Grow the best new flower and vegetable varieties
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Bruce J. Black
Another Illinois winter comes to a close after rain, thunderstorms, and snow replenish the soil moisture. A welcome cure for those winter blues has been the arriving garden catalogs and planning for spring. What new garden challenge is your goal for this year? A theme or color scheme? Floral, woody, or edible additions? Whichever way you plan it, always leave room for the unexpected when shopping for plants.
Review your garden records from previous years to aid in the planning for the new spring. When planning your new theme, look for plants that are suited for USDA hardiness zone 5 or colder. Using a plant map, think about where you could incorporate your theme or where your new plants should go. My starting place is the new additions of All-America Selections.
All-America Selections is a non-profit organization that releases several trialed plants each year as AAS Winners. AAS tests new varieties every year at private and public trial sites located around the U.S. and Canada. Currently, there are four trial locations in Illinois, with three northern and one central.
Independent judges, who are professional horticulturists in geographically diverse areas, evaluate trial entries against comparison plants. The results and observations are compiled, and winners are chosen. For the best plants suited to Illinois residents, look for Great Lakes winners or National winners on the AAS Winners lists.
This year, there are 11 AAS winners, some of which are suited for Illinois.
Pepper jalapeno San Joaquin F1 (Capsicum annuum var. San Joaquin F1): This National Vegetable Winner is a determinate, thick-walled jalapeno setting about 50 fruits per plant. Good for preserving or roasting, holds taste and firmness until harvest. 2,500 to 6,000 Scoville units.
Tomato Zenzei F1 (Solanum lycopersicum var. Zenzei): This Regional Vegetable Winner is a high-yielding, early-maturing Roma, plum type tomato. Its uniform, fleshy, easy-to-harvest tomatoes are good fresh or for preservation, and born on bushy indeterminate plants. Less disease issues than other tomatoes.
Coleus Premium Sun Coral Candy (Solenostemon scutellarioides var. Premium Sun Coral Candy): A National Winner, this is the first seed coleus to be an AAS Winner. This flower is a compact, multicolored foliage plant with narrow, serrated leaves that holds color well in full sun. Perfect for a 14” to 16” container or hanging basket.
Salvia Blue by You (Salvia hybrida var. Blue by You): This National Winner is a perennial salvia with blue flowers blooming up to two weeks earlier. It is both heat tolerant and winter hardy. Blooms late spring into fall with deadheading of spent blooms. It is pollinator friendly and not deer or rabbit friendly.