinators? Yes. Does it have incredible fall color? Yes. Will it take over your smaller beds and borders? No.

Introduced by: Proven Winners® Color Choice®


Buying tip: Expect to pay a little more for new plants the year they are released. As with the newest model of a car, a newer plant generally means a pricier plant. If you’re watching your wallet, you may want to wait a year.


Gorgeous blooms are just one of its lovely traits

Invincibelle Lace smooth hydrangea
Photo: courtesy of Proven Winners® Color Choice®

Invincibelle Lace™ smooth hydrangea

Name: Hydrangea arborescens subsp. radiata ‘SMNHRLL’

Zones: 3–8

Size: 4 to 5 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Partial shade; moist, well-drained soil

Nativar range: North America

When it comes to hydrangeas, it’s generally all about the blooms. Make no mistake, Invincibelle Lace™ has gorgeous purple-pink blossoms. But it also has strong red stems and brilliant, disease-free green foliage. This is one handsome shrub, with origins in the southeastern United States.

Introduced by: Proven Winners® Color Choice®

 

Get ready for a four-season show

Glitters & Glows arrowwood viburnum
Photo: courtesy of Proven Winners® Color Choice®

Glitters & Glows® arrowwood viburnum

Name: Viburnum dentatum var. deamii ‘SMVDLS’ and ‘SMVDBL’

Zones: 4–8b

Size: 4 to 6 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; well-drained soil

Nativar range: North America

Glossy green foliage in three seasons, scores of white umbel flowers in spring for pollinators, and vibrant blue fruit in fall for the birds are just a few of this offering’s great features. The compact habit and drought resistance are also notable. Oh, and there’s a male and female plant in each pot, so proper pollination isn’t a concern.

Introduced by: Proven Winners® Color Choice®

 

Every time you look, this shrub is changing colors

Kodiak Fresh bush honeysuckle
Photo: courtesy of Proven Winners® Color Choice®

Kodiak® Fresh bush honeysuckle

Name: Diervilla × splendens ‘SMNDSS

Zones: 3–8

Size: 2 to 3 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun to full shade; well-drained soil

Nativar range: Hybrid of two North American species

This beauty is a result of crossing a southeastern U.S. native (D. sessilifolia) and an eastern U.S. native (D. lonicera). As part of a colorful series of plants, Kodiak® Fresh bush honeysuckle is a compact shrub that has bright chartreuse foliage in spring and summer. In fall the leaves shift to bright orange and red. This shrub is drought tolerant and deer-proof, and butterflies adore the yellow blossoms that persist during the hottest months.

Introduced by: Proven Winners® Color Choice®

 

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