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What Makes a Plant a Proven Winner?

Learn more about why Proven Winners plants will help your garden look fantastic.

Contributors: Dr. Rick Schoellhorn, Kerry Meyer

What makes a plant a Proven Winner?

Consumer garden success is the top criteria and Proven Winners® is the only company who puts this much effort into making sure our new plants are not only unique and unusual, but also have what it takes to deliver great garden performance across as much of the United States as possible.  We grow these plants before we ask homeowners to grow them.  We want to make sure that every gardener will have the same kind of success that we do in our trials, and in our gardens around the US.  Proven Winners® is the #1 plant brand in the United States and only plant brand on the market that focuses on consumer performance - the home gardener’s success - nationally.

One of the most interesting things about gardening is that for most Americans, if they fail at something in their garden they assume it is their fault, that they did some thing wrong. We want to try and make it easier to succeed by bringing plants to the local garden centers that have great performance in many different environments and provide a season of enjoyment for gardners.

A little history:

Proven Winners® began about 30 years ago with the joining of some exceptional plantspeople and three large nurseries in California, Michigan and New Hampshire.  These companies shared a commitment to do two things: Grow plants that excited both new and old gardeners and have the performance to merit being marketed as a plant brand. Over the last 30 years the logo for Proven Winners® became a gardening standard, most people know us as PW, but that misses the reason behind the name. Those two little letters stand for PROVEN WINNERS®, and we want gardeners to know how serious we are about both the PROVEN and the WINNERS part of our name.

Prove it!

It is easy to say we are the best, but better if we can explain why. We base our plants on two very important processes that underline our mission. All the plants in our program go through an extensive trialing process.

What does trialing process mean? A trials program is a way to grow potential Proven Winners® over and over again in order to make sure that they are up to snuff. We trial our plants 2-3 years at our own private gardens before letting them go to market.

What do we trial plants for? Our trials include early spring performance (this is actually the time before you would even see them in the garden centers, we want to make sure that a plant looks good and is in top form before it comes to the garden center).  Then we grow the plants over and over through the spring and summer.  This is really the key part of proving their worth. We need plants that do exceptionally well ALL season in all locations, so they have to have a long season of bloom and interest.

Our plants have to show disease resistance, so fewer pesticides are needed to keep them looking nice.  Plants that are susceptible to bugs and diseases are rejected from our trials because they don’t exhibit exceptional performance.

We also screen plants for their performance under different climates.  They need to do well under both cool, dry conditions and hot, humid conditions because what works in Southern California and what works in New York City may not be the same plant.  We look for plants that do well in both locations.

Where do we trial our plants? We trial all plants in California, Michigan, New Hampshire, Florida, Germany and tropical Japan before offering them to the gardening public. These trials are all private and security controlled to protect the breeders of the plants from theft or giving away their great ideas before they are ready. The goal is to make sure that our plants are easier for the consumer to have success with less work, less trouble and maximum enjoyment.

Don’t forget we also have a comprehensive website where you can ask questions, get regular gardening advice, learn about other plants that might work for you and find the best garden centers in your area! We may not work 24/7 but the website does! Check it out at and see what other gardeners like.  If you can’t find what you are looking for, just ask we’ll see about getting it for you!

OK, so that is what we do up front but it doesn’t stop there. After we are done trialing the plants we pass them along to public gardens and universities where they undergo further testing to prove that they are superior to other plants. We keep the best of the best and don’t stop until garden experts agree that Proven Winners® are the “Best in class”, with a proven track record of exceptional performance and wide adaptability over a geographic area.  We also confirm that they are disease tolerant and truly outstanding.

What kind of investment do we make before asking you to make one?

One of the oldest sayings in horticulture and agriculture is “If our customers only knew how much effort, how many sweaty days, how many sleepless nights, and how much tender loving care went into every one of the plants we sell they would realize how great a deal they are getting”.  It is true, most of your local garden centers and greenhouses work very hard to produce plants for you each and every year, and it is getting harder for them to make money.  Rising fuel costs and declining budgets are making life hard, but how many $8 investments give you 4 months of happiness?  How much was that sandwich you had for lunch anyway?

Proven Winners® are not the cheapest plants you’ll find out there, but they are the best!  We work at it and have a commitment to making gardening easier for the home gardeners and more rewarding for your local garden centers as well. In most everything you get what you pay for, so here’s what we are doing before you ever see our plants.

Trialing: Each plant we trial costs about $2,000

Ensuring disease free plants:  Every plant we introduce to your local industry has passed through our tissue culture laboratories. In the laboratory we make sure the plants are evaluated and cleaned of over 30 common plant viruses. Plant viruses exist all over the world and they are much like human flu viruses, some are so bad they kill the plant, but most just reduce the plant’s health and performance. We remove these viruses (wish we could all do this to ourselves eh?) so that plants come to your local garden center in the best of health. To do this costs about $3,000 per plant.

Protecting the Plant Breeder’s rights:   Whether the person who created a given plant is an individual, a plant breeding company, or a country Proven Winners® also acts to help them with patenting and protecting their new plants.  For plant breeder’s rights protection it is about $5,000 per plant.


There are a few other costs but let’s do simple math, we invest about $10,000 per plant in trying to make sure the average gardener will not only succeed, but actually feel successful and want to garden again next year.  In return, most of our plants sell for between $8 - $25 dollars at better garden centers.

What is the difference between a Proven Winners® and a Proven Selections® plant?

Proven Selections® are regionally produced plants by Proven Winners® propagators and growers, but may not be great performers in all locations. Proven Winners® plants are required to perform throughout North America.

Sometimes plants that are known to be very good, but generally available become Proven Selections®. Most gardeners are not aware there is even a difference in these two types of plants.  However, this is our way of trying to focus great plants into parts of North America where they will do their best, lending to increased gardener success.

Why would I ask for Proven Winners® instead of just any old plant?

Improving your chances of success, let’s face it, has to be something you can measure and agree that a plant is actually better or we’d all go back to generic items.  But let’s say you work in an office, so you know office equipment, right?  You know that there are copy machines that work better than others, phones that work better than others, even staplers that work better than others…right?  The same is true of plants. 

Generic plants usually don’t perform as well because they don’t have much backing them in terms of research.  They set seed and give up flowering or they have more disease issues or they don’t grow as large or flower as much. It is not surprising, but you are more likely to run into these poor contenders when you shop where price is the main issue (just like office supplies).  If you find a garden center where people love gardening, the main goal is good plants and knowledge about gardening you will usually find better plants.

We invest a lot of time into finding the plants that have reduced disease sensitivity, tolerance to a wide range of care, a record of excellent performance at public trial gardens all over the US, Europe, Japan, and Australia. However, all this is just words unless gardeners agree that the plants do better for them.

WOW factor

A couple key secrets and key plants for a garden that will make you feel like a screaming success next year.

Care and maintenance:

If you want to succeed with annual flowers the key is consistency. Water and fertilize regularly. There are numerous automatic watering systems which can be adapted to your patio/garden with about as much effort as hanging holiday lights (OK, slightly more effort than that).  Look for Waterwise and other home watering systems.

How often should you fertilize? Most people opt for liquid fertilizers and the key thing here is that the fertilizer needs to have micronutrients (like vitamins for plants).  All fertilizers have the basics, but if micronutrients are included, especially Iron, your plants will get a boost in performance. Check the label to see if your fertilizer includes micronutrients.

Always check the tag in the pot! Most people make errors on full sun versus shade plants. If a plant says full sun give it the most sun you can.  If it says shade make sure it isn’t baking in the heat of the day.  Don’t try to make a sun plant grow in the shade (or a shade plant in the sun) because you won’t like the way the plant looks.  You will be disappointed.  It would be like trying to run a car that needs unleaded gas on diesel….always a bad idea.

Big pots are a lazy gardener’s way to riches. The larger the pot the less you have to water and fertilize, if that wasn’t enough.  Larger pots allow plants to grow larger and bloom more, before sheer size combined with hot weather causes the plants to dry out quickly.  You also need fewer plants and pots to create the same effect. (OK, those of you out there who have to have one of every plant…this will create some difficulties, but for those of you who just want a nice garden, go big, worry less).

6 plants that will make you feel like it was all worth it!

Supertunia® Vista Bubblegum – rich pink tones, huge and vigorous plant, more heat tolerance and disease resistance. Plant it and stand back (Well water and fertilize first, you’ll have some time).

Senorita Rosalita® Cleome – for those of you who know Cleome forget everything you know, and for those of you who don’t… This plant grows 2-4’ tall and is covered with lavender pink blooms all summer.  Just keep it well watered for the first month and then you can get lazy. Spring though frost it is amazing!

Snow Princess® – If you thought you knew Sweet Alyssum, I can’t wait to hear you say “I never knew…” Snow Princess is a fine textured, creeping. Spreading, mass of fragrant white flowers that loves the spring AND the summer.  All the people who were thinking “Alyssum never survives the summer” are going to be amazed; they bloomed all summer in Florida, even Miami…that’s what I call an improvement!!

Sweet Caroline Sweet Potatoes – The living end, if you want a heat (and humidity) loving group of plants that never stops until winter closes in. The leaves are either lime green, black, copper, or red.  No flowers, just and endless cascade of striking color. Check out the Illusion® series if you want fine texture and high contrast color!

Luscious® Lantana – For those of you who just can’t seem to water enough, try Lantana they love the sun and heat and butterflies love them. They come in all colors red, yellow, orange, pink, and lavender and if you are a traveling person they are the most likely to survive while you are away and still be beautiful when you return.

Something for the shade? Try one of the ColorBlaze® Coleus or the Rockapulco® Impatiens. Vivid leaf colors (Lime, red, bronze, golden, and rose) are the hallmark of the ColorBlaze® Coleus, and the Rockapulco® Impatiens are like miniature roses in the shade.  However, some sun will help ensure you get the most flowers.

Click here and here for more articles on this topic.

Patent Information:

Supertunia® Vista Bubblegum Petunia hybrid 'USTUNI6001' PP: 17730 Can. Can.: 2871;  Senorita Rosalita® Cleome hybrid 'Inncleosr' PP: 19733 Can. Can.: 329; Snow Princess® Lobularia hybrid 'Inlbusnopr' PPAF Can. PBRAF;

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