Does Being a “Winner” Count for Anything?

After my temporary horror last week when I realized that I hadn’t done any plant shopping at all, I am now back on the theme of–you guessed it–plant shopping!

At the garden center or the box store or sometimes even at the supermarket you’ll see a lot of labels that say that such and such a plant or even a vegetable was a “winner.” There’s even a best selling brand of plants sold nationally called Proven Winners.™

You might see AAS winners, All America winners, Perennial Plant of the Year signs, signs for regional plant award winners like the Cary awards, the Plants of Merit award winners–you get the idea. But what on earth does any of that mean? Are any of these plants any better than plants that haven’t won anything?

Like a lot of things in life, the answer is yes, and no. If you’re looking at annual or vegetable plants, then I would definitely take these “award winning” designations with a huge grain of salt. You want to remember the purpose of the plant. An annual or a vegetable is a plant that is, for the most part, a plant that is designed to complete its growing in a single season.

So its “award winning” characteristics might be something like bigger flowers, bigger fruit or vegetable production, increased disease resistance, increased drought tolerance–you get the idea.

All of those sound like good things–and they are, of course. But if you live in a climate where drought isn’t necessarily a problem, a plant that’s bred to withstand it isn’t something that’s important to you.

And with vegetables, while disease resistance is important, some of our best heirlooms have almost none of that bred in–and they are some of the tastiest vegetables. So don’t automatically assume that these traits are things that you must have.

With perennials, trees and shrubs–things that are going to be around in the garden a bit longer, “award winning” can be more helpful. I do look for Cary award winners, for example, because they are specific to my region–New England.

The Perennial Plant of the Year is another good example. It is never a “new” plant. This year it is asclepias tuberosa–better known as Butterfly weed. I’ve probably been growing this plant for 20 years. It is a tough prairie native that has proven that it is non-invasive in all parts of the continental United States–and because it is a native milkweed that the monarchs need, we should all be planting it.

The PPA folks do their research and study up to be sure that when they name a plant that it won’t run amok in one part of the country once everyone plants it. So in that case, it really is a “winner.”

So when you go out plant buying–whenever you get to it–understand what these terms means.  And then go get some real “winners” for your garden.

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