In the Garden:
Lower South
October, 2005
Regional Report

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Plant trials like this evaluation of petunias for summer heat and humidity tolerance provide guidance for gardeners looking for proven performers.

Tried and True Gardening

Gardeners dream of bountiful gardens blanketed with colorful flowers and ripe vegetables. However, to pin our hopes on strictly new and unproven selections is to invite disappointment. I love trying new plant species and varieties as much as anyone, but when it comes to the foundation of my vegetable gardens and flower beds, I want something that's proven and dependable.

I'll plant a new tomato variety or two or even three, but I always put most of my stock into a couple of ol' faithfuls that I know won't let me down. The same is true when it comes to annual and perennial flowers.

Some of the flower and vegetable plants that are in the tried-and-true category are varieties that I have grown myself and found to be worth planting again and again. Others come with the strong recommendation of gardening friends I trust to know their stuff.

We are fortunate in the south to have numerous testing programs that are constantly evaluating new plants to see how they perform in our many unique southern climates and soils. Most land grant universities conduct trials as part of their research divisions or Extension programs, including Master Gardener programs. In some states, trials are established by other university and college horticulture programs. Botanical gardens, likewise, often conduct plant trials.

The results of these trials are available by visiting your local Extension Office or botanical garden, or by going online. Most organizations post the results on their Web sites, making it easy to get the latest on the best selections for your area.

Several trial programs provide a special marketing designation for their top performers. In cooperation with the nursery industry, these programs insure that the superior plants are available in garden centers across the state. This is a great thing because it does little good to read about an outstanding plant only to find it nearly impossible to locate.

Trial Programs to Guide Your Choices
Texas A&M University designates certain plants as Texas Superstars. These plants have been tested and proven to take the climate and growing conditions across the state. Superstar plants can be found at the following Web site:
http://texassuperstar.com/

Additionally, Texas A&M researchers and Extension personnel are developing a growing list of roses that don't have to be pampered and sprayed to survive and thrive. Check out the roses that have achieved EarthKind rose status at:
http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/earthkindrose/browse.html

Mississippi State conducts annual trails from which selected top performers are given the Mississippi Medallion designation. Past winners are listed at the following Web site:
http://www.gulfcoast-gardening.com/mississippi_medallion_plants.htm

The University of Georgia trial gardens evaluate varieties for their heat and humidity tolerance. Top performers receive the Athens Select title. Learn about these plants at:
http://www.uga.edu/athensselect/

The University of Florida conducts trials at locations across the states diverse growing regions. They post the results of their trials at:
http://floriculture.ifas.ufl.edu/content/eng/

Alabama gardeners may be interested in Auburn University's herbaceous plant trials:
http://www.aces.edu/department/com_veg/trials/mainannu.htm

Trials at the J.C. Raulston Arboretum of North Carolina State University are listed along with a wealth of observations at:
http://www.ncsu.edu/jcraulstonarboretum/

Other states post their results online, although finding them may take a little diligent searching.

So take advantage of the upcoming winter season to do some online reading about plants that have proven superior in your area. Find a few tried and true performers to build a good foundation for next year's gardens.


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