If you like living the good life outdoors - planting perennials and then barbecuing a few ribs on the grill - there are some new twists in store this year.
Trends include 24-hour gardens, bold and bright foliage, big accents and environmentally friendly techniques.
"The outdoor living boom has clearly moved from being just a trend to a lifestyle," says Susan McCoy, president of the Garden Media Group. Her company represents some of the major players in the green industry.
Living outdoors means more than dressing up your patio with a few containers of flowers, she says. It's all about creating living space with kitchens, bars, TVs and even heaters for cool evenings - hence, an around-the-clock garden. Flowers, shrubs and trees take on new roles as accents, room dividers, carpets and curtains.
Why all this movement to outdoors living? It relates to healthier lifestyles, easy-grow plants and all-weather furnishings, fabrics and appliances. Walk into any home and garden department at stores and you quickly see rain-or-shine end tables, any-weather lamps and rugs, waterproof art and entertainment units you watch while the sun sets over your head. Even TVs and sound systems are moving out.
Here's a closer look at some outdoor trends - and new plants and products - that may fit your desire for easier, better gardens:
¢ Easy plants are in. Knock Out Roses, twice-blooming azaleas, crape myrtles, fragrant plants, small container-grown plants, and bold foliage colors make better gardens, says Bill Kidd at McDonald Garden Center in Hampton, Va.
"This 'in' stuff works in today's busy lifestyles so there are more opportunities to enjoy the fruits of your labor," he says.
¢ Troublesome plants are out. Forget weak-growing Bradford pears; azaleas that bloom only once; roses you have to spray; and shrubs that bloom for two weeks in spring and then grow 12 feet tall to cover your windows, says Kidd. Also, shade trees that grow 60 feet tall on a postage stamp-size lot are not desirable.
¢ Multi-tasking gardens are in. Mix 'n' match ornamental and edible plants in the same planting area will be huge this season, according to Ethne Clarke, garden editor at Traditional Home magazine.
"People don't want just to work in their gardens," she says." They also want their gardens to work for them."
You'll also see plants that can go indoors or outdoors, including the new Maracas Brazilian Fireworks, a heat-loving tropical shade plant with funky purple and red flowers.
¢ Chemical-needy gardens are out. Environmentalism is on the rise, according to "going green" experts in the gardening industry. In fact, the demand for earth-friendly products could quadruple in the next few years, predicts Bruce Butterfield, research director at the nonprofit National Gardening Association.
Products that help you join the "eco chic" gardening movement, as it's being called, include soil amendments, animal repellents and bug deterrents with organic ingredients. One of those is Zeba, biodegradable cornstarch granules that hold up to 400 times their weight in water and release 95 percent of it back to plants as they need it.
¢ Foliage is in. Look for fancier elephant ears and more ornamental grasses with bold leaves that float in breezes.
You'll also see some striking annuals with no flowers. This year, Simply Beautiful introduces Live Wire Isolepis cernua with funky exploding leaf blades and Rose Iresine with iridescent ruby-pink leaves and stems that glow in the sunlight.
¢ Overwhelming landscapes are out. Small-space gardening offers lots of opportunity when you use containers in different sizes, shapes and textures, filling them with anything from roses and small trees to annuals and perennials.
The new series of Drift shrub roses, Baby Wing begonias and Easy Wave Beachcomber petunias are some that help you create an oasis without a lot of back-bending work.