Rhododendron arborescens

2022 – Sweet azalea (Rhododendron arborescens)

The sweet azalea is a deciduous shrub that can grow up to 10 feet tall with a similar width. It thrives in acidic, well-draining soils and in part shade. There are two main forms of sweet azalea. What could be called the “straight species” blooms in late May to mid-June while the variety called “Georgiana” blooms mid-July to early August. Regardless of form, their flowers have a wonderful, strong fragrance that lives up to its name. The 2-inch-wide flowers can be white, sometimes tinged with pink, and very rarely pink.  The leaves turn a lovely crimson/orange in the fall. This species makes an outstanding addition to any garden. 

Rhododendron atlanticum

2021 – Coastal azalea

The coastal azalea is a deciduous shrub that grows in moist, acidic, sandy soils from Pennsylvania to Georgia. At maturity, it is typically 2-3 feet tall, but can reach up to 6 feet in the right conditions. In the spring, this azalea is adorned with white flowers that are blushed with light pink. These tubular flowers are fragrant and attractive to butterflies and bees.

As its name implies, it is native to coastal regions. However, the coastal azalea can also be a beautiful addition to home gardens with moist, well drained soils. Mulching around the roots can help the soil retain moisture and provide a conducive growing environment. Its spring blooms make a great addition to a partly shaded entrance or border garden.

Schizachyrium scoparium

2019 – Little Bluestem

 Little bluestem is a prairie grass native to eastern North America that matures at 2-4 feet tall and 1.5-2 feet wide. As the name implies, this upright perennial grass is noted for its blueish foliage that turns a beautiful copper tone in the fall. In August, a purple-bronze flower reaches over the foliage and turns into a fluffy seed head, making it a fantastic specimen for year-round interest.

This plant is very adaptable. It thrives in full sun, and can tolerate deer, drought, erosion, shallow-rocky soil, and black walnut. It looks best when planted in masses, as a border, or in a prairie-like or meadow setting. Cutting back Little Bluestem should occur in late winter or early spring. There are many cultivars of this plant including ‘Twilight Zone’, which has purple highlights towards the tip, ‘Standing Ovation’, which has dark purple and thicker blades towards the base, and ‘Carousel’, which has a lower and broader base.


Aronia melanocarpa

2018 – Black Chokeberry

Black Chokeberry is an underused deciduous native shrub, but one that is gaining in popularity for a number of reasons.  Growing from about 2’ to about 6’ in height, depending on cultivar, it is a very tough plant able to grow in a wide range of garden conditions.  It tolerates pollution, salt, drought, insects, diseases, sun, shade, and even deer.


In addition to being tough, it is also quite attractive with all-season interest.  In spring, clusters of showy white flowers cover the shrub; in late summer, the flowers make way for clusters of glossy black fruits that dangle from the branches at around the time the leaves have begun transitioning for a fine fall show of red and burgundy; and in winter, after the leaves have fallen, the fruits persist and attract a variety of overwintering songbirds.  These blueberry-sized fruits are also edible for humans and though they are very tart and astringent when raw, they have been processed into a variety of anti-oxidant rich drinks and dietary supplements all around the world.

Black Chokeberry grows with an open, rounded habit with glossy, bright green leaves covering only the top 2/3 of the plant.  Knowing this, it is suggested to plant it in masses and in combination with other plants that will fill in the voids near the base of the plants.


Hibiscus moscheutos

2017 – Rose Mallow

The common rose mallow or swamp mallow is an upright shrub-like herbaceous perennial that is commonly found in moist areas such as marshes or lake shores.  H. moscheutos is a member of the Mallow family, Malvaceae.  This plant is unique because you can bring those showy tropical looking hibiscus flowers to the garden.  The flowers are typically a large, beautiful, funnel shape with five separate petals.  Interestingly the stamens and stigma are fused into one structure called a column.  Petals are normally white, pink or red with or some variation in between. H. moscheutos flowers are normally darker towards the middle and can become quite large and showy reaching anywhere from 8 to 10 inches.  Though an individual flower may only last a short period of time, the plant itself continues to bloom through late summer into fall.  The rose mallow can bring quite the accent to any garden and it is recommended to plant a group of 3 or more for a visually appealing effect.

This plant is native to the eastern and southern parts of North America and can be grown in hardiness zones 5-10.  The rose mallow can grow rather tall, reaching anywhere from 5 to 7 feet in a single growing season.  Since it is capable of growing so much it may need to be staked for support.  The optimal growth conditions for H. moscheutos are full sun and moist soils rich in organic matter but, it can tolerate lower quality soils even those containing salt.  It will grow very well in these conditions as long as the soil is not allowed to dry out.  If this plant is being grown in colder regions, one should consider mulch during the winter to protect the roots from frost.  Also it is recommended to prune in the early spring for a bushier growth form.  Japanese beetles have been known to cause damage to the foliage of this plant if left unmanaged.