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February 12, 2014

Selecting new plants for the garden and landscape

The 2014 growing season may seem to be a long time away; however as we move into February, it is time to think about spring landscaping and gardening.

If you are thinking of adding something new, either to your landscape or your vegetable garden, there are many available sources of information. One I recommend is the All-America Selections (AAS). AAS is an annual list of outstanding landscape and garden plants selected following each growing season by judges who evaluate how they performed at various designated trial grounds. Some of these trial grounds are managed by professional horticulture companies, while many are public locations such as botanical gardens or museum grounds. Many are located at universities. While being selected as an AAS winner is no guarantee that a plant will work for you and your situation, this is a good source of information if you’re looking to try something new. The AAS website is: http://www.all-americaselections.org//index.cfm. The site contains information about the organization, how it works, how plants are judged and selected, etc. The list of winners can be found by clicking on the link “AAS Winners” just below the AAS logo. Keep in mind not to just look for this year’s winners but for those from past years as well.

What I want to focus on is what to look for in the plant descriptions to determine whether they are suitable for Central Indiana.

For landscape plants and flowers, an obvious early step is to look at pictures and descriptions. If you don’t care for the color of the blooms, or its mature height is 4 feet and you’re looking for something that grows to 2 feet, you can eliminate these fairly quickly.

Once you move past physical appearance, the next area to assess is environmental factors. I typically begin by looking at climate. For perennial plants, we should focus on USDA Plant Hardiness Zones. Boone County is located in Hardiness Zone 5b, where plants should be able to withstand low temperatures of 10-15 degrees below zero. Higher numbered zones indicate plants suited for a warmer climate, which should be avoided, while lower numbers indicate plants that are more winter-hardy. For our area, plants suitable for zones 1a through 5b are appropriate, though with plants adapted for extreme cold, be sure warm summer temperatures aren’t a problem.

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