Allen Owings, Dan Gill and Regina Bracy
It may be hard to believe, but the LSU AgCenter’s Louisiana Super Plants program is now five years old. With the announcement of four new varieties for 2015, the program has now named 32 great landscape plants as top selections for home gardeners in Louisiana.
The goal of this program is to identify and promote exceptional plants that perform well in Louisiana. Some of these are new varieties, and some are older varieties with a proven track record.
The LSU AgCenter and Louisiana’s nursery and landscape industry, through the Louisiana Nursery and Landscape Association, saw the need for a state-based program that uses university research to identify and promote exceptional plants. Similar programs, such as Texas Superstars and Mississippi Medallions, are ongoing in other states. Funding for this project was initially provided through the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry with U.S. Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant Program funds. The LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station, partnering with the School of Plant, Environmental and Soil Sciences, leads the program.
Each Super Plant must have at least two years of rigorous evaluations and have a proven track record under north and south Louisiana growing conditions. Louisiana Super Plants must be proven hardy across the state. They must be easily produced and available for all nursery and landscape industry wholesalers and retailers to market and sell.
Louisiana Super Plants are selected a year or two in advance of a public announcement. The selection process includes LSU AgCenter horticulture faculty and members of the Louisiana nursery and landscape industry. The program results in home gardeners having an increased awareness of better-performing landscape plants.
Four new Louisiana Super Plants are being announced for 2015. Spring selections are Henna coleus and Fireworks pennisetum. Fall choices are Homestead Purple perennial verbena and Leslie Ann camellia.
Coleuses are generating a lot of interest these days. Just look at the amazing variety of these plants available at area nurseries. One issue with coleus varieties is finding those that are less inclined to bloom. Coleus is grown for its colorful foliage, and the flower spikes are not generally desirable. The newest coleus for the most exceptional performance in Louisiana is Henna. The foliage is highly fringed and sports shades of gold, chartreuse and reddish-purple on top and reddish-purple underneath. Plants reach 24-30 inches in height and do best planted in a full-sun to partial-sun landscape. They should be planted in spring after the danger of frost has passed. Plants last until first killing frost.
Fireworks fountain grass
Pennisetum is an ornamental grass commonly known as purple fountain grass. A new red-foliaged variety addition to this group of grasses is Fireworks. These are annuals in north and central Louisiana but can be perennials in the warmer locations of south Louisiana. Plants need full sun and will be 4 feet tall in the landscape by fall. Planted in clumps of three to five, they can be used as a vertical focal plant in flower beds. Flower plumes start midsummer and continue until first frost. Irrigation requirements are minimal. This unique new fountain grass has no insect and pest issues.
Homestead Purple verbena
The best perennial verbena for the Louisiana landscape is Homestead Purple. Even with an avalanche of new varieties on the market, this plant is still the best of the best for Louisiana. Rich purple blooms cover a three-foot-wide canopy of foliage twice annually – peak bloom being midwinter until late spring (mid-February through May) and then another flowering during fall. Although perennial verbenas are generally planted in spring, we need to consider fall and winter planting of perennial verbenas for best performance the first year. This is the reason we are promoting Homestead Purple as a fall Louisiana Super Plant. In the landscape, spacing between plants should be 18 inches at planting, and the plants should be sheared occasionally to bring back nice, new foliage growth. They should be fertilized at planting and in each spring. Verbenas need full sun and welldrained soil for best success.
Leslie Ann camellia
Finally, Leslie Ann is a camellia sasanqua that is popular in Louisiana and has been a longtime proven performer in Louisiana landscapes. Plants need a mostly sunny to partly sunny area and prefer acid, well-drained soil. The flower petals are bi-colored and sometimes tri-colored with blends of pink, blush and white. Leslie Ann is a mostly upright grower that will mature at 8 feet tall in the landscape. Plants are early-season bloomers – starting in late October and continuing until mid- or late December. All Louisiana Super Plants are “university tested and industry approved.” The four 2015 selections, as well as all the past selections, can be relied on to make great, colorful warm-season and cool-season Louisiana landscapes.
Diamonds Blue delphinium
Little Ruby alternanthera (Joseph’s coat)
Senorita Rosalita cleome
Luna hibiscus (rose mallow)
Kauai torenia (wishbone flower)
Aphrodite althea (rose of Sharon)
Belinda’s Dream rose
Conversation Piece azalea
Penny Mac hydrangea
ShiShi Gashira camellia
Flutterby Petite Tutti Fruitti Pink buddleia (butterfly bush)
Shoal Creek vitex
Southern sugar maple
Evergreen sweetbay magnolia
Allen Owings is a professor at the Hammond Research Station, Dan Gill is an associate professor in the School of Plant, Environmental and Soil Sciences; Regina Bracy is a professor and Southeast Regional Director
(This article was published in the Winter 2014 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)