2019’s Top plant performers

Features - plant trials

Trial garden managers from across the U.S. share this year’s standout annuals.

December 11, 2019

Every plant trial is different. Each trial garden has different weather conditions, sunlight levels, water needs and other factors that make each location unique. That can make knowing which plants are best to grow at your operation a difficult question to answer. It’s a tough question for consumers, too, who want something that will thrive and look beautiful in a pot on their back patio or in their landscape.

Fortunately, trial gardens are here to help fill in the knowledge gap. Run, organized and staffed by trial managers who track every little detail of every plant in their gardens, trial gardens help growers understand new varieties of annuals and perennials. They also test for different attributes like pollinator friendliness and drought tolerance, and note which plants have the ‘wow’ factor consumers are looking for.

For our 2019 compilation of trial garden results, managers from across the U.S. submitted what performed best in their region in the following eight categories: best drought-tolerant annual, best drought-tolerant perennial, best pollinator-friendly annual, best pollinator-friendly perennial, best heat-tolerant annual, best heat-tolerant perennial, best overall performance: annual and best overall performance: perennial.

On the following pages, you’ll find the results from the best overall performance: annual category. All of the descriptions have been submitted by the various trial garden managers. The full results — including pictures — are available online here.

All photos courtesy of respective trial gardens


Best Overall Performance Annuals

Calibrachoa Superbells ‘Honeyberry,’ Proven Winners, University of Georgia

Yep, I’m smitten with this plant and who wouldn’t be? I love that it has abundant pink flowers with honey-colored throats. It has remained perfectly shaped despite rain, shine, heat and humidity. Nothing phased ‘Honeyberry,’ which decidedly takes my top spot for annuals for 2019.

Calibrachoa Superbells ‘Honeyberry’
Caladium Bottle Rocket, Classic Caladiums, Young’s Plant Farm

The colors of Bottle Rocket caladium are phenomenal. This caladium has everything: dark red, crisp white and bright green. This is a large fancy-leafed variety that just got better in the heat of the summer. It was really a standout in the Young’s Trial Garden.

Caladium Bottle Rocket, Classic Caladiums
Helianthus ‘Suncredible Yellow,’ Proven Winners, North Carolina State University

These uniform, well-branched, upright plants have rays of bright yellow petals around a brown center. Flowers are supported by sturdy stems, which make them great for cuts. They bloom all season long and no deadheading is required. Pollinators love these guys!

Helianthus ‘Suncredible Yellow’


Best Overall Performance Annuals

Alternanthera FanciFillers Choco Chili, Westhoff, Penn State University Extension

An excellent plant, with no foliar injury all season. This plant received an overall score of 5/5 in 2019. As a foliage plant, it exhibited superb growth and maintained a uniform habit. A number of visitors remarked on the foliar quality during field day.

Alternanthera FanciFillers Choco Chili
Begonia Fragrance Falls Peach, Beekenkamp, Plantpeddler

This annual features large, trailing pink flowers over lush, green cascading foliage. This beautiful hanging begonia withstood almost everything Mother Nature threw at it. It handled full sun to part sun and stayed in color through it all. Hot, cool, humid, dry: it’s a plant for all seasons.

Begonia Fragrance Falls Peach
Helianthus ‘Suncredible Yellow,’ Proven Winners, Boerner Botanical Gardens

There were so many good annuals this year. This baby bloomed its heart out and didn’t get floppy until the end of September. It was also a favorite of pollinators and guests alike.

Helianthus ‘Suncredible Yellow’
Impatiens Beacon, PanAmerican Seed, The Gardens at Ball

This plant did not fail due to Impatiens downy mildew, and we had it planted in several locations on campus. Our shade landscape beds particularly looked amazing, and several guests made a stop there to take pictures and take notes.

Impatiens Beacon
Petunia Shortcake Blueberry, Syngenta Flowers, Mast Young Plants

A versatile habit that works well in small pots and combos, this annual will still size up for an impressive display in the garden. It has a grower-friendly habit and a unique, stable flower pattern.


Petunia Shortcake Blueberry


Petunia Color Rush White, Ball Seed, Raker-Roberta’s Trial Gardens

This petunia was the winner in our blind White Petunia trial, a visitor favorite and top performer. It was always full of flowers and didn’t split.

Petunia Color Rush White


Best Overall Performance Annuals

Dahlia ‘City Lights Purple,’ Selecta, Colorado State University

This dahlia was Best of Show at Colorado State University. The dark foliage and flowers of this variety made a dramatic statement in the garden. The growth habit had excellent uniformity with upright plants that did not flop despite overhead irrigation. They had strong flower power and were favorites of the bees.

Dahlia ‘City Lights Purple’


Best Overall Performance Annauls

Begonia Viking XL Red on Chocolate, Sakata, Smith Gardens

Amazing dark glossy foliage and contrasting red flowers made this variety a real standout in the garden this year. It has a vigorous, well-branched habit and great landscape performance.

Begonia Viking XL Red on Chocolate, Sakata