As anxious gardeners patiently wait for the white blanket of snow to slowly fade, flowers, trees and shrubs are benefiting from this mid-winter drink. Many plants have suffered from lack of water these past few months.
Therefore, it might be necessary to replace dead plants later this spring. Here are a few plants highly recommended by Kansas State University as well as the Kansas Nursery and Landscape Association. Called Pride of Kansas Plants of the Year 2003, all will be found in nurseries and garden centers this growing season.
Annual of the Year: Purple Fountain Grass (Penstemon purpurea) is an annual grass that grows up to three feet tall with colorful purple blades. The dense foliage is adorned by graceful plumes in pinkish purple. The plumes, similar to a large fox tail, appear in June and flow the entire summer in graceful waves. Purple Fountain Grass should be planted as soon as the chance of frost has passed in an area with full sun for the best color. Although it is not fussy about soil type, as with most annuals, it performs best in well-drained soil amended with organic matter.
Perennial of the Year: Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a native plant to the great plains. In the wild, fields of this plant continue to fill our prairies with a mass of color. In the garden, this full sun perennial will grow three to five feet tall in almost any soil. The rays of petals droop downward from a brownish black central cone. This tough perennial is a must-have in any garden. Echinacea is ideal for cut flowers, and the dried seed-heads make a great dried flower for fall. This plant is certainly a staple in the Kansas landscape and loved by butterflies.
Shrub of the Year: Dwarf Korean Lilac (Syringa meyeri) is a compact shrub that grows six feet tall and wide. The interesting leaves are dark green, rounded and slightly curled. Flower panicles appear in May with a delightful fragrance. Deep lavender flowers cover this shrub from top to bottom and stay in bloom for two weeks. Use this dense shrub for a border or to soften a harsh corner. It is resistant to mildew and prefers a well-drained soil and a sunny location for reliable blooming.
Tree of the Year: Shantung Maple (Acer truncatum) is a reliable tree that had great results in K-State research trials. A super tree for urban areas, it develops to twenty-five feet tall with a rounded growth habit. The leaves are a deep, dark green turning orange-yellow in the fall with an interesting five-lobed shape. Shantung grows in most soils from acid to alkaline and is very drought tolerant. This small maple has many uses in the landscape as it is colorful, tough and just the right size.
-- Bruce Chladny is horticulture agent at K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County. For more information, call him at 843-7058 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.