Low-Maintenance Plant Picks for Midwest Gardens
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Echinacea: More sizes, shapes and colors
Echinacea coneflowers have long been a Midwestern favorite thanks to bright, long-lasting colors and low maintenance demands. The traditional drawback: Colors had been limited to basically purple and white. But rapid development of new varieties means gardeners can choose from more sizes, shapes and colors. New cultivars showcase bright hues and include 'Tomato Soup' (left) and 'Mac 'n' Cheese'.
Echinacea is one of five groups of plants that Ed Lyon, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Allen Centennial Gardens, feels will be hot choices for Midwest gardeners in 2009.
The once-limited Baptisia plant is joining the rush of native (read: low-maintenance) species stretching into new colors and shapes. Exciting new cultivars include the supremely durable 'Purple Smoke' (left). And the Chicago Botanic Garden's work with the plant looks promising. "Once one organization starts developing new plant color and forms, others jump in," Ed says.
Plants such as sedum, aloe and even cacti are surging in Midwestern popularity, Ed says. That's because succulents are easy to care for, stingy with water and exotic. Now that succulents cost far less (Euphorbia 'Royal Velvet' dropped from $15-$20 a few years ago to as low as $5 today), some gardeners use them as outdoor annuals. To overwinter them, put succulents in containers in a basement.
Edible plants are functional for small spaces or containers, especially when they look great. Ornamental peppers, variegated corn, flowering kale (left) and purple okra can serve as both eye-catching elements in the yard and as kitchen ingredients. "These plants are having an explosion of interest," Ed says. "People aren't just interested in plants as decoration; they're interested in plants as food."
The hearty Heuchera
Recently, Heuchera (coral bells or alumroot) dominated the new plant scene with varied colors and shapes. Heuchera x villosa (hairy alumroot) offered equally interesting foliage, but only in green. Now new shades are available in cultivars such as 'Citronelle', 'Caramel', 'Mocha' and 'Brownies'. These new plants resist insects and disease vigorously, recover better from winter and grow bigger and faster.
"I have 'Brownies' in my home garden that are only three years old, and you'd swear they were small shrubs," says Ed.