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Gold Medal Plants
PHS Announces 2016 Gold Medal Plant Winners

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society has selected the 2016 winners of the PHS Gold Medal Plant awards, recognizing exceptional plants for the home gardener and professional landscaper. For a third year, PHS and its Gold Medal committee also chose hardy favorites in the perennial category.

“The Gold Medal Plant program highlights exceptional trees, shrubs, vines, and perennials for the home gardener. These plants are easy to grow, pest free, and add beauty to the landscape for many seasons. Anyone looking for a great addition to their home garden should consider adding a Gold Medal Plant award winner,” says Joshua Darfler, Gold Medal Plant Coordinator and Retail Operations Manager, PHS Meadowbrook Farm.

The Gold Medal program has honored and promoted woody plants of outstanding merit since 1979. Nominations for plants are submitted by home gardeners, garden designers, horticulturists, landscape architects, nursery owners and propagators. The program was originally conceived by noted nurseryman Dr. J. Franklin Styer, who realized homeowners and gardeners needed to learn about superior woody plants for their landscapes. These plants are evaluated and chosen for their superb eye-appeal, performance, and hardiness in the growing region of Zones 5-7. Many winners are hardy in a much broader geographic range.

When a gardener acquires a plant designated a Gold Medal winner, he or she can be assured the plant will exhibit standards of excellence for pest and disease resistance, as well as ease of growing when planted and maintained appropriately. Gold Medal Plants are also chosen for their beauty through many seasons, whether it be foliage, flower, form or bark.

We are presently updating and improving our database of Gold Medal-winning plants. In the meanwhile, please browse this listing of all past and present winners. Print it out and keep it handy for frequent consultation.

The 2016 PHS Gold Medal winners are:


Betula nigra ‘Fox Valley’ Little King ™ – (Little King River Birch) is a wonderful dwarf river birch. Introduced in the early 1990s into the trade, this tree makes a hardy addition to any home rain garden. Unlike the straight species that can often grow out of proportion in a small landscape, Little King River Birch stays small and compact, growing 8 to 10 feet tall and 9 to 12 feet wide. The tree has a pleasant mounded habit with dark green disease-resistant foliage. In the fall, the tree turns an eye-catching yellow before dropping its leaves to reveal the tan and cinnamon colored bark underneath. Little King River Birch does best in full sun to part shade and is very adaptable to soil conditions. This species does not mind heavy clay soils or occasional flooding, making it a great candidate for rain gardens. It shows resistance to the bronze birch borer, as well as to many other diseases that often affect birches. Prune this tree in the summer after the foliage has fully developed.

Prunus x yedoensis ‘Akebono’ – (Akebono Yoshino Cherry) is a spectacular flowering cherry tree best known for its showy spring display of flowers. Growing 25 to 30 feet tall and 25 to 30 feet wide, this cherry tree is one of the prominent species planted throughout Washington, D.C., home of the national cherry festival. This cherry reliably blooms each spring and becomes covered in small double flowers that range from white to pink in color. After the flowers are done, the lush green foliage provides nice summer shade and eventually turns a bright yellow for fall. This tree does best planted in full sun and watered regularly to establish. To keep its nice shape, prune in late winter before leaves emerge. While young, the tree has a very nice upwards habit, making it an excellent choice as a street tree or along a driveway. As the specimen matures, the branches begin to grow horizontal and create a nice, rounded habit.


Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple' – (Royal Purple Smokebush) adds great color and depth to a garden all season long. Foliage emerges in spring as dark red/purple color on this 15-foot-tall by 12-foot-wide shrub, and holds its hue all summer long. In early summer, wispy heads of pink flowers emerge and contrast beautifully with the dark foliage. Plants flower on old wood, so do not prune if flowers are desired. Many home gardeners prefer to grow this primarily as a foliage shrub and cut it back each winter. New growth is very upright and clean, resulting in a tight, rounded shrub. In fall, the foliage turns a wonderful scarlet color before falling to the ground. Plant in full sun and water occasionally during droughts once established. This plant is very adaptable and can be grown in most conditions. It is best to prune in winter once the leaves have fallen, but do not over-prune.

Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’  (Red Sprite Winter Berry Holly) grows to be 3 to 5 feet tall and the same wide.  This native low-growing, rounded shrub puts on one of the best displays of bright red fruits in the winter. Small white flowers in early summer are followed by a profusion of plump large berries located in large clusters at the ends of branches. During the summer, Red Sprite Winter Berry Holly creates a nice lush green backdrop for perennial gardens, or on the edge of a native woodland garden. The berries attract birds, and the shrub is not of interest to deer. This shrub prefers full sun and slightly acidic, moist soils. Once established, it is a hardy landscape plant that will need very little care. Due to its short stature, most homeowners rarely need to prune it, but if desired it is best to prune in late winter before the foliage emerges. This shrub must be planted near a male holly such as Ilex verticillata ‘Jim Dandy.’


Dryopteris erythorsora ‘Brilliance’ – (Brilliance Autumn Fern) adds elegance and color to a shade garden. This selection of the Japanese autumn fern was chosen for its red and bronze new foliage. Growing 18 inches tall by 18 inches wide, this plant adds a pop of color in spring as the new foliage emerges. Mature leaves are deeply cut and a perfect shade of green. This fern will spread through underground rhizomes to slowly colonize an area. During mild winters the leaves will stay green all through the winter.  Autumn fern prefers part to full shade and moist soils. In spring, it is best to cut back old fronds once the new foliage begins to emerge.

Heuchera villosa ‘Autumn Bride’ – (Autumn Bride Heuchera) is a versatile native plant that can be used anywhere in the garden. Most notably, this 2-foot-tall by 3-foot-wide plant does not mind dry shade. The large fuzzy green leaves make a wonderful ground cover in a shady area, and the large plumes of white flowers add great interest in the fall. The plant forms a dense mound of foliage and expands through underground rhizomes. Though it will spread, it is also easy to contain by pulling up plants when they show up in unwanted places. Heucheras prefer part shade, but in cooler areas can tolerate more sun. Once established, this plant is very drought tolerant but does best in rich, moist soils. Autumn Bride Heuchera is very adaptable to most garden conditions and is deer-resistant.

Hosta plantaginea  (August Lily) is best known for its shiny green foliage and fragrant white flowers that open in late summer, much later than many other varieties.  Growing 18 inches tall by 18 inches wide, August lily flower heads emerge from the mound of foliage in August and are very fragrant when open. The flowers have been cited as some of the best flowers in the hosta genus and attract hummingbirds and butterflies. This plant prefers full to part shade and is very adaptable to many soil conditions as long as it is moist. Compared to many other hostas, August lily is very disease resistant, but slugs and snails can cause some damage. This plant is ideal in woodland gardens and mixed perennial beds.

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘October Skies’ (October Skies Aster) is a wonderful selection of our native aster with superior qualities. This 2-foot-tall by 2-foot-wide plant has dark blue flowers with yellow centers. The flowers attract butterflies and pollinators and add color to mixed perennial beds later in the season. October Skies aster will form a lush mound of foliage and is much slower to spread out than other native asters. This plant needs full sun in well-draining soil and is very drought-tolerant once established. Because of its shorter stature, October Skies doesn’t need to be cut back in the spring like many other native asters. This plant is best planted in masses and can be used as a tall ground cover if desired.