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Georgia's Gold Medal plants are proven winners

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 selected for consideration. One plant is chosen from each of the following categories: annuals, perennials, shrubs, trees and native plants. 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 plant for 2011 is the native black-eyed Susan. These plants are frequently observed growing along roadsides, in fields and woodland areas. The black-eyed Susan will thrive in almost any type of soil and requires minimal maintenance.

They grow to a height of 2 to 3 feet, and tolerate the hot dry conditions of summer while blooming from early summer to until the first frost. There are several varieties with orange, yellow and gold flowers which are excellent in flower arrangements and are attractive to butterflies. Removing the dead blossoms will encourage more flowering.

The sacred lily, also called the Nippon lily or Rohdea, a native to eastern Asia, is the committee’s selection for the Gold Medal perennial plant. They love shade and since the deer do not find them palatable, these plants are an excellent alternative to hostas. The lily can tolerate prolonged dry conditions once established. The leaves are similar to hosta leaves, but are thicker, have a more upright growth habit and are evergreen. The plant produces inconspicuous flowers in the spring followed by clusters of berries that turn a bright red color in the fall. The plants are used as groundcovers, specimen plants and in containers.

The sasanqua camellia is the winner in the shrub category. This evergreen shrub provides beauty to the landscape year-round. It has attractive dark green broad leaves and flowers that come in a multitude of shapes and colors with many varieties registered with the American Camellia Society. Sasanqua camellias bloom in the fall and are tolerant to more sunlight. Camellias should be planted in slightly acidic, well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. Prune them in the late winter after flowering.

The Nuttall oak is the choice for the Gold Medal tree. It is native to the gulf coastal plains from western Florida to Texas. The tree grows rapidly and is frequently used as a shade or as a specimen tree. It thrives in full sun in a variety of soils. The oak does well in poorly drained wet sites yet tolerates drought conditions once established.

The roots grow deeper in the ground than many other trees in Georgia. Since roots that grow near the soil surface are seldom a problem, it can be planted closer to sidewalks and walkways. It produces abundant acorns which attract wildlife. The tree has reddish-brown bark that darkens as it ages. Its leaves turn a deep red color in the fall.

The Gold Medal winner in the native plant category is the fringetree. It has a height and width of 20 feet at maturity with a distinctly round growth habit. The tree produces clusters of fragrant white flowers that can last several weeks in the spring. The leaves are deciduous, elliptical in shape and dark green.

Although tolerant to some shade, full sun will ensure more abundant attractive flowers. Fringetrees are drought tolerant once established but prefer moist well-drained soils. The leaves turn yellow in the fall. Since it requires less space and is tolerant of pollution, the fringetree thrives in urban landscapes. It has a strong branch structure and seldom requires pruning.

Georgia Gold Medal winners are a worthy addition to your home landscape and well worth buying. For more information on the 2011 winners and those listed from previous years, go to www.georgiagoldmedalplants.org.

Timothy Daly is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent for the Gwinnett County Extension. He may be contacted by phone at 678-377-4010 or by email at timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.