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How to Take Advantage of New Plant Material

Plant breeders are constantly introducing new plant cultivars with a variety of desirable traits such as disease resistance, low water requirements, growth habits and color. A new year marks a new batch of plant material for you to check out. Here’s how some companies go about implementing new plant material in their landscape designs.

When to Use New Plant Material

For Daria Paxton, owner and founder of Gaia Gardens, based in Montclair, New Jersey, the new features of the plant are the driving factor of whether she will use it in her designs right away.

“Sometimes it’s a more southern plant like a ‘hardy’ gardenia that we haven’t been able to grow here, or extended bloom time, like encore azaleas,” Paxton says. “Often I try out new varieties for particular colors. But the two most common reasons for me to try a new variety of plant are disease resistance and growth habit. All aesthetics aside, I need the plants to be healthy and suitable for the space in which they are planted.”

She says if the new traits are disease resistance, dwarf size, or fragrance related, she will work with them right away. Cold resistance and new colors she will wait and see how stable the new variety is. Paxton says she usually has a good experience with new plant material, but she strives to be aware of the weakness of the plants and find micro-climates for them, or she will err on the side of caution and wait.

“How long I wait depends on the feedback I get from the industry and my own knowledge of a species,” Paxton says. “In general, I want to see a plant make it through whatever limit it is pushing, i.e. drought or cold tolerance, for at least two years.”

At Bailey’s Gardens & Landscaping, based in Charles Town, West Virginia, founder Arthur Ebeling Jr. says they are always vigilant for new and interesting plants.

“Often, it is compelled by the project requirements where we may design for certain needs that may include the use of unique plant material or specimens,” Ebeling says. “That said, we are passionate about horticulture and embrace an avante-garde approach, always eager to innovate, originating unique spaces and designs.”

He says for them, new plant material might be something they simply haven’t incorporated in previous work. For instance, the geranium Rozanne debuted in 2000, but they’ve only started using this plant over the past few years in their commercial and residential projects.

“My research led me to discover this hardy geranium’s many merits, including its free-flowering and lengthy bloom period, offering a wide-spreading display from late spring to mid-fall,” Ebeling says. “I also discovered that it had been enjoying increased adoption in various parts of Europe. I try to keep my eye on happenings abroad. There may be an exciting new plant enjoying newfound popularity in the U.K., for instance.”

Ebeling says generally they’ve had positive experiences with new plant material, but there is always some risk when using unfamiliar plants.

“This can be mitigated by performing proper research and exercising discretion when selecting plants for projects,” he says. “It is critical to understand the needs of the site as well as the needs of the customer and their appetite for maintenance and care.”

What to Look For

Part of the due diligence when selecting new plant material is to do your research. Paxton says she always looks at the reviews on new plant material. She also seeks advice from growers and nursey professionals who are working with new material before it goes to market.

“It is important to understand the behavior of the plant and its benefits to both validate its use in a project as well as communicate it to the customer,” Ebeling says. “Assessing reviews, awards and accolades certainly engenders trust in new plant applications.”

Ebeling says unique characteristics such as longer bloom times, faster growth rates or the visual interest the plant offers are some of the reasons he would consider using new plant material. Paxton says she looks for new plants with better disease resistance and resilience to the fluctuating weather conditions, as well as particular growth habits for urban-suburban yards.

Communicate with Customers

Once you have decided to install new plant material, Paxton and Ebeling both advise discussing with your client that you are trying out a new variety.

“It imparts to the customer that we do regard innovation and that we are giving them something special,” Ebeling says. “Some customers are apathetic to horticulture, others more enthusiastic and there are even some that are quite erudite. Again, it is important to emphasize – know the customer and their needs. This will help inform plant selection.”

Paxton says she has some clients who do a lot of research online and request the new varieties upfront, while others want more interesting uncommon plants, so these customers are more likely to get the new varieties.

“I am very picky about finding the right plants to suit different locations, uses and aesthetics,” Paxton says. “Since the process is a puzzle to me, I get excited about finding the right pieces and sometimes those are new. I enjoy sharing with clients how plants are developed and why and why each choice makes sense.” 

This article was published in the Jan/Feb issue of the magazine.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the content manager for NALP.

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