2016 was a great year for gardeners

Rob Zimmer
Gardeners and nature lovers across the state were on the lookout for monarch butterflies this year, as a severe winter storm wiped out millions of these stunning insects just as they were beginning their return to the U.S.

Soon, garden centers and garden catalogs will begin boasting exciting new plants, seeds and other exciting choices for gardeners already planning the growing season to come.

The choices are overwhelming, dozens of new varieties of annuals, perennials, seeds, shrubs and more all eager to find a place in your yard and garden.

In the coming weeks, I will be introducing you to a number of these new plants and gardening trends taking shape for the growing season that begins shortly after the holidays.

That's right, planning, designing and ordering seeds and plants for the next season starts as early as December, when the first catalogs arrive. It's important to shop early to get the best selection. If you wait too long to order, especially new products and plants, you'll soon discover that many of the hottest items are out of stock quickly.

Before taking a look ahead, however, it's time to look back at the past year in the garden.

An incredible year

What an amazing year 2016 has been for gardeners and outdoor lovers. The growing season has been a long, exciting and productive one.

Just about every crop and plant growing in our area seems to have had a banner year. The only exception I've come across this fall is our wild nut producing trees.

It has not been a good year for nut production in oaks, hickories, walnuts and others in some locations. This, however, is a naturally occurring cycle and not one to be concerned about. Most nut trees produce a banner crop one year, followed by a lull the next.

Parade of bloom

Ornamentals, including annuals, perennials and grasses, enjoyed an amazing ride during 2016. Plentiful moisture, moderate temperatures and an extended growing season produced some impressive plants throughout Wisconsin gardens.

A long growing season meant sun-loving perennials, like this Hot Papaya coneflower, enjoyed an incredible year.

The growing season got off to a fast start in March when temperatures were already reaching into the 70s, even 80s.

These warm temperatures lasted throughout the spring season, and, as we went into summer, temperatures remain mild, but not excessively hot.

Moisture was plentiful and arrived at regular intervals throughout spring, well into summer. A lull in moisture that occurred during August's hotter weather was short-lived and, as we went into September and fall, once again, rains provided most of the moisture our gardens and lawns needed.

Heading into late fall, autumn rains have benefited our newly planted trees, shrubs and perennials as we enter the time of year when we normally see the ground begin to freeze up.

These rains are especially beneficial to evergreens that need this moisture throughout the winter season to avoid winter burn or sunscald later on.

Hot plants

Hostas, as always, are at the top of the list as far as perennial plant popularity. An increasing supply of hosta varieties that do well even in the sun have expanded the use of these wonderful foliage plants in the landscape.

Hydrangeas were hot in 2016, thanks to new generations of these beautiful shrubs that enable gardeners to grow them in more locations than ever before.

Shade companion plants to add brightness and color to shady areas of the garden hour were also popular among gardeners.

Plants with variegated and streaked foliage, as well as dwarf perennials are at the top of the list of perennial choices this season.

Coneflowers are also popular sellers, especially some of the newest varieties in bright red, orange and gold. Many of these are the double flowering or pom-pom blooming coneflowers, which improve in quality each year as breeders introduce varieties that are more colorfast and will not revert back.

And, of course, the newest and boldest daylilies are treasured by many gardeners.

Native wildflowers are in demand as gardeners interested in helping monarch butterflies and other pollinators recover choose these beautifully colored and textured blooms for their gardens.

New annual varieties of petunias stole the hearts of many gardeners including the breathtaking Night Sky, colored deep purple with bright white spots or "stars." Coleus varieties are more beautiful than ever, and more versatile.

Find Rob Zimmer online On Facebook