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DALY: Georgia Gold Medal plants are proven winners for the home landscape

Each year, the Georgia Plant Selections Committee, an organization composed of plant professionals throughout the state, choose certain plants to label as Georgia 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, groundcover, and native plants. The winning plants must possess certain marketable characteristics that are considered appealing to consumers. The plants need to be low maintenance, have few pest problems and is well adapted to Georgia's varying climates and soil types. Another factor is the ease of propagation and production needed to mass market the plants. Consideration is also given to plants having appealing characteristics that last multiple seasons.

The 2013 Gold Medal annual plant is the wishbone flower or Torenia. It thrives in the shade and can be used as an alternative to impatiens. The trumpet shaped flowers are similar in appearance to snapdragons. The structures inside the flowers form a wishbone pattern, thus giving the plant its name. Their blooms vary in color and last throughout the growing season. Removing the dead flowers is not necessary since they naturally shed their old blossoms. The plants reach a height of six to twelve inches and up to a foot in width with a mounding habit. Well drained soils are required for optimal growth. The wishbone flower is attractive when used along the edges of beds and are also perfect for growing in containers.

The variegated Solomon's seal is the committee's selection for the 2013 Gold Medal perennial plant. The plant prefers rich, well-drained soil and can tolerate the summer heat. It thrives in the shade and brightens the garden with its striped foliage. It can reach two feet in height, and it has fragrant bell shaped flowers. The plant spreads rapidly by shallow underground rhizomes and can easily be divided. Variegated Solomon's seal is resistant to deer and is a good alternative to hosta lilies.

The compact gardenia is the 2013 winner in the shrub category. Like all gardenias, it has glossy evergreen leaves and fragrant flowers that may be single or double in nature. The compact form, which is less than five feet in height, allows for it to be incorporated easier into the landscape in front of larger shrubs. It grows in full sun and part shade. The flowers are formed on the old wood, so prune after they finish blooming. Radicans is the most popular compact variety, which can reach a height of twelve inches and can spread two to three feet in width.

The choice for the 2013 Gold Medal groundcover is the golden sweetflag. It is a golden colored grass-like groundcover and a suitable alternative to liriope. Although golden sweetflag is an evergreen, the foliage begins to decline in appearance by winter. Trim the foliage back close to the ground at the end of winter to allow for a flush of growth in the spring. Golden sweet flag grows best in full sun to part shade. It thrives in wet sites. Deer avoid the plant since the leaves have a scent they find unpleasant.

The 2013 Gold Medal winner in the native plant category is muhly grass. It produces attractive pink or white inflorescences, or flowers, during the fall. As winter approaches, the plants develop a tan color. Trim the foliage back within a few inches of the ground in the early spring. Dig up and divide them if necessary. Muhly grass reaches a height of three feet in height and is frequently used in many landscapes since it has resistance to deer, tolerant to drought conditions and adds fall color. Its fine texture contrasts well to bolder texture plants such as hollies and other evergreen shrubs.

Georgia Gold Medal winners are a worthy addition to your home landscape. For more information on these plants, go to the following website: www.georgiagoldmedalplants.org.

Timothy Daly, MS, Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent, Gwinnett County Extension. Tim may be contacted by phone at 678-377-4010 or by email at timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.