By Dan Rahn
University of Georgia
Since 1994, the Georgia Plant Selections Committee has been helping Georgia gardeners improve their landscapes with beautiful, proven plants.
The committee is made up of nurserymen, flower growers, landscapers, landscape designers, garden center managers and University of Georgia horticulturists.
Each year they select an annual, perennial, shrub and tree from a long list of nominees and awards them Georgia Gold Medals. This year they added a flowering vine. Only the best of the best can earn the top honors.
The 2003 Georgia Gold Medal Winners are:
Annual: Mexican zinnias (Zinnia angustifolia 'Star Series'). These beauties thrive with little care, tolerate drought, heat and humidity and bloom nonstop from spring until fall frost. The "Star Series" gives you a choice of planting solid colors or combinations.
Native to hot, dry regions of Mexico, it actually prefers dry soils. Once established, Mexican zinnias will provide a fiesta of color with little routine care.
The plants are mound-shaped, 12 to 18 inches high and 12 inches wide. They're resistant to mildew and bacterial leaf spots that plague other zinnias, and insect pests are seldom a problem. They prefer full sun and well-drained soils.
Perennial: Miss Huff lantana (Lantana camara 'Miss Huff'). Most lantanas aren't winter-hardy, but Miss Huff is a proven perennial, at least in hardiness zone 7.
Miss Huff blooms continuously from spring until fall frost. It's drought-tolerant and attracts butterflies like magnets, but repels deer with its pungent foliage.
A shrub that grows 6 feet tall and 10 feet wide, its flowers are dense heads, 2 to 3 inches wide, of pink, orange and yellow florets. It grows in coastal beach sands and north Georgia's heavy clay, but does best moist, fertile soils enriched with organic matter.
Flowering Vine: Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata). This is the first vine to get a Georgia Gold Medal. A native, flowering vine in moist, woodland soils from Maryland to Florida to Louisiana, crossvine is a tough, evergreen vine that produces a reliable spring display of fragrant, deep red, tubular flowers.
Butterflies and hummingbirds enjoy its nectar-rich, April blossoms. It's heat- and drought-tolerant and deer-resistant. Several cultivars are out there, including "Jekyll" (orange flowers) and "Tangerine Beauty" (ruby- tangerine flowers).
Crossvine gets its name from the cross-like look of the pith in its stem. It's a vigorous climber (30 to 50 feet). Leaves are dark green, turning reddish purple in winter. Plant it in moist, acidic, well-drained soils in full sun to partial shade.
Shrub: Henry anise-tree (Illicium henryi). This isn't really a tree but a coarse-textured, evergreen shrub 6 to 8 feet tall and wide. It thrives in dense shade or partial shade, an excellent choice for woodland settings.
Henry anise-tree has glossy, pest-free foliage and pink to deep crimson flowers in April to May. Deer avoid its aromatic foliage, which smells like licorice when crushed.
This is the cream of the crop among the several anise-tree species on the market. Plant it in moist, well-drained soils. A complete fertilizer each spring and water in dry times will keep it looking its best.
Tree: Chinese fringe tree (Chionanthus retusus). If you want a small flowering tree that's not a dogwood, this is a sure- fire choice. In late April to early May, its pure-white, strap-like flowers come in such profusion that you often can't see the foliage.
Chinese fringe tree's grayish-brown bark exfoliates into paper-like curls as the plant ages. Pest-resistant and drought-tolerant, it can be a large, multistem shrub or small tree, reaching 15 to 25 feet tall.
Its leaves are oval, 3 to 4 inches across and lustrous, dark green. It's deciduous, but the leaves often persist into December. It adapts to full sun or partial shade and prefers moist, well-drained soils.
(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)