The Perennial Plant Association has named Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’ as its plant of the year. The flowers attract pollinators. Photo: Chanticleer Garden, Chris Fehlhabe. Courtesy of Perennial Plant Association

The gardening trends of 2024 look to be a continuation of 2023, only more so. That is both good and bad. Some of the trends people can control, and some they can’t – at least immediately, with the continuation of climate change.

I think people are trying to make a difference. As I drive around doing errands, I have noticed more leaves in people’s still snow-free (at least as I write this) yards. It seems to me that more people are following the advice of groups like the Audubon Society, Native Plant Trust and Homegrown National Park to let leaves decompose on parts of their yards. On my rounds, at least, it looks like more people are raking leaves (or, not so good, blowing them) from lawns – which are shrinking on many properties – and paved areas, but leaving them to decompose where trees, shrubs and perennials grow.

You don’t have to leave the leaves forever. According to the Xerces Society, the species that need the leaves to survive the winter and/or hatch their young will have completed the job once soil temperature reaches the 50s, around mid-May along the Maine coast. Others suggest leaves can be removed with no harm in early June, about the same time you mow your lawn for the first time.

Another trend, according to The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, is more people joining organizations aimed at improving habitats for wildlife. I’ve happy personal experience with that one. A Brunswick reader sent me an email that he’d joined Pollinator Pathways after reading a column I wrote about the organization in December. Environmentally concerned gardeners can also register their property as a Monarch Waystation ( or a Certified Wildlife Habitats with the National Wildlife Federation (

The Homegrown National Park, a concept founded by writer/professor/entomologist Douglas Tallamy, is still growing, excuse the pun. The idea behind the park is that if enough homeowners leave parts of their yards wild rather than grooming them into perfect lawns and flowerbeds, it could have the same environmental benefits of a major wilderness park.

The Pennsylvania Horticulture Society also lists a trend of gardeners growing fruit trees, and you needn’t stick to the traditional pears, apples and peaches, either. Other options locally include the native pawpaw tree, Asimina triloba; native persimmons, Diospyros virginiana; and even figs, which can be grown in Maine (but you’ll have to bring them inside in the winter in order to get fruit). Cumberland County Master Gardeners recently offered a Zoom program on growing figs here. 


Based on personal experience, I expect phlox to be more popular than ever this year, as they did so well last summer. Not only that, but the Perennial Plant Association has named Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’ as its plant of the year. Hardy to Zone 3, the plant has lavender-pink blossoms. Phlox is native to the Eastern United States, including Maine, and ‘Jeana’ is a naturally produced hybrid found in Tennessee.

And as part of the trend of planting for a purpose, ‘Jeana’ isn’t prized merely for her looks. “Hummingbirds, butterflies – especially Eastern Tiger Swallowtails – and other pollinators are attracted to the nectar-rich flowers,” the Association said in announcing its selection. At 5 feet, Jeana is also taller than many other phlox now being introduced to market. I don’t usually buy award-winners right off, I wait for them to prove themselves, but I may make an exception for Jeana.

The trend that we can’t control is more extreme weather, and we don’t even know what those extremes will be. Heat? Drought? A combination of the two? It may be more rain and less sunshine than normal (or what used to be normal), as we had last summer. And it could be something that I have yet to imagine – even in my worst nightmares.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at:

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