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The cure for spring fever

KENNEWICK -- Do you have spring fever?

I do. I'm eager to see if I can find some of the new introductions: annuals, perennials and shrubs being marketed this year. It's always fun to try something new.

One of the plants I hope to find is a new rudbeckia, aka black-eyed Susan.

Goldsmith Seeds is introducing TigerEye Gold, the first F1 hybrid of rudbeckia. Rudbeckia already is a popular garden perennial but this new hybrid may make it even more popular. I saw TigerEye Gold at a trade show last fall and knew I had to get at least one plant this spring. The plants are compact and reach a modest height of 16 to 22 inches and a width of 18 to 24 inches.

When in bloom, the plants are covered with perfect long-lasting semi-double golden "daisies" with dark centers. They are spectacular!

With its origins as a native plant, TigerEye Gold is a durable plant withstanding all sorts of tough growing conditions including heat. It's also more resistant to powdery mildew than past garden rudbeckias.

Planted in full sun, these vigorous plants establish quickly in the garden and are hardy to zone 5.

At the same trade show I was introduced to a totally new plant, Ptilotus exaltatus Joey. Ptilotus exaltatus is an Australian native tamed by plant breeders for gardeners. Benary is introducing Joey this year as an annual that is heat and drought tolerant. The plant is 12 to 15 inches in height with thick silvery-green leaves.

If you see Joey in flower you may think you're looking at a new ornamental grass. The soft feathery "bottlebrush" flower spikes are three to four inches long and a combination of silver and dark fuschia pink. It can be used in containers and pairs especially well with pink and lavender flowers and silver foliage plants. If you're a gardener who must have the newest plants, look for Joey. It's a new annual that should do well here.

At the same trade show I came away with several plants of the Proven Winners' new heliopsis, aka oxeye sunflower, introduction.

Tuscan Sun is a compact heliopsis that grows 12 to 20 inches tall and 10 to 12 inches wide. The plant is heat tolerant and should do well in full sun here. I planted mine in front of my house, giving them a southwestern exposure, the sunniest and hottest location I have. It should give me an idea of just how heat and sun tolerant they are.

While Tuscan Sun heliopsis is a perennial that's hardy to Zone 3, you may see it marketed for use in planters. They will be perfect for the new trend of "one note" planters, filling up a 10-inch pot quite nicely. The flowers are a bright sunshine yellow daisy with darker yellow centers. Proven Winners notes that deadheading will help encourage continued summer bloom.

At the end of last summer I raved about a relatively new zinnia that had caught my eye. The Profusion series of zinnias are great flowers for your color spot planters. A similar new zinnia mix is being introduced this year. Zinnia Marylandica Zahara provides color all spring and summer long. The plants have a mounded habit that's 12 to 18 inches tall and wide. They do best in full sun and are heat and drought tolerant. The 2-inch flowers come in scarlet, yellow, coral rose, white and a mix of these colors. They attract butterflies and bees to the garden.

The Profusion series of zinnias I discovered last year now has two taller zinnias. Both Knee High Red and Knee High White grow to a height of 20 to 24 inches with a more open habit. Like the shorter Profusions they bloom from summer through to fall. They're also both heat and drought tolerant, as well as disease resistant.

Profusion and Zahara zinnias are great for containers or in the garden. If you're watching your gardening budget this year, you should consider these zinnias. They are a super way to add bright color to your containers and garden beds for less money, especially if you plant them from seed.

You can buy seed of the Zahara and Profusion zinnias from Harris Seeds in Rochester, New York at 800-544-7938 or harrisseeds.com.

However, they sell much of their seed in fairly large lots. For smaller packets of Profusion zinnias, contact Geo. W. Park Seed Co. in Greenwood, S.C., at 800-213-0076 or www.parkseed.com.

Spring is coming!

If you're a gardener with spring fever, plan on attending Spring Garden Day on March 7 for a daylong program of gardening classes.

I'll be talking about the newest trends in gardening and then there will be a variety of other classes to attend. Call 509-735-3551 for a registration brochure or go online at for the brochure at http://benton-franklin.wsu. edu/garden/events.htm.

* Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for the Washington State University Extension Office in Benton County.

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