Article

The Best New Plants for 2016

Get the scoop on which offerings you should look for at the nursery this season

Fine Gardening - Issue 168

Every gardener loves to see what the new plants are each year, and this time around, there seems to be a little something for all of us. Some are updates of popular perennials—offering a better habit, or foliage color. Others are new discoveries—hybrids that combine the best attributes of two favorite plants. Some are so new, in fact, that their hardiness range or ultimate size may not be known. Whatever the size of your garden, however, you’ll surely be tempted to find enough room to squeeze in some of these newbies.

New Perennials


A violet for spring and beyond

Bonnie Lassies ‘Isabella’ violet (Viola ‘Isabella’)

The breeders of ‘Isabella’ violet describe it as “pretty and tough,” which seems to be the perfect tagline. Its fragrant, ivory flowers have purple-flushed edges and appear from midspring through early summer—a long bloom time compared to other violets. It is great in containers, too.

USDA hardiness zones: 5 to 8

Size: 8 inches tall and wide

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

Introduced by Blooms of Bressingham

 

Deer don’t like it, but you will

‘Petite Jenny’ ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi ‘Petite Jenny’)

A showy focal point in a small package, ‘Petite Jenny’ ragged robin forms compact bushy clumps. The plants become covered with masses of fluffy pink blooms from midspring into early fall. This new variety has a longer blooming period due to the flowers being sterile, and the plants are deer resistant.

Zones: 3 to 7

Size: 14 inches tall and 18 inches wide

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

Introduced by Blooms of Bressingham

 

Bright blooms in an unexpected color

‘The Princess’ Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas ‘The Princess’)

This is a lavender with the most intense pink blossoms you’ve ever seen. It has a compact habit and is covered in flowers almost all summer.

Zones: 7 to 9

Size: 12 to 15 inches tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil

Introduced by Plants Nouveau

 

Texture times two

‘Georgia Pancake’ creeping blue star (Amsonia ciliata var. filifolia ‘Georgia Pancake’)

This is a creeping version of the popular blue star, with a low-growing habit that makes it ideal to use as a ground cover. Soft, needle-like, chartreuse green foliage takes on a golden yellow color in fall. Small, pale blue flowers appear in late spring to early summer.

Zones: 5 to 9

Size: 6 inches tall and 16 to 14 inches wide

Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil

Introduced by Walter’s Gardens

 

Something different for the shade

‘White Gold’ bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘White Gold’)

If this plant doesn’t brighten up your shade, you’re doing something wrong. The golden leaves beautifully highlight the bright white flowers in spring. Vigorous growth means this perennial should bulk up quickly in its first season.

Zones: 4 to 8

Size: 30 inches tall and 3 feet wide

Conditions: Partial to full shade; moist soil

Introduced by Terra Nova Nurseries

 

Sturdy stems set it apart

NOVA ‘Dragonfire’ crocosmia (Crocosmia crocosmiiflora ‘Dragonfire’)

Finally, here’s a crocosmia that won’t flop. The short, compact habit of this variety allows it to stay upright throughout the growing season. Expect a plethora of hummingbirds and butterflies to be drawn to its dark red flowers in mid- to late summer.

Zones: 7 to 9

Size: 26 inches tall and 30 inches wide

Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil

Introduced by Terra Nova Nurseries

 

A popular plant with a new hue

‘Sun Mouse’ hosta (Hosta ‘Sun Mouse’)

Think of this as the flamboyant cousin of the popular ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ hosta. ‘Sun Mouse’ has great vigor, quickly forming a wide clump of thick, slightly wavy, golden foliage. It holds the lemon-lime color well throughout the season. Lavender flowers appear in early summer, but play second fiddle to the glowing foliage.

Zones: 3 to 8

Size: 6 inches tall and 18 inches wide

Conditions: Partial to full shade; moist soil

Introduced by Plant Delights Nursery

 

A geranium that won’t quit

Rosthorn’s geranium (Geranium rosthornii)

Clear pink flowers are just one asset of this rambling geranium. It happily twines around garden neighbors, forming a polite, but hearty mass. Plant explorers who found this gem in China call it the Energizer Bunny of geraniums because it blooms for three months or more.

Zones: 5 to 9

Size: 28 inches tall and wide

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

Introduced by Far Reaches Farm

 

It won’t melt in the heat

‘Cool as Ice’ fescue (Festuca ‘Cool as Ice’)

An improvement on the better-known blue fescues, ‘Cool as Ice’ has a lighter green appearance in spring, giving the plant a slight bicolor look. It also boasts better heat tolerance. The vigorous plants eventually turn a light blue in summer.

Zones: 4 to 8

Size: 18 inches tall and 2 feet wide

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

Introduced by Intrinsic Perennial Gardens

 

Leaves that leave a lasting impression

‘Super Mottle’ epimedium (Epimedium wushanense ‘Super Mottle’)

For early spring interest, it’s hard to beat an epimedium. The orchid-like flowers are always amazing, but the foliage is usually just ho-hum. ‘Super Mottle’ fixes that injustice with its 7-inch-long and 2-inch-wide, spiny evergreen leaves, which are uniquely speckled with raspberry in spring. Tight clusters of up to 50 large creamy flowers show up in early spring.

Zones: 6 to 8

Size: 20 inches tall and 2 feet wide

Conditions: Partial to full shade; well-drained soil

Introduced by Plant Delights Nursery

 

Who needs flowers with foliage like this?

‘Tropical Storm’ elephant ear (Colocasia esculenta ‘Tropical Storm’)

“You’ve never seen an elephant ear like this before . . . we promise.” This quote from the folks at Plant Delights Nursery is shocking, considering they specialize in some of the coolest plants on the planet. The black leaves of ‘Tropical Storm’ are accented with bright white stripes. It’s fast to bulk up, so you won’t have to wait long for its impact.

Zones: 7 to 11

Size: 30 inches tall and wide

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

Introduced by Plant Delights Nursery

 

Color contrast at its finest

‘Black Truffle’ cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis ‘Black Truffle’)

A native plant that you’ll love almost as much as the hummingbirds, ‘Black Truffle’ cardinal flower pairs stunning black foliage with vibrant red flowers. The leaves sport a dark maroon in summer, just as the flower show intensifies.

Zones: 3 to 8

Size: 3 to 4 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide

Conditions: Partial shade; moist soil

Introduced by Plants Nouveau

 

Buyer Beware: Zones aren’t set in stone

Zonal ranges for new plants should be considered the growers’ and breeders’ best guess. Many new plants haven’t been around long enough to know if they will make it through a harsh winter. Therefore, if you live in Zone 5, you may want to invest in plants that are known to have survived in Zone 4 or colder.


Shrubs


This rose is a blooming machine

Rainbow Happy Trails rose (Rosa Rainbow Happy Trails)

This rose is a true ground cover, spreading and establishing itself quickly. The rainbow-colored blooms are fragrant and keep showing up from spring through fall.

Zones: 4 to 9

Size: 4 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide

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

Introduced by Weeks Roses

 

Two harvests, one bush

‘Perpetua’ blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum ‘Perpetua’)

‘Perpetua’ is a double-cropping blueberry. Gardeners can expect one crop of berries in midsummer and then another in fall. This blueberry sports dark green, glossy leaves and white pendulous flowers in spring. In winter, the leaves turn to deep red while the new canes become bright yellow and maroon.

Zones: 4 to 8

Size: 4 to 5 feet tall and wide

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

Introduced by Fall Creek Farm & Nursery

 

Variegation enhances this hydrangea vine

Lacy Hearts Chinese hydrangea vine (Schizophragma elliptifolium ‘MonHart’)

The foliage on this plant shimmers—appearing almost silver. The leaves are heart-shaped and a light green hue with dashes of white. Once established, the plant will get lacecap hydrangea-like blooms in summer. This self-clinging vine is deciduous.

Zones: 6 to 9

Size: Climbing to 10 to 15 feet tall

Conditions: Partial shade; moist, well-drained soil

Introduced by Monrovia Nursery

 

Better fall color in a smaller package

‘Old Fashioned’ smokebush (Cotinus coggygria ‘Old Fashioned’)

Excellent fall coloring and a smaller size set this smokebush apart. The blue-gray mature foliage shifts to a riot of fluorescent red, orange, and pink in autumn. Like many smokebushes, ‘Old Fashioned’ is deer resistant.

Zones: 5 to 8

Size: 6 feet tall and 5 feet wide

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

Introduced by UpShoot LLC

 

Unbeatable shrub for flowers and foliage

Jazz Hands® variegated Chinese fringe-flower (Loropetalum chinense ‘Irodori’)

All you can say about the flowers and foliage this shrub sports is, “Wow.” The purple leaves appear to be splatter-painted with white, pink, and light green, giving the entire plant a mottled appearance. When the bright magenta flowers emerge in late spring to early summer, it looks like this medium-size shrub has decided to put on its own Fourth of July fireworks show.

Zones: 7 to 9

Size: 4 to 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide

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

Introduced by Spring Meadow Nursery

 

A disease-free alternative to boxwood

Cinnamon Girl distylium (Distylium ‘PIIDIST-V’)

Think of this little shrub as a colorful, more interesting alternative to boxwood and other plants decimated by insects and diseases in certain parts of the country. Cinnamon Girl has plum-purple new growth, which turns glaucous as the leaves mature. The fine-textured foliage gives this plant a more refined overall look. This variety has shown greater cold tolerance than the species, so it might survive in Zone 6 with some protection.

Size: 2 to 3 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide

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

Introduced by Bailey Nurseries

 

Buyer Beware: You may pay more …for now

Like with cars, the newer the model, the more you’ll likely pay. New plants sometimes are priced at a premium, so it can be gentler on your pocketbook to wait a year to buy them. The following spring, the plant still will be new but might not command the higher sticker price.


Trees


Cool cones on a common conifer

‘Ruby Teardrops’ Colorado spruce (Picea pungens ‘Ruby Teardrops’)

A beautiful dwarf spruce with blue-green foliage, ‘Ruby Teardrops’ is truly fabulous because of the red cones it produces in spring. The color combination is outstanding. Unlike typical dwarf spruce varieties, which might get a few cones once they are 15 or more years old, ‘Ruby Teardrops’ is loaded with cones—even on a 3-year-old plant.

Zones: 3 to 8

Size: 6 to 8 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil

Introduced by Conifer Kingdom

 

Eye-catching is an understatement

‘Ikandi’ Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Ikandi’)

The twist on this cultivar name is appropriate given its foliage coloring, which is definitely “eye candy.” It’s an upright, medium-size, deciduous tree with bright pink new growth in spring. In summer, the foliage on ‘Ikandi’ changes to green with pale white variegation.

Zones: 6 to 8

Size: 10 feet tall and 4 to 5 feet wide (in 10 years)

Conditions: Partial shade; moist, well-drained soil

Introduced by Buchholz & Buchholz Nursery

 

Soft needles with a not-so-subtle hue

Mr. Happy’ Japanese umbrella pine (Sciadopitys verticillata ‘Mr. Happy’)

‘Mr. Happy’ has the trademark soft, rubberlike needles of a typical umbrella pine—except some are marked with interesting gold variegation. Bear in mind this is a slow-growing, upright tree that will take time to reach its potential.

Zones: 4 to 8

Size: 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide (in 10 years)

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

Introduced by Buchholz & Buchholz Nursery

 

A unique color enhancement

‘Snow Cloud’ ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba ‘Snow Cloud’)

Unique bright yellow-white variegation sets this ginkgo apart from the rest. Unlike some plants, the mottled coloring lasts throughout the growing season. In more sun, it is more butter and white colored. In fall, the foliage turns a brilliant gold.

Zones: 5 to 9

Size: Unknown

Conditions: Partial shade; well-drained soil

Introduced by Conifer Kingdom

 

Buyer Beware: Size is a relative term

With some new plants, it’s impossible to know what their ultimate size will be. This is especially true for trees, which can take many years to reach their potential. If you plant one of these newbies, it might be best to give it plenty of extra room.

 

Danielle Sherry is the senior editor.

Photos: Gail Armstrong;  courtesy of Blooms of Bressingham; courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.; courtesy of Plants Nouveau, courtesy of Talon Buchholz; courtesy of Conifer Kingdom; courtesy of Plant Delights Nursery, Inc.;  courtesy of perennialresource.com;  courtesy of Far Reaches Farm;  courtesy of PlantHaven International, Inc.; courtesy of Intrinsic Perennial Gardens; courtesy of Weeks Roses;  courtesy of Fall Creek Farm & Nursery;  courtesy of Monrovia Nursery; courtesy of Spring Meadow Nursery;  courtesy of Bailey Nurseries; courtesy of UpShoot LLC

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