As in the years past, the winners are rated as the No. 1 superior ornamental plants for use in Georgia in the residential landscape.
The Gold Medal Plant Program represents a group of entities that include plant professionals from the State Botanical Garden of Georgia in Athens, the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, UGA faculty members and nurserymen, flower growers, garden retailers and landscape professionals across the state. These groups collectively choose the annual winners each year.
Plant winners are selected from five categories: Native plant, summer annual, herbaceous perennial, deciduous shrub and evergreen tree. This year’s group is a unique and varied group of ornamental plants.
Native plant: Dwarf oakleaf hydrangea
The U.S. National Arboretum describes a native plant as a plant that occurs naturally in a particular region, ecosystem or habitat without direct or indirect human intervention. Flora present at the time Europeans arrived in North America is the species native to the eastern United States. The native plant winner is the dwarf oakleaf hydrangea.
This hydrangea thrives in shade to part shade and can be planted in zones 6-9. It is best planted in a dry shaded area, and avoid overwatering. Pruning is not necessary.
The hydrangea offers four seasons of garden interest with large, oak-shaped leaves, beautiful summer blooms, red fall foliage and striking winter bark.
The dwarf variety of the oakleaf is more compact and fits easily into garden landscapes while still retaining its large blooms and leaves.
Ruby slippers, munchkins and peewee are small in stature and among the favorites grown in nurseries and farms across Georgia. None of them grow taller than 4- to 5-feet wide. Their bloom colors range from ruby pink to cream.
Plant the oakleaf on a woodland edge or mix with evergreen shrubs such as azaleas and hollies.
Summer annual: Cora vinca
This deer-resistant annual is bred for disease, heat and humidity resistance. Cora vinca has a more uniform growing habit with large white, pink and red flowers.
Plant this vinca in full sun to part shade. Wait until after the chance of frost to plant because the vinca loves the heat.
The cora vinca is a tough annual suitable for bedding and container gardens. It also performs well as a groundcover.
Cora cascade vinca is a favorite because it looks great in hanging baskets with its cascading qualities. When planted in the ground, the plant creates a low, full mass of flowers to enjoy. Mix it with previous Gold Medal winners such as pink muhly grass and Angelina stonecrop for a colorful planting idea.
Herbaceous perennial: Euphorbia spurge
Euphorbia has many species and varieties. This award goes to two garden types called “Shorty” and “Ascot Rainbow.”
It is best to plant euphorbia spurge in full sun to part shade in zones 5–9.
These deer-resistant perennials combine colorful, evergreen structural features with attention-getting yellow blooms that, combined with purple foliage, make a striking contrast. They form a compact rounded mass and can spread to form a colony of silver gray to burgundy foliage.
Euphorbias are great for rock gardens, borders and containers. The plants are drought-resistant and lend a tropical look in a dry garden setting.
Deciduous shrub: Drift roses
Drift roses are a cross between a groundcover rose and miniature rose. These roses require full sun and thrive in zones 4–10.
Apricot and peach drift roses have proven to be the showiest of all the roses and offer the best in disease resistance and repeat blooming.
Drift roses have glossy leaves, and the bloom comes in many colors. The flower is abundant and season long with the heaviest of blooms in the spring.
The roses like regular watering and well-drained soil.
Evergreen tree: Empress of China dogwood
The Empress dogwood is a small graceful tree that blooms in May and June with impressive long-lasting cream blooms. The blooms are so prolific they resemble something of a summer snowdrift.
The Empress should be planted in shade to part shade in zones 6–9. The tree will brighten any shade garden in spring. Later in the season, red fruits will stand out against the dark glossy leaves and the songbirds love them.
The tree matures at 15- to 18-feet high to 13- to 15-feet wide. Plant the tree where it gets morning sun and afternoon shade and it will thrive.
To see the plants and take one home, visit www.georgiagoldmedalplants.org.
Wanda Cannon serves as Master Gardener coordinator and horticulture assistant for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. Contact her at 770-535-8293 or email@example.com. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.