DALY: Georgia Gold Medal Plants are a great addition to the home landscape

Timothy Daly

Timothy Daly

Once a 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. Their purpose is to “to promote the production, sale and use of superior ornamental plants.”

Several factors are taken into consideration when choosing the winners. The main criteria in making the selections are plants that are low maintenance, have few pest problems and are well adapted to Georgia’s varying climates and soil types. The plants must have features that are appealing to consumers.

Other factors include their ease of propagation and production needed in order to mass market the plants in addition to having appealing characteristics that last multiple seasons. One plant is chosen from each of the following categories: annuals, perennials, shrubs, trees, and native plants.

The 2014 Gold Medal annual plant is the spider flower or cleome varieties Senorita Rosalita and the Senorita Blanca. The traditional varieties of cleomes have some negative qualities such as loss of foliage, spines, sprawling growth habit and excessive seed production. These new varieties do not have these undesirable traits. These plants grow in an upright pattern that attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Senorita Rosalita has a lavender to pink coloring, the Senorita Blanca is white, and both bloom prolifically during the summer. They should be planted in May when the soil is warm enough, and the plants require adequate drainage.

The red hot poker, also known as the torch lily, is the committee’s selection for the 2014 Gold Medal perennial plant. The blooms, which are a combination of many small flowers, are at the ends of tall stems. They come in an array of colors such as red, orange, yellow and cream. They sometimes can produce a second round of blooms if you remove the dead flower heads before they go to seed. The foliage is evergreen and grasslike, upright and sword shaped. The red hot poker blooms from June through August and attracts butterflies, hummingbirds and honeybees. They will require full sun and good drainage.

The choice for the 2014 Gold Medal shrub is the sweetbox or Saracocca. Closely related to boxwoods, they have shiny evergreen leaves and grows three to five feet tall. Sweetbox thrives in shady and partially shaded areas. The shrubs are low maintenance, and requires little pruning. As for pests, sweetbox is not troubled by insects or diseases, and is are resistant to deer and rabbits. In the winter, it they produce small white fragrant blooms that are somewhat hidden by the foliage. A dwarf variety of the plant grows 12 inches tall, spreads by suckering, and creates an attractive dense groundcover.

The 2014 Gold Medal winner in the tree category is the Chinese pistache. It can reach a height of 30 feet, and its canopy has a vase shape. It tolerates the hot, dry conditions of our summers and poor soil. The tree does well in difficult growing situations such as parking lot islands, landscapes of newly built homes and along streets in urban areas. However, they suffers in soils that stay wet continually. In the fall, the leaves turn a brilliant red color and in the spring it produces clusters of small flowers.

The atamasco lily, also called the rain lily, is the committee’s choice for 2014 Gold Medal winner in the native plant category. These hardy plants grow throughout Georgia. They have white to pink blooms that are on a stalk that rises above the foliage. Their blooms open up after a rainfall, thus giving it the name rain lily. They prefer sun to partial shade, thrives in moist sites, and is frequently found growing in wetlands, swamps and by streams and lakes. All parts of these plants are toxic.

Georgia Gold Medal winners are a worthy addition to your home landscape. The plants are attractive, easy to maintain and thrive in our climate. For more information on these plants, go to the following website: 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.