Plants and flowers are popular choices for Mother’s Day gifts each year and University of Georgia plant breeders are responsible for many beautiful varieties available in garden stores.
As they are developed, many of these varieties — along with hundreds of other new ornamentals from nurseries and plant breeders around the world — are tested at the Trial Gardens at UGA.
The staff at the Trial Gardens receive plants or seeds from almost all of the plant breeding companies in the world, along with material from perennial plant nurseries, individual growers and gardeners, including the UGA breeding programs led by John Ruter, professor of horticulture at UGA and director of the Trial Gardens.
Trial Gardens staff plant the new varieties during April and May, including major and minor bedding classes, tropicals, vines, plantings of specialty annuals, more than 150 free-standing containers and three large perennial beds. Then they monitor the plants’ performance through the hottest season of the year.
“Breeders send us their plants because they want to see if they can grow in the heat and humidity of a Georgia summer,” said Ruter.
Since 1982, the Trial Gardens have evaluated new selections of annuals and perennials and helped introduce new plants to the Southeast’s green industry and the public. The evaluations are globally respected, with commercial nurseries across the U.S. depending on the staff’s recommendations to determine what they will grow to sell the following season.
Criteria for award-winning plants include tolerance to heat and humidity, ease of propagation, resistance to disease and insects, flower show and longevity.
While the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted normal trials in 2020, Trial Gardens staff evaluated a smaller number of plants to choose the best annuals and perennials in 2020 trials. Planting has resumed as normal this year and winners of the Trial Gardens' Classic City Garden Awards and Best of the Best Awards will be announced in October.
The 2019 Classic City Award-winning and Best of the Best Award-winning varieties are currently available in local garden centers.
Ruter has contributed many plants to landscapes around the southeast including the Passion, Adore and Blush hibiscus varieties, Hot Lips trumpet vine, and a variety of hollies.
Ornamentals developed by retired UGA horticulture professor Michael Dirr include big-leaf hydrangeas in purple, pink, and white; crape myrtle in shades named Pink Pig and Purple Cow; 'Dazzle' crape myrtles in Cherry, Sweetheart, Pink, Strawberry and Diamond; and butterfly bushes in Groovy Grape, Funky Fuschia and Psychedelic Sky.
For more information on the work that goes on year-round in the UGA Trial Gardens, visit the Trial Gardens website.