Plant Award Programs Single Out the Best Perennials, Shrubs and More

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Every year, Horticulture covers national and regional plant-award programs that maintain lists of outstanding trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials. These programs add more species and cultivars to their lists annually, basing their decisions on plants' performance in trial gardens. Lists of current and past winners can typically be found on their websites. Here are some of our go-to programs for learning about high-performing plants across the USA and beyond; we're providing these links so you can explore present and past honorees:

'Rainbow's End' was named Hosta of the Year for 2021 by the American Hosta Growers Association.

'Rainbow's End' was named Hosta of the Year for 2021 by the American Hosta Growers Association.

Hosta of the Year

Recognizing the sheer number of intriguing hostas available to gardeners today, the American Hosta Growers Association created this yearly program to single out a hosta that performs well in all regions and that is widely available at a moderate price. For a full list of winners dating back to 1996, visit http://www.hostagrowers.org/Hosta_of_the_year.html.

All-America Selections 

A network of anonymous gardening professionals from various regions of the United States and Canada evaluate new, not-yet-sold cultivars in about 80 test gardens each growing season, judging them against comparable selections that are already on the market. The new cultivars are scored for certain criteria and the top scorers are named All-America Selections. For lists of past winners as well as regional standouts, go to http://www.all-americaselections.org.

GreatPlants

The Nebraska Statewide Arboretum and the Nebraska Nursery and Landscape Association collaborate each year to highlight superb plants for the challenging conditions of the Great Plains. GreatPlants chooses one tree, shrub, perennial and grass to honor each year. For more information and past honorees, see http://www.plantnebraska.org.

Perennial Plant of the Year

The Perennial Plant Association, a trade group of growers, nursery people, landscape professionals and others who work closely with perennials, has named one Perennial Plant of the Year since 1990. Members vote for one winner out of three or four candidates at the association’s annual national meeting. To make it onto the ballot, a plant must thrive across varied climates, grow with little input from the gardener, offer more than one season of interest and remain largely free of pests and diseases. For a list of previous winners, see http://www.perennialplant.org/page/PastPPOY.

Oklahoma Proven

Faculty in Oklahoma State University’s Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture evaluate plants and highlight those that cope exceedingly well with the difficult and changeable conditions found across the Sooner State. Each year, the program shines a light on one tree, shrub, perennial and annual that can succeed here with little input, making for successful and environmentally friendly gardens. Find more at http://www.oklahomaproven.org.

SMA Urban Tree of the Year

Every fall the Society of Municipal Arborists (SMA)—an organization of city-tree professionals and their allies—vote for one tree to honor in the coming year. In the 25 years that the program has run, species from the Midwest and East Coast have dominated, but 2021’s winner hails from the West. To see prior recipients, visit https://www.urban-forestry.com/sma-toy.

American Garden Rose Selections

Nominees for these awards are tested for multiple years in 12 trial gardens across the United States, with rose experts continually rating the cultivars on criteria that include disease resistance, bloom quality and abundance, fragrance, habit, hardiness and other weather capability. Ratings are tallied to reveal winners of various Regional Choice Awards as well as the National Award and Fragrance Award. Find past recipients at http://www.americangardenroseselections.com.

Fleuroselect

Fleuroselect in an international organization of ornamental-plant breeders, growers and distributors. Members work to support each other and their industry through conferences, networking and programs that test, promote and protect new cultivars. These programs include the awards of Gold Medal, which recognizes new cultivars that clearly surpass existing comparisons in innovation and beauty; Approved Novelty, which are plants judged to be significantly new, different and uniform under production, with members pledging to protect them against reproduction; and FleuroStar, given to one “wow” cultivar by a panel of independent judges with diverse connections to the ornamental-plant industry. See http://www.fleuroselect.com for more.

Theodore Klein Plant Awards

Each year a panel of professionals from Louisville’s Yew Dell Botanical Gardens, the Kentucky Nursery and Landscape Association, the University of Kentucky and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture adds a handful of exceptional trees, shrubs and perennials to their list of excellent garden plants for the state’s climate. The award is named for the exceptional nurseryman whose property is now home to Yew Dell. For a link to past winners, see https://www.yewdellgardens.org/theodore-klein-plant-awards/.

American Rose Trials for Sustainability

Also known as A.R.T.S., this rose-trialing program maintains rigorous test gardens in nine climate regions of the United States. Roses are judged on their performance without fertilizers, pesticides or treatment for disease. The goal of the program is to identify eco-friendly roses by region. Find results at https://www.americanrosetrialsforsustainability.org.

Gold Medal Plants

A program of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, Gold Medal Plants singles out trees, shrubs, vine and perennials that perform exceedingly well in the climate of the Mid-Atlantic. Winners also must demonstrate more than one season of interest and value to wildlife, while being both easy to care for and obtain. Access the Gold Medal Plants database: https://phsonline.org/for-gardeners/gold-medal-plants.

Do you know of a plant-award program that we missed? E-mail us here: horticulture@aimmedia.com.