Gold Medal plants worthy additions to home gardens

Every year, the Georgia Plant Selections Committee, an organization composed of plant professionals throughout the state, chooses certain plants to be "Gold Medal Plants."

Committee members nominate a long list of plants to be considered, and chooses with a goal of promoting and selling superior ornamental plants.

The plants chosen in each category - annuals, herbaceous perennials, shrubs and trees - must meet certain criteria. They have to be marketable and appealing to consumers. They need to be low-maintenance with few pests, and well adapted to the various climates and soil types of Georgia. Plants with appealing characteristics that last more than one season also have an edge in the competition.

This year's Gold Medal pick for annuals is the firespike (Odontonema strictum). It has shiny, pest-free foliage and boasts beautiful crimson flower spikes in late summer and early fall. Firespike can grow up to 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide. It produces a sweet nectar attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies. Firespikes prefer full sun to partial shade and moist, well-drained soil.

The herbaceous perennial winner is the swamp hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus). It prefers wet areas and is perfect for use along pond edges, low areas with poor drainage, rain gardens and water gardens. Swamp hibiscus will thrive in normal garden soil if it has supplemental watering. To encourage it to continue blooming, remove the old, dead flower heads. During the cold weather, swamp hibiscus will die back to the ground but will resprout the following spring.

The top evergreen vine choice for this year is the Madison Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides 'Madison'). The plant is a tough evergreen vine that, unlike most of the other cultivars of Confederate jasmine, can tolerate the cold weather here in north Georgia. The vine grows quite fast, and has fragrant, white flowers that bloom every spring. It has a huge growth spurt after flowering, so regular pruning is necessary to keep it under control. The Confederate jasmine prefers moist or dry soils, but is not able to grow in sites that are constantly wet.

The Gold Medal shrub chosen is the Admiral Semmes rhododendron (Rhododendron 'Admiral Semmes'). The plant has beautiful, fragrant yellow flowers. It can withstand high heat and is

resistant to disease. The plant prefers partial shade and requires moist, well-drained soils.

The Giant Green arborvitae is this year's chosen tree. The fast-growing evergreen tree is ideal for screens and windbreaks. The plant can grow in any type of soil, tolerates weather extremes and is pest-resistant. Consider planting the Giant Green arborvitae in place of the Leyland cypress, which has numerous disease problems. It needs full sun with well-drained soils, and the trees should be spaced apart by about 15 feet.

Georgia Gold Medal winners are a worthy addition to your home landscape and well worth buying. For more information on the 2007 winners and those from previous years, visit www.georgiagoldmedal.org.

Timothy Daly is an agricultural and natural resource agent with the

Gwinnett County Extension

Service. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.