CO-Horts Blog

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Superbowl of Plants

Posted by Carol O'Meara, Boulder County Extension

Here we go again – our dreams of a championship season are back, hope resting on whether our superstars are tough enough to weather anything thrown at them and still look fabulous in orange, blue, and white.  Pink, purple, red, and yellow is ok too, as long as they give us dramatic pinwheels, mile high spikes, or daring snaps.

In celebration of Superbowl 50, we asked the pros at DenverBotanic Gardens, Plant Select, and All America Selections for their top picks for a Superbowl of plants.  What these sage plants people tell us we need in our starting lineup are petunias.  Plus some zinnias, Echinacea, and a lot of Blonde ambition. 

Blonde Ambition courtesy of Plant Select

Like our very own Peyton Manning, Blonde Ambition blue grama grass is selected as the number one seed for the team by Plant Select’s Executive Director, Pat Hayward.   Durable and adaptable , Blonde Ambition was voted the MVP two years in a row in the Plant Select® demonstration gardens performance survey.

A vigorous form of our native blue grama grass, Blonde Ambition grows in sunny spots with little to no additional irrigation beyond natural precipitation. Unassuming in spring and summer, the mounds of medium-green, fine-textured grass explodes with drama when showy, chartreuse seed heads high above the leaves in fall and winter.

Hot Wings courtesy of Plant Select
Plant Select’s second all-Pro choice has a name to match its performance:  Hot Wings®.  One of the highest team scorers in the performance survey, this Tatarian Maple was rated in the top 10 performers in all but the highest elevation gardens.   Hot Wings® is a smaller ornamental tree getting its name from the brilliant, flame-red seed pods (samaras) produced in June, and lasting through most of the summer.  It’s extremely tolerant of our challenging gardening conditions, and grows in full sun or partial shade. 

Dan Johnson, Associate Director of Horticulture and Curator of Native Plants with Denver Botanic Gardens, anchors his line with BigToothMaple (Acer grandidentatum).  This native tree from Western canyons and mountainsides is underused for inexplicable reasons, says Johnson.  Perfectly proportioned, this Rocky Mountain version of the famed sugar maple is an ideal small tree for compact gardens.  It’s tough, drought tolerant, and produces fall colors that rival their more delicate eastern cousins.

Johnson also appreciates the power of blitzing, and lists ProfusionSeries Zinnias as first string starters.  “This series of Zinnia hybrids took me by surprise. Plants are uniform domes of saturated color that start blooming early and last all summer long. They thrive in heat and tolerate dry spells easily once established. Each daisy-shaped bloom last for weeks -pair these with blue or purple Angelonia to stop people in their tracks,” he said.

For sheer performance from coast to coast, All America Selections puts up a roster of winners, says Diane Blazek, Executive Director.  Petunia Wave® Purple Classic set the standard for the wildly popular Wave series, and was an AAS Winner in 1995. Like Von Miller, Wave covers everything; smothering slopes or hanging like a curtain from baskets and window boxes.  
Petunia Wave Purple courtesy of All America Selections

Outstanding along borders or rising above mass groupings, Cheyenne Spirit is an AAS Echinacea that produces a mix of flower colors from purple, pink, red, and orange to lighter yellows, creams, and white. Sow several seeds from the packet to get the wide range of flower colors.  As an added bonus, ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ does not require a lot of water and stays upright, even during wind, rain, or a bruising tackle.

Echinacea Cheyenne Spirit courtesy of All America Selections
Scouting reports from the big three plants-people list these hot prospects as rookies to watch: Plant Select’s Standing Ovation littlebluestem (2016), Mini Man™ viburnum (2016), Coral Baby penstemon (2015), Windwalker®big bluestem (2015), and Undaunted® ruby muhly (2014).

All America Selections welcome rookies Impatiens SunPatiens® SpreadingShell Pink (2015) and Mascotte beans (2014).  And Denver Botanic Gardens keeps the veteran Agastache rupestris, Sunset Hyssop, in its lineup. 

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