Best New Plants for Your Garden, Patio and Balcony

From long-lasting hydrangeas to long-flowering roses to tasty hybrid tomatoes –– these plants are your best bet if you're looking for something new.


 

Every year, plant breeders introduce a dizzying array of plants. Billed as having bigger flowers, longer bloom times, new colors, compact growth for small spaces, disease resistance and vigor — you name it — these new varieties are trotted out at trade shows like runway models.

For plant geeks like me, it’s Christmas. I love seeing all of the introductions and trying them in the garden.

But there’s a dark side to the hype; some plants are rushed to market before they’ve been thoroughly trialed and don’t perform as advertised. So what’s an unsuspecting gardener to do when faced with all of the choices at the nursery?

Happily, there are many standouts that settle into our clay soils and perform like champs with minimal care from us. There are even a few that are — dare I say it? — fairly deer-resistant. 

So come with me for a stroll through an imaginary nursery aisle and I’ll tell you about some of my favorites. I’ll sneak in a few older varieties too, because they’re just too good to pass up, and because the newest standouts can be tricky to find.
 

Sheer flower power

Who doesn’t love flowers? The bigger the better, right? Few plants conjure visions of beautiful, long-lasting blooms like hydrangeas. Here are some that will actually bloom in your garden
 


PHOTOS COURTESY prOVENWINNERS.COM, JEFF LAFRENZ-J. FRANK SCHMIDT & SON CO., BALL HORTICULTURAL COMPANY
 

My favorite hydrangeas are Little Lime and Limelight panicle hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata). Little Lime grows to about half the size of Limelight, which tops out at 10 feet tall and wide. Both bear loads of cone-shaped blossoms that start out lime-colored in mid-summer and gradually turn pink with fall. They’re terrific in fresh or dried arrangements and the dried tan flowers persist on the shrub, adding beauty to the winter garden.
 

If white hydrangeas aren’t your thing, there’s Incrediball Blush smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens). As the name implies, this hydrangea offers giant globes of pale pink flowers from summer through fall. The no-fuss plant grows 4 to 5 feet tall in full to part sun and appreciates some moisture during the hottest days of summer. 
 

In my neighborhood, it seems there is a saucer magnolia (Magnolia soulangeana) in most front yards, and they’re a sight to behold in spring with their huge pink flowers. Unfortunately, late frosts often spoil the show. But a new magnolia, Mercury, avoids that problem by flowering a month later, when frosts are less likely. The magnolia grows to about 25 feet tall in a tidy pyramidal form and blossoms start out as deep pink buds then open to pale pink on the inside and lavender on the outside. 
 

Many gardeners stopped planting impatiens as a shade bedding plant because of the one-two punch delievered by downy mildew. Then SunPatiens entered the ring and it’s a whole new match. Mildew-resistant SunPatiens provide non-stop flowering in shades of pink, white or red all summer. The vigorous plants take full sun to part shade.
 

Petunias are a traditional summer-flowering annual, and there are so many colors to choose from. Night Sky offers something new: a pattern of white flecks on a deep purple background, reminiscent of a starry sky on a warm summer night. Give it plenty of sun and enjoy the show.
 

 

Small ’n mighty

Small is big in plant breeding these days. That’s good news if you have a tiny yard, patio or balcony. The following small shrubs, annuals and edibles work well for any space-challenged gardener, whether you plant them in the ground or in a container.
 


photos courtesy provenwinners.com, star roses & plants, w. atlee burpee co.
 

Yuki Cherry Blossom deutzia is a 2- to 3-foot mounded shrub showered in pale pink bell-shaped flowers in spring. It flowers best in full to part sun. The emerald-green foliage stays fresh-looking all summer.
 

Love roses? The Drift series of roses comes in an array of colors, and their small size (up to 3 feet tall and wide) fits any full-sun spot. These easy-care beauties flower spring through fall.
 

This is the year of the calibrachoa, according to the National Gardening Bureau. These Latin American natives look like little petunias, but they’re so much better — no pinching required. There are many brands and colors to choose from, so pick ones you like for non-stop color in full-sun locations.
 

The new Atlas hybrid tomato from Burpee was bred specifically for growing in containers. It’s a bushy, compact plant that yields beefsteak-size fruits with old-time tomato flavor.
 

No room for blueberries and raspberries? Think again! Bushel and Berry Peach Sorbet blueberry and Raspberry Shortcake raspberry pump out a surprising amount of plump, delicious berries any small-space gardener with sun can enjoy. The bushes stay compact and are hardy in our cold winters so you can enjoy delicious crops year after year.
 

 

Oh deer!

I’d be lying if I said there were deer-proof plants. But there are plants that deer are less likely to munch. Check these out.
 


photos courtesy provenwinners.com, walters gardens inc., peace tree farm
 

Brilliance autumn fern (Dryoperis erythrosora) — Deer leave most ferns alone, so if you’ve got shade they’re a great option. Brilliance autumn fern is a standout with red-tinged foliage that turns coppery in fall.
 

Lemon Love and Autumn Bride alumroot (Heuchera villosa) — Perform best in shade but tolerate part sun. The foliage grows to 18 inches and stays dense and attractive all summer. As fall approaches, sprays of delicate flowers create a froth above the foliage. Lemon Love has chartreuse foliage that lights up a shade garden.
 

Phenomenal lavender — A top lavender for our region: winter-hardy and mildew resistant in humid summers. It grows 2 to 3 feet tall and bears wands of fragrant purple flowers you can use fresh or dried in arrangements, potpourri, baked goods and beverages.
 

​Summerific perennial hibiscus (Hibiscus moschuetos) — A real presence in the garden at 3 to 5 feet tall with crazy-big summer flowers in shades of soft pink to red. It loves moist soils and full sun but performs admirably in average soils too.

Martha Swiss is a Pittsburgh garden writer and designer. Read her blog at plantsomejoy.com.
 

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