It is likely that geraniums, begonias and pansies will always be staples in the landscape. However, increased interest in plants designed to meet environmental concerns and changing lifestyles may mean long-time favorites will be sharing space with newly-developed varieties.

“The greenhouse industry has certainly changed in the past decade, and this year will be no different,” David Prins, faculty at Spokane Community College in Spokane, Washington, said.

From edible, to pollinator friendly, drought- and heat-tolerant plants, customers are searching for options that are colorful, low-maintenance and equally good for the environment as they are for eye appeal.

In general, the industry is seeing a preference for compact, easy-to-manage plants. “The patio is the garden of the future,” Prins added.

Gone are the days when customers would buy flats of vegetables to raise crops to produce enough for large families. “Instead, most are looking for one full-size tomato plant in a 4- or 6-inch pot, with fruit on the vine so they can be the first in the neighborhood to have a tomato,” Thomas A. Dudek, senior extension horticulture educator for greenhouse and nursery crops, Michigan State University Extension, said.

“An interest in drought- and heat-tolerant plants is not new. There will be a renewed urgency in choosing these varieties due to the severe weather seen in parts of the country this past year,” Prins noted.

Dudek and Prins made predictions for trends related to annuals, perennials and edible plants in 2016. Specific plant varieties will vary by geographic region and zone. Instead, the article offered suggestions for general trends anticipated for the coming year.

Annuals

Color

Annuals add colorful “pop” to planting beds and containers. Predicating the most popular colors among annual plants is tricky until the “Color of the Year” is announced. “Whatever color the Pantone people pick for 2016 will determine the popular colors for the year,” Dudek explained. “Homeowners will make decisions regarding their porch and patio furniture based on that and (will) be looking for annuals to coordinate.”

Impatiens

After several years of sagging sales attributed to impatiens downy mildew, the beloved bedding plant may experience a resurgence in 2016. “In our area, we’re seeing the return to use of bedding impatiens,” Dudek said. “I’m not sure that is true in all areas, but it is what we are expecting here.”

Research conducted by Michigan State University has identified fungicides that, once applied to the flowers, can provide season-long control against downy mildew. “We have found that customers haven’t had issues like defoliation and flower dropping until late into the season when it’s time to transition beds to fall plantings,” he noted.

Vegetative propagation

Vegetatively-propagated plants that include varieties of verbena, bacopa and others will remain strong choices in hanging baskets and potted arrangements that feature mixed material. “There are varieties available that flower longer throughout the season,” Dudek said.

Drought-tolerant plants

Once established in the landscape, drought-tolerant plants require substantially less water and maintenance than traditional landscaping plants. Gardeners choosing these varieties can rest assured that they are helping the environment while spending less time caring for the plants. Several species of annuals fit the “drought tolerant” description. Prins suggested Tagetes (marigold), Portulaca grandiflora (moss rose) and Cosmos (cosmos).

“These plants are hardly ‘new,’ but new varieties are coming out and they are spectacular,” Prins said. “The EuroAmerica’s Tagetes ‘Gold Medal’ is an exciting new marigold and should be of interest to customers.”

Edibles

Fewer customers commit to planting flats of vegetables in sprawling backyard gardens. Downsizing does not mean they are interested in doing away with vegetables altogether. Instead, they are buying smaller quantities that often fit on a patio.

“The young generation (age 20 to 30 years) are looking for edibles that can be growing in containers on their patio,” Dudek said.

Mixed lettuce bowls and other greens are frequently requested. “Kale is especially popular because of the popularity with juicing,” he added.

An increased interest in edible plants is expected to continue as people want to be informed and involved in food production. In response, breeders are developing edible varieties that combine ornamental value with culinary use.

“For example, BrazelBerries is a new line of dwarf, ornamental edibles (that) includes the thornless ‘Raspberry Shortcake NR7’ raspberry plant, and four unique blueberry varieties that are perfect for patio gardening,” Prins said. “Cherry tomato varieties ‘Sungold’ and ‘Super Sweet 100’ are also excellent for home gardeners for their super easy care and over-the-top productivity, not to mention their deliciousness.”

Perennials

Multi-purpose plants

Plants that offer the trifecta of low-maintenance, disease resistance and pollinator habitat will likely be popular options in 2016. “There is a potential increase in particular for these plants,” Dudek said. “These include plants like Monarda (bee balm).” Varieties have been developed that are resistant to powdery mildew, more compact in size and have great colors that range from pink to red, and white and include new double-flowered forms. The easy-to-maintain flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies, a welcome sight in gardens.

Perennial salvia is another multi-purpose plant. “It’s a great pollinator plant. It’s deer and disease resistant,” Dudek said, “and the plant is available in cool colors.”

Pollinator plants

Biologists have warned that butterfly and bumble bee species have disappeared from parts of their range. Pollinator populations are declining in population largely because of habitat loss. Plants that lure butterflies, bees and other pollinators into the garden are considered pollinator plants and are becoming a frequently requested option.

Several resources are available that offer recommendations for perennial pollinator plants based on geographic region and plant zone.

Drought-tolerant plants

As with annuals, customers are asking for drought-tolerant and native perennial species. Gardeners and landscape professionals alike are choosing to replace water-hungry annuals with drought-tolerant, low-maintenance perennials. I’ve seen a big increase in succulents as one option,” Dudek said.

With a wide selection of drought-tolerant perennials available nationwide, no one has to sacrifice color, size or variety to be environmentally conscious.

Wrap-up

Greenhouse growers have a long list of varieties to choose from in all three categories. Field trials by leading horticultural colleges and universities can provide suggestions for top-performing varieties of annual, edible and perennial plants as appropriate for specific geographic regions.

“Overall in the industry, we are seeing preference for compact and easy-care plants because the patio is the garden of the future,” Prins said.

COVER PHOTO: OKSANA STRUK/ISTOCK & SASSPARELA/ISTOCK