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DALY: Georgia Gold Medal Winners beautify landscape

Each year, the Georgia Plant Selections Committee, an organization composed of plant professionals throughout the state, choose certain plants to label as “Gold Medal Winners.” The goal of the committee is “to promote the production, sale and use of superior ornamental plants.”

Members make their choices from a long list of plants for consideration. One plant per year is chosen from the following categories: annuals, herbaceous perennials, groundcovers, shrubs and trees. They must possess certain marketable characteristics appealing to consumers. The plants need to be low maintenance with few pests and well adapted to Georgia’s varying climates and soil types.

Another factor is the ease of propagation and production to mass market the plants. Consideration is also given to plants having appealing characteristics that last more than one season.

The Gold Medal annual for 2010 is the ‘”Diamond Frost” Euphorbia. Its small delicate flowers are present continually throughout the growing season. Hand removal of the old flowers is not necessary to maintain a neat appearance since they fall off naturally. The plants do best in full sun although they can tolerate some shade.

This annual needs to be planted in an area with adequate drainage and evenly moist soil. Euphorbias are in a family of plants that produce a poisonous latex-like sap that can irritate the skin of sensitive individuals, so wear gloves and long sleeve shirts when pruning. This quality makes it less palatable to deer.

The Butterfly Weed is the committee’s choice for the Gold Medal herbaceous perennial. This plant is a magnet for butterflies and a food source for several species including the monarch. The flowers are a bright orange in flat top clusters. The flowers give way to prominent, spindle-shaped seed pods that are three to six inches in length. They split open when ripe releasing numerous seeds with silky strands that are dispersed by the wind. It prefers dry areas with full sun and thrives under hot, dry conditions. Being a native wildflower, the butterfly weed can often be observed growing wild along roadsides and in meadows.

The Gold Medal evergreen groundcover chosen for this year is the “Angelina” Stonecrop. It has high tolerance to hot, dry conditions and is seldom troubled by pests.

Its needle-like succulent foliage changes color throughout the season. In the spring the foliage is yellow to green, golden yellow in summer and reddish orange in autumn. Clusters of tiny yellow flowers arise in early summer. Hoverflies, a predator of aphids, feed on the nectar produced by these flowers.

The “Limelight” Panicle Hydrangea is the winner in the shrub category. The plant is deciduous and can grow six to eight feet tall and equally wide. It grows well when planted in masses, as a single shrub or in a container. As the pyramid shaped flower clusters begin to mature, they turn yellow-green and are excellent in floral arrangements.

The creamy white flower clusters, up to eight inches across, emerge on strong, upright stems. The flowers persist into autumn when the color changes to deep pink. This hydrangea thrives in full sun. In dry spells apply supplemental water as it can suffer from prolonged periods without water. Unlike some other types of hydrangea, Limelight flowers on the new growth. Prune it to a foot above the ground in late winter or early spring back to encourage healthy, compact growth.

The “Ogon” Dawn Redwood was the choice for the Gold Medal tree. Dawn redwoods are very ancient trees that have been in existence since the time of the dinosaurs. It has a pyramidal shape and can grow 75 feet tall. The tree has a similar appearance to the bald cypress but its needle-like leaflets are larger. This deciduous tree has bright yellow-green foliage during the growing season turning to orange-brown in the fall.

Its reddish-brown bark turns darker brown as it ages, and it peels off in narrow strips.

Georgia Gold Medal winners are a worthy addition to your home landscape and well worth buying. For more information on the 2010 winners and those listed from previous years,visit www.georgiagoldmedalplants.org.

Timothy Daly, is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent with Gwinnett County. He can be contacted at 678-377-4010 or tdaly@uga.edu.