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Master Gardener: Find out which plants are 'Oklahoma Proven' picks for 2021

Master Gardener: Find out which plants are 'Oklahoma Proven' picks for 2021

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The Oklahoma Proven shrub for 2021 is the Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica). This interesting shrub is native to eastern Oklahoma.

I need to redo some of my landscape because the deep-freeze we experienced killed some of my favorites. How do I figure out which plants will do well here in Oklahoma? J.M.

Deciding which plants to purchase and bring home to your landscape can sometimes be a daunting task. We have quite a bit of information about plant selection in our website, but here’s another great resource to help you make those decisions.

Oklahoma State University has a great program called Oklahoma Proven. One of the goals of the Oklahoma Proven program is to help identify plants that are appropriate to grow in Oklahoma’s unique, sometimes extreme weather. Each year they release a new selection of plants that are not only environmentally friendly but have been put through a series of trials to ensure they will do well in Oklahoma landscapes.

Yearly Oklahoma Proven selections include a tree, shrub, perennial, and annual. You might be familiar with some of them, but they are always finding new and interesting cultivars to include in their selections. Let’s take a look at this year’s picks.

The tree this year is a magnolia called the ‘Summer Charm’, Teddybear Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora). Magnolias are some of our favorite evergreen plants with their large, fragrant flowers. However, magnolias can get too large for some landscape situations. This one will grow to about 16 -20 feet tall and up to 12 feet wide making it a great choice when you love magnolias but don’t have the space for a tradition one. The Teddybear leaves are a dark, glossy green on top with an underside that is a heavy, velvety, reddish brown. They do well in a variety of soils but prefer deep, nutrient-rich, acidic, and well-drained soil. Full sun will be best for this one.

The shrub for 2021 is the Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica). This interesting shrub is native to eastern Oklahoma. It tends to grow into a mound-shaped shrub about 3 to 6 feet wide and tall. One thing I particularly like about sweetspire is the flower. It’s 4” long flower spires bloom from spring to early summer starting at the base of the flower and working to the top.

In the fall, the leaves turn red to purple, so they continue to provide an interesting color pallet later in the year after the blooming season is over. They will work in shady areas as an understory plant, but like most plants, they will have more robust blooms if they are exposed to full sun for at least part of the day. Native sweetspire plants can be found growing in moist or even wet to swampy areas in Oklahoma, however they are not picky about the soil type in your garden. So, if you have an area of your garden that doesn’t drain well, this might be a good one to try. Sweetspire will work well on its own, even though it may look a little scraggly by itself. For a better, more interesting display, plant them in groups or perhaps in a row to add definition to a garden space.

The ‘Prinz Heinrich’, Prinz Heinrich Japanese anemone (Anemone hupehensis var. Japonica) is the perennial for 2021. If your garden doesn’t have a lot of blooming flowers in the fall, this one may be just what you have been looking for since it blooms from late summer to early fall. I actually have an anemone in my vegetable garden to serve as bait for pollinators later in the season. This anemone grows best in areas that are partly shaded or at a minimum, protected from the late afternoon sun. Their flowers present as a semi-double, rosey-pink flower, with a center cluster of golden-yellow stamens. The flowers are at the end of a rather long, upright stem, that rises up above the green foliage. It grows to about 28 inches tall and will spread via rhizomes. They will look best when planted in clusters.

This year’s annual is the Cuphea (cuphea). Some of you will be familiar with this one since it goes by several common names; Mexican-heather, bat flower, bunny ears, candy corn plant, or false heather. One particular bonus to this plant is that it is low maintenance, as well as heat and drought tolerant making them the perfect choice for many urban landscapes. Their flowers are small, but they are abundant all summer long and don’t need to be dead-headed. Different varieties have different colored flowers, but all of them will be an attractive destination for pollinators.

While these are the selections for 2021, if you visit the website ( you can view the Oklahoma Proven selections back to 1999. You can also download a pdf version showing the entire collection or order hard copies there as well.

If this doesn’t give you enough to choose from, we have quite a bit of information on suggested varieties of flowers, trees, and shrubs on our website as well as instructional videos on everything from dead-heading to pollinator gardens. You will find this information in the Lawn and Garden Help section of our website (

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You can get answers to all your gardening questions by calling the Tulsa Master Gardeners Help Line at 918-746-3701, dropping by our Diagnostic Center at 4116 E. 15th St., or by emailing us at

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