Take the guesswork out of choosing plants for your Georgia landscape. These proven performers win awards for their beauty and usefulness in Georgia gardens.

By Peggy Anne Montgomery

When plant professionals volunteer to select gold medal plants, you can be certain they're passionate about finding the best plants for Georgia landscapes and gardens.

Formed in 1993, the Georgia Plant Selections Committee is a nonprofit organization of nurserymen, flower growers, garden center retailers, landscape professionals, botanical garden professionals, and faculty from the University of Georgia. The all-volunteer committee members are committed to promoting the use of superior plants that are proven performers in Georgia. Committee members look at six categories to select Georgia Gold Medal Plants: annuals, perennials, shrubs, trees, vines or groundcovers, and native plants. This invaluable tool for home gardeners takes the guesswork out of buying plants.


Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrectii) When people think of fall color, they don't necessarily think about perennial plants. Arkansas bluestar, however, is an absolute must-have for fall color in your garden. An established plant will grow to be about 3 feet high and wide. Long stems holding very thin leaves give this perennial an airy look. Light blue, star-shape flowers bloom in spring and last for many weeks. As fall approaches, the whole plant turns a deep golden color that seems to glow in the autumn sun. Once established, this is a drought-tolerant, deer-resistant, low-maintenance addition to the garden. In 2011, the Perennial Plant Association chose Amsonia hubrectii as the Perennial Plant of the Year, another outstanding endorsement. Zones 4-10 See more about Arkansas bluestar.

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) This orange butterfly magnet is anything but a weed. It is not aggressive, invasive, or weedy. This perennial likes dry, sunny areas, so it will be especially happy in your full-sun perennial border. Reaching 2-4 feet tall, it's ideal for the midsection of the border or planted with ornamental grasses in a naturalized area. Try planting it with contrasting colors like purple coneflower, blue salvia, or Persian shield. This is a particularly important plant in that it is a preferred food source for Monarch butterfly caterpillars. It also provides nectar for hummingbirds and other butterflies. The bright orange blossoms look fabulous in a colorful summer bouquet. Zones 3-9 See more about butterfly weed.

Perennial plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) This hardworking groundcover deserves more admiration. Plumbago is just 8-12 inches tall and will spread to be 1-2 feet wide. You can grow it in sun or part shade, but a little protection from the harsh late-afternoon sun will be appreciated. It looks beautiful as a groundcover in front of shrubs in a border. It will also spill over walls and add a true-blue splash of color to a perennial border. Plumbago begins to flower in late spring and continues to flower off and on until fall. It is perfect for planting with early spring bulbs because it leafs out just in time to cover up the spent foliage of the bulbs. Zones 5-9 See more about perennial plumbago.

Geranium 'Rozanne' No garden should ever be without this hardy geranium. This perennial is heralded as an exceptional performer even in the unrelenting summer heat and humidity of the Southeast. 'Rozanne' will form a rounded mound about 18-20 inches tall and wide. Each blossom emerges in shades of blue touched with violet and has a clear white center. Use 'Rozanne' to weave colors together in the perennial border because its flower color blends so well with others. If the plant becomes lanky in midsummer, give it a trim, and it will reward you with another floral display. The foliage will turn an attractive burnt red in autumn. Zones 5-8

Swamp hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus) Tropical raspberry-red flowers as big as your hand will bloom from late spring until frost. This sun-loving perennial grows up to 10 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide. Swamp hibiscus is well-suited to your area because it is a native of the southeastern United States. As the names implies, this hibiscus likes a rich, moist soil and is often planted near a pond or other water feature. It is an adaptable shrub and will grow in most garden soils, as long as it gets adequate moisture. Cutting back the branches in late winter will keep your shrub young and vigorous. Zones 6-11 See more about hibiscus.

Bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) Few, if any, summer-flowering shrubs can rival this beauty. In June and July, the shrub is covered with long flower stems, 12 inches or more, of individual white blossoms held up like candles. Hummingbirds and butterflies will flock to the tall blossoms. Bottlebrush buckeye prefers some shade and is often planted under the canopy of pines and other shade trees where the white blooms will stand out even more. It's adaptable but prefers slightly acidic soil, rich in organic matter. Pruning is seldom required. It's native from South Carolina all the way to Florida. Zones 4-8

Purple beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma) No other plant is quite like purple beautyberry. Slender arching branches are covered with deep lavender berries in September and October. "It's one of the most graceful and refined shrubs in the autumn landscape," says Michael Dirr, professor of horticulture at the University of Georgia. For an exquisitely colorful combination, plant it with oakleaf hydrangeas whose leaves turn shades of deep purple and red at the same time these purple berries ripen. Reaching just 3-4 feet in height and width, it makes a nice transition from taller trees and shrubs to perennials. Plant in full sun or light shade in moist, well-drained soil. Zones 5-8 See more about purple beautyberry.

Paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha) Paperbush is a pleasant surprise in the cold winter months. This shrub has a divine fragrance and beautiful blooms in the middle of winter. The naked chocolate-color branches are crowned with tight clusters of flowers at the tips. The white blossoms with golden yellow centers hang down like little bells, insisting you stop to smell them. Growing 4-6 feet in height and width, paperbush prefers filtered shade and moist, well-drained soil. Note: It's also sometimes called Edgeworthia papyrifera. Zones 7-10

'Alice' Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia 'Alice') 'Alice' is a distinct improvement over the species. The flowers are larger, ranging from 10-14 inches long. The bloom time is longer, too, up to four to six weeks before turning pink and finally fading to tan. Its flowers are stunning in floral arrangements. Even the spent flowers are ornamental and stand out smartly against the burgundy foliage of fall and the cinnamon exfoliating bark of winter. 'Alice' can grow to be 12 feet tall and wide, so give this shrub some room. Morning sun and afternoon shade along with moist, well-drained soil is best. Zones 5-9


Fragrant Tea Olive (Osmanthus fragrans) Fragrant tea olive blooms in fall when most other plants are winding down for the winter. The tiny white blossoms are often hidden in the foliage, but you'll know when they're in bloom because of the delightful fragrance that fills the air around them. This is a large shrub, growing 20-30 feet tall, and is great for use in the back of the border or as an evergreen hedge. Several cultivars are available with yellow and apricot-color flowers. If you live in the mountains in the upper reaches of Zones 6-7, Osmanthus x fortunei with its hollylike leaves is a better choice. Zones 7-10

American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) American hornbeam is an incredibly versatile tree, reaching 30-40 feet in height. Although it's adaptable to a wide range of conditions, it prefers moist soil and part to full shade. Often called musclewood to describe its exceedingly hard wood, it was used by early settlers for bowls and small hand tools. Today, it's recommended as a midsize oval to round tree for urban gardens. Flowers appear in spring in the form of decorative catkins hanging down along the branches. Dark green foliage turns yellow, orange, and red in the fall.  Zones 3-9 See more about American hornbeam.

American yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea) This native tree is magnificent in late spring when it is in full bloom. White, wisterialike, fragrant flowers hang down on 10- to 14-inch stems enveloping the entire tree. This is a medium-size tree, 30-50 feet tall with a rounded crown, just perfect for urban gardens. Foliage groupings of seven or eight leaflets turn golden yellow in the fall. The roots of American yellowwood go quite deep, so it is drought-tolerant once established and will tolerate other plants growing under the canopy. Plant in full sun for the best flower effect. Zones 4-8


Lavender Twist redbud (Cercis canadensis 'Covey') Lavender Twist is a weeping form of our much-loved native redbud. This small, slow-growing tree will eventually reach up to 15 feet. Cascading branches form an umbrella of branches, some even touching the ground. In early spring, even before the foliage unfurls, multitudes of pink buds and flowers line the smooth gray branches. Soon after, the heart-shape foliage appears. Full sun to partial shade and moist, well-drained soil is best. Zones 4-9

Magnolia grandiflora 'Little Gem' 'Little Gem' offers the grace of majestic Southern magnolias in a smaller size. Growing just 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide, this tree fits into the landscape plans of today's Southern homes. The dark green foliage shines like polished leather, and the warm brown reverse adds a layer of interest. The foliage is prized for its use in floral arrangements and holiday decorating. Fragrant white cup-shape flowers bloom off and on all season long. Plant in full to part sun in moist, acidic soil. The tree must be protected from winter wind and sun in northern areas. Zones 7-9 See more about 'Little Gem' magnolia.


'Yoshino' Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica 'Yoshino') Japanese cedars have not been widely used in North American gardens until recently when superior cultivars became available. 'Yoshino' grows 20-30 feet tall, yet only 5-6 feet wide, forming a strong vertical accent in the landscape. This is a fast grower, ideal for hedges. The summer needle color is glistening blue-green, changing to plum purple in winter. 'Yoshino' was also selected for its superior winter hardiness; even so, some protection from winter winds is desirable. It will grow in either sun or shade. Zones 5-9


Athena elm (Ulmus parvifolia 'Emer I') Athena is a classic beauty with a compact globe-shape outline. It will grow 30-40 feet tall and eventually up to 50 feet wide. The foliage is shiny dark green -- almost black -- and provides cool shade to the garden. The leaves turn bronze before falling. The bark of this tree provides a great deal of winter interest. It exfoliates to show a tapestry of gray, green, orange, and brown shades. Best of all, Athena is proven to be resistant to Dutch elm disease.  Zones 4-9


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