Perennial of the Year
Perennial of the Year 2022
Summer through fall, the slender leaves and stems of little bluestem are an ever-changing kaleidoscope of gray-green, blue, pink, purple, copper, mahogany, red, and orange tones. Wispy silver-white seed heads sparkle in autumn sunlight and coppery brown leaves persist through winter.
Schizachyrium scoparium BLUE HEAVEN Photo courtesy of Walters Gardens
Little bluestem is a tough and dependable clumping grass that blends well with perennials such as asters, sedums, coneflowers, and other grasses. Native grasses play their part in the pollinator story too. Little bluestem is a larval host for a variety of butterflies and moths such as crossline skipper, Dakota skipper, and Ottoe skipper.
Native to a broad swath of North America, it was one of the dominant grasses of the vast tallgrass prairies. In average to lean, well-drained soils, stems will remain upright but can flop easily if conditions are too rich or moist. Cultivars have been selected for shorter plants, enhanced leaf colors, and stronger stems.
Little bluestem’s spikiness complements native and non-native perennials alike. An easy fit for mass plantings or meadows, it is just as brilliant in traditional borders, gravel gardens, and green roofs. Perfect partners are recent PPOYs such as Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta, Asclepias tuberosa, Stachys ‘Hummelo’, and Allium ‘Millenium’.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 to 9; AHS Heat Zones 7-1.
Light: Full sun
Size: 24-48 inches tall and 18-24 inches wide; cultivar sizes vary
Native Range: Eastern North America Alberta to Quebec south to Arizona and Florida
Soil: Dry to medium, well-drained soils. Adaptable to a range of conditions such as clay and poor soils. Does not like overly wet conditions.
Maintenance: Low-maintenance perennial grass. Cut back in late winter to early spring. Good drought resistance once established, and tolerant of heat and humidity.
Perennial of the Year 2021
Calamintha nepeta subs. nepeta
Like a cloud of confetti, tiny white flowers (sometimes touched with pale blue) appear from early summer to fall. Undemanding and dependable, calamint provides the perfect foil for other summer bloomers and foliage. This full-sun perennial has a low mounding or bushy habit, ideal for the front of the border, rock gardens, and more.
photo credit: Storehouse Nursery
While durable and pest-free, calamint also checks two important boxes for gardeners: bees and other pollinators work the flowers throughout the summer and the aromatic foliage is deer-resistant.
Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta is a favorite low-growing component in stylized meadows, matrix plantings, and other modern perennial designs. Gardeners can also create a lovely monochromatic garden with more sure-thing perennials including past PPOYs such as Anemone xhybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’ and Phlox paniculata ‘David’, or complemented with ornamental grasses such as Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’ (switchgrass) or Schyzacharium scoparium (little bluestem).
Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 to 7
Light: Full sun
Size: Up to 18 inches tall and wide
Native Range: Great Britain to Southern Europe (Griffiths, M. 1994. Index of Garden Plants, Timber Press: Portland, OR)
Soil: Best with good drainage - tolerates some drought once established.
Maintenance: Low-maintenance deciduous perennial. Can shear back lightly if desired to create neater habit or refresh spent blooming stems. Tolerates drought once established.
Nomenclature: What's with the "subspecies"? Abbreviated subsp. or spp., this is a naturally-occuring, phenotypic variation to a species that is usually related to a geographic situation. This subspecies was selected for size and vigor. May also be found under the following synonyms: Calamintha nepatoides and Clinopodium nepeta
The POTY Program is an initiative of the Perennial Plant Association.
Perennial of the Year 2020
Aralia 'Sun King'
The Perennial Plant Association revealed their pick Aug. 1 during the PPA National Symposium in Chicago.
'Sun King' has a tropical look, but it's a fast-growing perennial that's hardy to USDA Zone 3 and grows to about 3 feet high and wide or larger in some cases. The large compound leaves measure up to 3 feet long, as well.
According to Walters Gardens, 'Sun King' emerges in mid-spring with bright gold leaves held on contrasting reddish-brown stems. If given at least a few hours of sun a day, the foliage will remain yellow all summer. In heavier shade, the foliage ranges from chartreuse to lime green.
It forms a large clump of foliage and produces racemes of small white flowers in mid to late summer followed by deep purple berries. It's a pollinator plant and is reportedly deer resistant.
For cultural information, go here.
'Sun King' is not patented and was brought to market by Barry Yinger.
Perennial of the Year 2019
Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 to 8, foliage may remain evergreen in warmer climates.
Light: Full sun to part shade.
Perennial of the Year 2018