The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

You be the Judge - Plants on Trial

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

One of the great assets to being a gardener is trying out new plants and new techniques (or rediscovered old techniques). Some shine and some leave us wondering what the fuss is all about.

In the world of gardening annual flowers are under the most pressure to perform. We want them to bloom continuously from spring until fall, regardless of the weather and regardless of our prowess at plant care. Let's face it; plants have to be tough to survive the expectations of Illinois gardeners and the pings and perils of Illinois summers.

Since its inception in 1997 the Idea Garden at the UI Arboretum on south Lincoln Avenue in Urbana has been a place for Champaign County Master Gardeners to grow, learn, ponder and proclaim what they have learned.

Our main plant trial tattler and volunteer wrangler is Master Gardener Ann Tice. Since 2001 she has done a fabulous job of organizing the plants and people to make the trials a success.

In 2014 under Ann's direction and expertise we continue our relationship with two companies, Ball Horticultural and Proven Winners, to trial new plants. This year we received 112 different plant cultivars to trial in and around our Idea Garden with the help of magnificent Master Gardeners planting, weeding and watering. Some of the trial plants are presently available and others will be introduced in 2015.

Each month Ann compiles detailed evaluations and photographs. Plants are evaluated for overall splendor, percentage of bloom cover, and tendency toward pest/ insect damage or plant diseases. Plus Ann adds her own sprightly comments.

At the end of the season, the very best are awarded the "Gold Medal" award with noteworthy runners up receiving Silver and Bronze awards. Discover many of the past winners on our web site.

Past winners include:

Alyssum: 'Snow Princess' (imagine alyssum on steroids).

Angelonia: 'Angel Mist Spreading Purple Improved', 'Archangel Pink', 'Serena Purple'.

Basil: 'Pesto Perpetua'

Begonia: 'Whopper Rose Green Foliage', 'Whopper Rose Bronze Foliage'.

Cleome: 'Senorita Rosalita' (sterile & won't reseed, a great all season bloomer)

Coleus: 'Dipt in Wine', 'Colorblaze Sedona', 'Burgundy Lace', 'Cocoa Mint', 'Wasabi'.

Euphorbia: 'Diamond Frost'.

Lantana: Luscious series - 'Luscious Citrus Blend'.

Lobelia: 'Lucia Dark Blue', 'Laguna Sky Blue', 'Blushing Princess', 'Frosty Knight'.

Nierembergia: 'Augusta Blue Skies'.

Mecardonia: 'Gold Dust'.

Petunias: Supertunia Vista Series - 'Vista Silverberry' and 'Vista Bubblegum';

Supertunia Charm Series - 'Supertunia Indigo Charm' and 'Supertunia Pink Charm';

EZ Rider series – 'EZ Rider Deep Pink' and 'EZ Rider White'.

Sedum: 'Angelina' (perennial).

Verbena: 'Tukana Scarlet Star', 'Superbena Coral Red Improved'.

Zinnia: Zahara Series - 'Zahara Fire', 'Zahara Double Fire', 'Zahara Scarlet'.

Ann also spearheads a 2014 container trial. Near the Idea Garden shed six containers are hooked up to a battery powered automatic drip system (a great technique to lessen watering chores). Master Gardeners are evaluating the use of a special fertilizer provided by Proven Winners. We know annual flowers need regular fertilizing to keep up with their prolific blooming, especially if grown in containers. Proven Winners developed a fertilizer which includes iron and micro-nutrients. Only three of the six identical containers are receiving the fertilizer. Check it out to see which containers win the beauty contest.

Huge thanks to Ann Tice, Ball Horticultural, Proven Winners and all our valuable volunteers that make our community gardens a success. Stop by the Idea Garden and the nearby Hartley Trial Garden to discover ideas for your garden trials.

2014 Garden Walks:

June 14 from 10am-4pm Vermilion County Master Gardeners. Enjoy Oakwood area gardens. Tickets available at Kennekuk County Park and Sleepy Creek Winery.

June 21 from 9am-4pm Champaign County Master Gardeners. 8 gardens and plenty of shopping at Idea Garden. 217-333-7672 Tickets available at area garden centers.

June 22 from 2-6pm Macon County Master Gardeners. 217-877-6042

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