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Putting Plants to the Test

Putting Plants to the Test

Look inside the Costa Farms Trial Garden in Miami, Florida, where the gardening experts test which varieties hold up to summer heat and humidity.

By Justin Hancock, Costa Farms garden guru

Every June, the research and development team at Costa Farms (one of North America’s largest wholesale growers) plants their Trial Garden. A two-acre visual feast for the eyes, the Trial Garden hosts some 500 varieties from plant breeders around the world.

Dubbed “The Ultimate Plant Showdown,” the Trial Garden lives up to its name. With high temperatures around 90F every day, low temperatures around 80F each night, and relative humidity levels staying over 60%, Miami’s weather makes it a challenge to grow plants that don’t hail from the tropics. For example, petunias, geraniums, and dahlias tend to fizzle out before cooler conditions arrive in fall.

Here’s a quick look at some of the plants that have done best in the Costa Farms Ultimate Plant Showdown over the past few years:

Angelonia: Nothing seems to stop this plant, which blooms continuously with spikes of white, blue, purple, and pink flowers.
Begonia: Tried-and-true favorites for sun or shade, varieties such as the ‘Big’ series grow as if they’re powered by the Energizer Bunny.
Elephant ear: It’s no surprise these tropical foliage plants thrive in hot, humid climates. Different varieties show off leaves in purple, green, and chartreuse.
Purslane: Also called moss rose, rose moss, and portulaca, it’s a succulent with gorgeous cup-shaped flowers in super-saturated shades of pink, red, orange, yellow and white.
Pentas: A favorite of butterflies and hummingbirds, they show off hydrangea-like heads of purple, pink, red, or white flowers.
SunPatiens: This series of impatiens for the sun stay covered in pink, purple, red, orange, or white flowers (as long as they get enough water).

Once planted, the only care the plants in the Trial Garden receive is daily watering and a few shots of fertilizer. For Costa Farms’ research and development team to give the plants high marks, the varieties first have to survive Miami’s hot, humid weather. But winning varieties also need to bloom consistently, hold up against disease and insects, and look like plants you’d want in your garden. So even if a plant blooms beautifully, it doesn’t score well if it becomes scraggly, diseased, or is attacked by insects.

Want to learn more? See the best plants from Costa Farms’ 2014 and 2013 Ultimate Plant Showdown.

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