Gardening has gone from hobby to lifestyle, with plants now integrated into more spheres of life.
As a result, we expect a lot from our plants. Not only must they beautify our homes, inside and out, they also must withstand our recent weather extremes, naturally fend off pests and diseases and offer nonstop color and interest.
Enter these gardening trends for 2013, say our experts, who've also dug up a few helpful tips:
TREND: Outdoors as escape-
Outdoor living spaces look to play big in 2013, if you look at the 2012 Residential Landscape Architecture Trends Study by the American Society of Landscape Architects. After all, a whopping 91.5 percent of the study's respondents rated outdoor areas for kitchen and entertaining as "somewhat to very popular." In particular, the following outdoor amenities got similarly high ratings: grills (97.4 percent), fireplaces and firepits (95.8 percent), lighting (91.3 percent), seating and dining areas (95.7 percent), installed seating (86.9 percent) and weatherized outdoor furniture (81.2 percent).
But people apparently want to spend less time taking care of such spaces, with 96.6 percent of respondents in the ASLA study giving low-maintenance landscapes the same popular rating.
TIP: Pick high-impact, low-care plants-
"People want plants that are easy to grow and aren't fussy," says Kerry Michaels, Container Gardening Guide for About.com. "Succulents are popular all over the country and are a perfect example of beautiful, interesting and easy to grow."
Many hardscaped outdoor spaces, she adds, need focal points and softening with high-impact, low-care plants in larger planters. Michaels suggests the colorfully foliaged Tropicanna cannas for vertical beauty, fabulous color and drama. Self-watering containers, she adds, make it easier than ever to maintain these mobile props in the outdoor room.
Another such plant is the burgundy-colored, strappy-leaved Festival Burgundy cordyline. In colder climates, it can even be brought indoors as a houseplant, since, unlike many other tropicals, it can withstand the drying effects of forced-air heating.
TREND: Quality over price-
"The 'smart spender' of the past was primarily focused on cost," says Mary Hines, vice president of marketing at American Express in the company's November 2012 report on consumer spending behavior. "Today's smart spender is defined by values just as much as, if not more than, price."
Furthermore, consumers told American Express that the "'buy buy buy' model that has driven them for decades is now shifting towards a more conscientious, values-driven way of purchasing."
The gardening world apparently agrees. Nearly half of respondents (49 percent) in the March 2012 Garden Trends Research Report by the Garden Writers Association Foundation (GWAF) said they valued quality over price, compared to the 27 percent who valued price over quality.
TIP: Invest in quality plants-
"It pays to do your homework before you buy plants, and with smartphones you can even quickly check on a plant before you buy it in the store," says Anthony Tesselaar, cofounder and president of international plant marketer Tesselaar Plants.
One indication of quality, he says, is awards from impartial, highly revered organizations. "I'd love for people to know, for instance, about all the Flower Carpet roses that have been awarded Germany's All Deutschland Rose designation, the world's highest honor for natural disease resistance. A complete listing of ADR roses, he says, can be found under "ADR-ROSES" at www.adr-rose.de
And don't forget to ask garden center staffers for their opinion on what works the best in your particular area. "I'm promoting plants that are adaptable, that can take whatever extremes our climate dishes out," says Joseph Tychonievich, nursery manager at Arrowhead Alpines Plant Nursery in East Lansing, Mich.
TREND: Ditching the chemicals-
In the June 2012 survey by the GWAF, those planning to buy organic fertilizer outnumbered those planning to buy chemical fertilizer by 2 to 1. That same survey showed 62 percent of respondents at least somewhat concerned about the environment, yet a quarter were interested in pest control. And in the GWAF's 2011-2012 Winter survey, nearly three-fifths of respondents (58 percent) had reduced their use of chemicals.
In response, the garden industry is starting to devote more attention to naturally disease- and pest-resistant plants. "The 2012 seed catalogues seem to be showing a trend that has not been too evident over recent years, the hints and details about whether a particular new cultivar of a vegetable or fruit can resist the ravages of some annoying pest or disease," wrote gardening expert Graham Porter in the Oct. 22, 2011, edition of English newspaper Huddersfield Daily Examiner.
"This important issue seems to have been forgotten by many breeders for too long and now," read the article, "with pesticides fast disappearing from our garden centre shelves, the trend is to encourage organic and non-chemical growing."
TIP: Choose pest- and disease-resistant plants-
"Many plant varieties that have historically been prone to specific pests or diseases have been improved upon through many years of breeding," says Tesselaar. "And these days, it's pretty easy to find such information online."
For instance, he notes the plant catalog search function on the website of plant developer Monrovia. In the "special features" category, you can find plants with "improved pest and disease resistance" like Volcano phlox (resists powdery mildew), Flower Carpet roses (resists black spot and aphids), Festival Burgundy and Burgundy Spire cordyline (resist deer), Aurora dogwood (resists dogwood borers and anthracnose) and 'August Beauty' gardenias (resists root-rot nematodes).
TREND: Extreme weather-
Recent studies, and plenty of newscasts, say severe weather is the "new normal."
This past summer's drought is among the six largest in the U.S. (in terms of area covered) since 1895, according to a monthly drought report released in August by NOAA's National Climatic Data Center. According to that same report, three of the nation's 10 most severe droughts (in terms of intensity) have occurred in the last 12 years, and the more recent droughts have occurred in many more areas.
Experts are also noting the increased severity, frequency and range of extreme storms like Sandy, which recently ravaged the Northeast Coast. In April, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego reported that temperatures in the upper portions of the ocean have increased by an average of .59-degree Fahrenheit since the 1870s. At the ocean's surface, the researchers noted a 1.1-degree Fahrenheit increase, concluding there's a possible connection between that and the surge of "super storms."
TIP: Choose weather-proof plants-
"The desire for drought- and heat-resistant plants will only increase," says Tesselaar. "That's why we introduced Flower Carpet roses, the world's first easy-care, eco-friendly groundcover roses, after aggressively testing them in extreme conditions of heat and drought. It's also why we followed up with the line's Next Generation series for outstanding heat and humidity tolerance."
The Next Generation series received extremely high marks in the Dallas Arboretum's famous plant "trials by fire" in intense heat and humidity, as did Tesselaar's Storm series of agapanthus, the only agapanthus (also called lily of the Nile) to survive the trials. Most recently, Tesselaar has introduced Bonfire begonias, tuberous begonias that can handle sizzling heat, even in hanging baskets.
"Heat-resistant and xeric, or drought-resistant, plants are not the same," cautions Chicagoan Eileen Hanley, author of the Gatsbys Gardens blog. "Many of the xeric plants can take the dryness, but not the intense heat of over 100 degrees." Plants that have done well in the heat in her garden, for instance, are phlox, heucheras, heucherellas, grasses, daylilies, brunneras, amsonias, clematis and some groundcovers.
Monrovia's website allows you to search for plants that can survive a number of climates extremes. Among them are "waterwise" varieties like 'Arizona Sun' blanket flower, 'Dynamite' crape myrtle and 'May Night' salvia, "firescaping" plants less likely to burn in areas of wildfire ('Abottswood' potentilla, 'Autumn Fire' stonecrop and 'Pink Double Delight' coneflower) and varieties for wet or flood-prone areas 'Strawberry Candy' daylilies, 'Summer Red' red maple and 'Zagreb' threadleaf coreopsis.