by Jan Cashman
Another winter almost past, and even though there’s still more snow to come, many of us are dreaming of warm weather and gardening. Each year at this time, trade magazines and plant catalogs feature new plants that have been introduced by plant breeders at research stations such as the one in Morden, Manitoba, Canada, at agricultural universities throughout the country, and by independent nursery growers. Breeders are looking for trees, shrubs, flowers, and vegetables with improved shape, hardiness, fruit, flower color and leaf color.
After last year’s winter injury and kill of so many shade trees in our area, especially green ash, we have found that the seedless selection called Mancana ash has been doing better here than other ash species. Although not a new introduction, Mancana ash is rated hardy and disease free. It will grow in adverse conditions and drought.
North Dakota State University recently introduced a new alder called ‘Prairie Horizon’. Alders are small trees in the birch family, often multiple stemmed, that do well in wet conditions where other trees would not thrive. They grow well in poor soils; their root’s nodules actually fix Nitrogen into the soil. Alder’s decorative seed pods resemble tiny pine cones that can be used in crafts and decorating.
Although the apple called ‘Frostbite’ was bred in 1936 in Minnesota (for years it was known as ‘MN447’), it has just now been introduced to the consumer. Closely related to the more recently introduced ‘Sweet 16’ and ‘Honeycrisp’, Frostbite is an extremely hardy apple that ripens in late September and is sweet, crisp and juicy. ‘Black Ice’, a hardy plum with large fruit that ripens early, is a new cross between a plum-cherry and a Japanese dessert plum. Either Underwood or American plum would be an acceptable pollinator for ‘Black Ice’.
There are two new, lower-growing ninebark shrubs. Ninebarks have gained in popularity the last few years for good reasons: the newer varieties are hardy in cold climates, they have beautiful leaf colors, and are pest free. ‘Summer Wine’ ninebark grows to a neat, rounded 5 to 6 feet. It has dark red leaves and contrasting pinkish-white flowers in mid-summer. ‘Little Devil’ is the shortest of the ninebarks, growing to a compact 3 to 4 feet with similar foliage and flowers to ‘Summer Wine’.
A new, improved variety of Rocky Mountain juniper called ‘Sky High’ is perfect for our climate. This silvery-blue upright evergreen needs little pruning to maintain its columnar shape.
Each year there are plenty of new perennial flowers introduced. Helleborus is a genus of perennials that has been popular in milder, wetter parts of the country like Seattle, but newer selections seem to do OK here. I have one planted in the shade of our huge flowering crabapple. The deer avoid helleborus, it stays evergreen all winter, and blooms very early in the spring. The leaves stay attractive all summer. New varieties include ‘Winter’s Bliss’ and ‘Winter’s Song’; both have been designated hardiness zone 4.
There is a new development in peonies, an old-fashioned, fragrant, wonderful perennial for our climate. Itoh, a peony cross between tree and herbaceous types, is hardy to zone 3. Itoh’s semi-double flowers are huge and fragrant; it has lush, green, disease-resistant foliage. Two new Itoh peonies to look for are Mikasa and Takara.
Other new perennial flowers to note are Early Bird Rudbeckia, a brown-eyed Susan that blooms earlier and longer than others, and Freya Campanula, an early, heavy-blooming, short bell flower deep violet in color.
New annuals include Calibrachoas in colors called ‘Blackberry’ and ‘Coralberry Punch’ that don’t need dead-heading. Calibrachoas resemble miniature trailing petunias. A hybrid of trailing petunia called SuperCal Terra Cotta, apricot in color, is more vigorous and floriforous than older varieties of trailing petunias. Both of these beautiful trailers will add to your pots and hanging baskets.
Northern Super Sweet is an early sweet corn variety that comes highly recommended by a customer who lives a few miles north of us. “Super sweet” (sh2) corns must be planted at least 25 feet away from other corn types or the kernels will become tough and starchy. If you can isolate it, Northern super sweet will produce a sweet-tasting corn that retains it sweetness for days after picking.
These are just a few of the newly introduced trees, shrubs, and flowers for 2011. Some might be just the right new plants for you.