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2012 Great Plants for the Great Plains

submitted by Sarah Browning, UNL Extension Educator

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Shantun maple

Each year the Nebraska Nursery & Landscape Association chooses a deciduous tree, evergreen tree, shrub, perennial and ornamental grass of the year. These are new or underutilized plants that merit wider use in Nebraska. Working in cooperation with the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, the plants are brought into large-scale production and made available to the public through garden centers and nurseries. Five "Great Plants" for 2012 are shantung maple, Rocky Mountain douglas fir, Deam's arrowwood viburnum, pink turtlehead and 'Northwind' switchgrass. Look for these 'Great Plants' plants at your local nursery this spring.

Shantung maple, Acer truncatum, is a medium-sized maple with glossy green foliage. New growth is a reddish-purple color when it emerges. Fall color ranges from yellow to orange, with deep red accents. This tree does best in moist, fertile soil but tolerates alkaline soil. It also tolerates partial to full shade, although grows best in full sun. Mature height and spread is 25-30 feet.

Rocky Mountain douglas fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca, is a subspecies of the common douglas fir and makes a beautiful, hardy landscape tree. Firs are not susceptible to pine wilt, and grow best in full sun with moist soil. Once established, trees become more drought tolerant. Mature height is 40-60 feet with 15-20 feet spread.

This year's shrub is Deam's arrowwood viburnum, Viburnum dentatum var. deamii. It features glossy green foliage that is unaffected by Nebraska's hot summer weather, and changes to orange-purple in fall. Creamy white flowers appear in spring, followed by dark blue berries that are very ornamental and loved by birds. Plants reach approximately 8 feet in both height and width if unpruned.

Pink turtlehead, Chelone tyonii, is a great perennial plant for moist areas, in either sun or shade, making a great addition to the rain garden or near a pond. Deep green foliage on 2-3 feet tall stems produce pink flowers, from mid-summer through fall, that resemble a turtle's head. In heavily shaded areas plants benefit from pinching or shearing to avoid the need for staking. Plants have no serious insect or disease problems.

Finally, this year's ornamental grass is 'Northwind' switchgrass, Panicum virgatum 'Northwind'. This switchgrass has wide, steel blue leaves and forms a strong vertical accent in the landscape. Compared to other switchgrasses that have a more open growth habit, 'Northwind' is strongly upright and won't flop down on the ground. In fall, the foliage becomes golden yellow. Plants work well as a specimen or mass planting. Height 4-5 feet.

For more information, or to see pictures of all these plants, visit the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum website, http://arboretum.unl.edu.

This resource was added February 2012 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement


University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office

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