Every state has varying climates, which makes it unrealistic to say that a particular plant will do well across the region. For instance, in Kansas, on any given spring day, there could be a blizzard in the west that has shut down the interstate, and at the same time, it could be sunny and 70 degrees in the east.
Weather conditions in all of Middle America can swing to the extreme, which makes it difficult to grow some landscape plants. That is why I find the following lists of plant selections interesting.
We see the new winners for All-America Selections promoting the flower and vegetable selections that have risen to the top, as well as the new winners for various rose awards, but the list that has caught my eye the past couple of years, since its inception, is the Pride of Kansas Plant of the Year Selections.
The Pride of Kansas program is a joint effort of Kansas State University Research and Extension and the Kansas Nursery and Landscape Association. The program was started to make plant selections easier for gardeners in Kansas.
The yearly plant selections include a perennial, shrub, tree and annual of the year. The plants, in their respective categories, were selected for their ability to thrive wherever they are located in the diverse climates of Kansas.
Now, if you’re saying what does this have to do with my landscape plants in Iowa, Oklahoma or any other state, let me say that if it will thrive in the climates of Kansas, it will most likely do well in your garden, too.
This year’s selection for annual of the year is the Easy Wave petunia. This hybrid petunia series is available in hot pink, shell pink, white and salmon. It will tolerate extreme hot and cold temperatures, which allows it to bloom late into the season. Easy Wave petunias are more compact than some of the other Wave petunias, quickly spreading to 2 to 3 feet. And what’s more, no deadheading is required.
Bur oak was the plant selected for the tree of the year. This is definitely not a new, improved plant that we are often longing for. It is an old stalwart that is often overlooked in our new-fangled landscapes. This oak is a large, stately tree that will grow up to 80 feet tall with very few insect or disease problems, and it will tolerate almost any soil type.
Compact Oregon grape holly was given the award for shrub of the year. It is a compact form of the holly species, and it makes a nice pick for a small, broad-leaf evergreen in the garden. The plant grows to a size of 2 to 3 feet tall and has small, yellow clusters of flowers in the spring, which give way to fruit that ripens to a cluster of grape-colored berries through the summer. The shiny, green foliage will turn to a bronze-purple shade in the fall. And although this plant is generally categorized as an evergreen, it may lose its foliage during the winter. The Compact Oregon grape holly is a nice, tough choice for the shady side of the house.
Last but not least, hardy hibiscus was chosen as the perennial plant of the year. Hardy hibiscus makes a terrific choice for the gardener who likes a variety of different sizes of plants and colors of blooms. The color can range from white to red with all the shades in between. The large, colorful blooms make an excellent midsummer display.
If there’s a spot in the garden that stays too wet for other plants to do well, this plant will thrive there, even though it will also grow in drier conditions.
The plants that were selected for this year’s Pride of Kansas may not be new and flashy, but I would like to think that they are like the people who live in the Midwest – nothing fancy, just sturdy.
Photographs from CAPPER’S library.