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Prairie Star flowers ideal for prairie climate

The petunia cultivar Supertunia Vista Bubblegum (shown along the front of the border) has been named to the Kansas State University 2014 Prairie Star list of recommended annual flowers for its vigor and visual impact. (Photo courtesy of K-State Research and Extension.)

Angelonia made the cut. So did several cultivars of celosia, gaillardia, impatiens, lantana and petunias. Those flowers and more are on the new Kansas State University list of Prairie Star Annual Flowers.

The Prairie Star program was developed to identify annual flowers that grow best in the often-challenging prairie climate, said Alan Stevens, horticulture specialist with K-State Research and Extension. The list, available online at http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/bookstore/pubs/MF2769.pdf, provides the flower name, cultivar, average height and width and whether it’s best suited for sun or shade.

“The plants are rated for vigor, meaning how fast and strong they grow, as well as overall visual impact,” said Stevens, who is the director of K-State’s Horticulture Research and Extension Center in Olathe. “High temperatures and drought conditions throughout much of Kansas particularly in 2012 were a real test.”

The flower trials are conducted in Olathe, Wichita, Hays and Colby. The sites fall into two U.S. Department of Agriculture cold hardiness zones (5 and 6) and two American Horticulture Society heat tolerance zones (7 and 8).

Some flowers grow best in landscape beds while others thrive in containers, so the list has three categories – plants for flower display, plants for foliage display and plants for containers, said Robin Dremsa, K-State research associate who works in the program.

Many of the plants recommended on the list are available in garden centers and nurseries. However, because Prairie Star is not a commercial brand or product line, rather a rating system, gardeners should look for the specific variety on the list when shopping for their annual flowers.

Plants may or may not be labeled Prairie Star.

Stevens said all of the plants that made it onto the list have attributes, but one of his favorites is helenium Dakota (Gold) for its drought resistance and colorful blooms.

The National Gardening Bureau named the petunia one of its plants of the year for 2014 and Stevens particularly likes the petunia cultivar, Supertunia Vista Bubblegum (Pink) for the way it performed in the plant trials.

Despite their longtime reputation as shade-loving plants, nearly all of the new varieties of coleus are now adapted to sun and shade, Stevens said. Many show more intense colors if grown in the sun.

“The lantanas have also performed well over the past two years in our trials,” he said. “They’re heat and drought tolerant and bloom like crazy, and butterflies are attracted to them.”

Stevens writes about flowers in his blog at www.prairiestarflowersblog.com.

Date: 3/10/2014

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