Proven Winners National Plants of the Year 2019

Its a bold branding choice…

But their approach seems to be paying off, and I can only conclude that its because their testing and quality control measures live up to their marketing skills.


Why Proven Winners?

OK, lets be honest, it does feel good when you show up at client’s house with plants in the distinctive white Proven Winners containers – after all it tells the client that the plant is a winner and maybe you’re a bit of a winner as well. They cost a bit more – sometimes a lot more – so what are you paying for and how have they been proven to be “winners”?

The Proven Winners website lays it out like this:

It All Starts With a Better Plant

The right plant for all places: A plant with poor genetics or a limited range of performance requires more chemical inputs to survive and perform. Proven Winners searches the world to find and select plants which are clearly superior to others of their type in our trials in Michigan, New Hampshire, California, Germany, Japan, and Florida. This selection process translates into better performance for the home owner with fewer chemical inputs. These plants are more resistant to disease and insect pests, have heat and humidity tolerance and the broadest geographic range of superior performance. All of which means they require fewer insecticides and fungicides, perform well at lower fertility levels, and overall are just tougher, proven performers.

Start healthy – stay healthy: In addition to strenuous testing for consumer performance, Proven Winners goes the extra step in protecting our plants and the consumers who use them. Every Proven Winners plant has been screened of all plant disease and viral organisms. It is not a fast or inexpensive process and usually amounts to about $5,000.00 per plant. Why do we do it? So that when the plants arrive at your local garden center, we know we have done everything possible to assure our consumers of the healthiest plant possible. It is really a simple concept – the gardener is more likely to succeed and value Proven Winners if they start with the healthiest plant possible, and we want people to remember Proven Winners as the best plants they have grown! Hence the slogan: A Better Garden Begins with a Better Plant.

They also explain their sustainability practices, including ensuring that their branded containers can be recycled by the homeowner in their normal recycling stream.


Saving energy: Proven Winners greenhouse facilities are equipped with energy efficient lighting to help save energy. Plus, the material used in our greenhouse structures itself is highly energy efficient, meaning that at many times of year, the sun is our main source of energy and heat! And, many of our facilities are equipped with energy curtains that conserve heat during cold weather and provide shade on sunny days

Saving water: Proven Winners greenhouse facilities recapture and reuse significant amounts of water. Many of our greenhouse facilities are equipped with flood floors that reuse water. Also, in our production process we group plants according to water needs and soil type, allowing us to deliver the right amount of water needed by each plant – resulting in little waste. And, our high tech watering systems reduce overall waste of water and fertilizer.

Shipping More Locally: Proven Winners companies are located strategically throughout North America to provide young plants to finished growers that can serve their own local retail markets. This means that finished plants do not need to travel far to reach the end consumer.

Sustainability is what has sometimes been lacking in the green industry, so their practices are important and impressive. I imagine that all of these measures contribute now, or will in the near future, to managing the bottom line and to ensuring that plants arrive at their destinations more alive than dead.

…Proven Winners – “trialed and tested for gardening success like no other”

Nepeta X ‘Cat’s Pajamas’

Nepeta X ‘Cat’s Pajamas’

Hydrangea paniculata grandiflora ‘Little Quick Fire’

Hydrangea paniculata grandiflora ‘Little Quick Fire’

I guess for me the bottom line is this: I don’t believe that there is necessarily a “right plant for all places” - I think that kind of “Home Depot”-like mentality can be dangerous. All places are different, so our plant knowledge has to be broad and deep in order to be successful. But Proven Winners plants are high quality, healthy and you usually can’t go wrong if you choose one.

That being said, Proven Winners has instituted a program called “National Plants of the Year”

Proven Winners National Plants of the Year 2019

Visit the website to see information about these plants.

Candidates for Proven Winners’ National Plants of the Year are judged stringently by growers, retailers and home gardeners against the following criteria:

• Easy to grow

• Iconic

• Readily available

• Outstanding landscape performance

Annual of the Year: LEMON CORAL™ SEDUM (Zones 7 – 11)

Chartreuse foliage; same Sedum species as ‘Anglelina’. PW describe it as growing up to 10” tall and 14” wide.

Perennial of the Year: SUMMERIFIC® 'BERRY AWESOME' HIBISCUS (Zones 4 – 9)

Perennial hibiscus is a really great addition to moist areas in a sunny garden bed. Fast growers like this cultivar are prized because they have some “presence” in the summer before they bloom. This one has lavender flowers – a nice addition to the white- or red-flowering versions that are commonly planted.

Landscape Shrub of the Year: LOW SCAPE MOUND™ ARONIA (Zones 3 - 9)

Aronia is a native plant workhorse – not overly showy but with its moments – like great fall color and berries for the birds. This particular cultivar is described by PW as only growing “to 24” tall and 26” wide, doesn’t require pruning.” This would be a welcome addition to large areas where lots of shrubs are being planted – less pruning makes eveyone happier and the plant will also pack more bang for the buck in terms of fall color and berries because it is more compact. This cultivar has been available in the Niursery trade for a couple of years and has made me willing to plant aronia again.

Hosta of the Year: SHADOWLAND® 'AUTUMN FROST' HOSTA (Zones 3 – 9)

PW says “'Autumn Frost' brings light to shady spots with its broad, glowing yellow margins and frosty blue centers. …it typically grows to 12” tall and 24” wide. Plus, it's super cold hardy, returning reliably every year even in -40° temperatures.”

Mostly we can’t install hostas because of deer predation, but when we can we always love a new and interesting color and habit. There isn’t anything that adds more beauty to a shade garden (except hellebores) – although hostas do turn to snot at the first frost.

Rose of the Year: AT LAST® ROSA (Zones 5 – 9)

A fragrant Knock-Out-like rose? This is the holy grail for many landscape designers, who want the reliability, disease resistance and flower power of Knock Out roses and have resigned themselves to no fragrance. But I say – why have a rose if it isn’t fragrant? Maybe this cultivar will do the trick … worth a try certainly.

PW says:

“This rose combines the romance and fragrance of a fully-petaled tea rose and the no-nonsense practicality of a disease resistant landscape rose. It will bloom non-stop from late spring until frost with distinctive soft pink to sunset orange tones. Growing up to 4’ tall and just as wide…”

Hydrangea of the Year: FIRE LIGHT® HYDRANGEA PANICULATA (Zones 3 – 8)

At first I said to myself - do we really need another two-tone PG hydrangea?!? I was leaning towards saying no, we don’t, until I saw the pictures of this variety in one of the test gardens posted by Tim Wood whose trial gardens are in Michigan. It made all the others around it look pretty weak (thats the third picture in the series below). Fire Light gets pretty huge (up to 6' tall and 6’ wide) but has strong stems that hold the flowers upright.

Flowering Shrub of the Year: SONIC BLOOM® WEIGELA (Zones 4 – 8)

Weigela is definitely an “old-fashoned” shrub– its lovely in bloom but has an unruly habit that demands regular pruning. The flowers are nice, but the rest of the plant is pretty boring. One thing it has going for it is that deer don’t seem to favor it. I’ve planted a couple of different Weigela cultivars over the last few years – those with colored leaves and/or compact habits. Ideally, the burgundy-leafed cultivars could take the place of ‘Concorde’ barberry – I’m still not totally convinced of that although I don’t plant barberry anymore anyway.

This new series of “Sonic Bloom” weigelas from PW are said to rebloom “strongly” from midsummer to frost. That would be a good thing for a shrub border. (IF they really do rebloom - the boomerang (bloomerang?) lilacs seem less than impressive where I’ve used them). PW cultivars are: Ghost®, Pearl, Pink, Pure Pink and Red.