Jessica Damiano Jessica Damiano, Newsday columnist

Jessica Damiano is a master gardener and journalist with more than 25 years experience in radio, television, print and online media. She has worked on Newsday's interactive endeavors since 1994, and currently is Deputy Editor overseeing Newsday.com's Lifestyle and Entertainment coverage. Jessica enjoys toiling in her garden -- a never-finished work in progress -- and helping local gardeners solve their horticultural problems in her Garden Detective column, which appears every Sunday in Newsday. Her Garden Detective column and blog have been awarded Press Club of Long Island Society of Professional Journalists Awards. Jessica lives in Glen Head, NY, with her husband John, daughters Justine and Julia, dogs Maddie and Miguel, and a whole bunch of perennials, vegetable plants and weeds. Ask a question Show More

Breeders keep busy behind the scenes, concocting new plants for the home gardener. Each year, they tweak existing varieties in interesting ways — making foliage darker, flowers bigger, shrubs smaller or simply more disease resistant. Here are my favorite new introductions. Look for them at your local garden centers.

ANNUALS

Begonia ‘Little Lava’

This begonia stands up to summer heat like a champ, and its eye-catching, bright orange flowers bloom all summer long on trailing branches. Let it spill over container sides in full sun to part shade.

Petunia ‘Easy Wave Yellow’

The popular spreading Wave petunia family now has a lemon-yellow member. Fast-growing plants bloom from late spring to late summer in full sun, and can handle seasonal temperature extremes well. And it’s more mounded than others in the Wave series, with a more controlled spread.

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Argyranthemum ‘Dress Up Cotton Top’

Fern-like plants and fluffy white flowers with iridescent petals: What more could you want? Plant these in containers in full sun for the best effect.

Nemesia ‘Blueberry a la mode’

Interesting and highly fragrant blue-and-yellow, snapdragon-like flowers cluster atop upright plants, taking on the appearance of bicolor lacecap hydrangea blooms. A real stunner for the spring garden.

PERENNIALS

Silene ‘Ray’s Golden’

Pinkish-purple flowers on tall stems rise above mounded chartreuse foliage on this airy, spring-blooming plant. As a bonus, it attracts butterflies.

Eryngium ‘Neptune’s Gold’

Direct from Wales comes a breeding breakthrough that produced the world’s first golden sea holly. Plant it in full sun near the coast and in cottage gardens. Blooms in July and August.

Heuchera ‘Champagne’

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Midsize coral bell leaves morph from peach to gold to Champagne as the season progresses, and put forth light peach flowers on maroon stems. Plant in part to full shade.

HYDRANGEAS

Hydrangea ‘Invincibelle Spirit II’

The second generation of the reblooming Invincibelle Spirit smooth hydrangea has darker leaves, stiffer stems and larger, brighter pink flowers. It thrives in full sun and is hardy enough to bloom straight through summer until first frost. And it comes with a nice feel-good bonus: $1 from the sale of each plant is donated to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Hydrangea Let’s Dance Rave

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This reblooming macrophylla blooms on old and new wood with an abundance of bright purple flowers in acidic soil and saturated pink blooms in alkaline soil. Reaching 24-36 inches tall and wide, it performs best in part sun to full sun.

Everlasting hydrangeas

Originally bred for the cut-flower market, these are like no other hydrangea we’ve ever seen. Blooms are large, leaves are thick, stems are sturdy, and flowers — which start out one color and change two or three times during the season — are absolutely traffic-stopping. What’s more, these macrophyllas bloom all summer long.

Little quick fire

This mini-me version of the Quick Fire hydrangea grows just 36-60 inches tall and wide and blooms about a month earlier than other hydrangeas. Its white panicle flowers take on a pink-red hue as summer progresses. Use it in borders, containers, as a foundation planting or specimen in a partly sunny to sunny spot.

STAND-OUT SHRUB

Encore Azalea

It’s never too late for azaleas with the new Encore series. Available in 30 varieties, dwarf and intermediate sizes and in white, red, pink, coral and purple, these shrubs will push out a springtime flush of flowers, as standard azaleas do, but then repeat the show two or three times between spring and late fall. Plant them in containers, borders or as hedges in either sun or shade.