Many home gardeners like to try several new flower and vegetable varieties each year. When selecting new varieties for the garden, gardeners should consider the All-America Selections (AAS) winners. The AAS winners have been grown and evaluated in trial gardens throughout the United States and Canada and have been found to possess unique or improved qualities and exhibit superior performance. (An article on the All-America Selections organization and the selection process can be found in the July 19, 1996 Horticulture and Home Pest News .) Three flower and three vegetable varieties have been selected as AAS winners for 1997.
Celosia cristata 'Prestige Scarlet' was selected as a 1997 AAS winner because of its unique, multi-branched growth habit. While most cockscomb varieties produce a large central flowerhead with several small sideheads, 'Prestige Scarlet' produces numerous 3 to 3 1/2 inch scarlet, cockscomb-type flowers. Plants grow approximately 15 to 20 inches tall and have a similar spread.
Celosia performs best in full sun and well-drained soils. Cockscomb tolerates heat and drought conditions. The flowers can be used for fresh cut flowers or dried everlastings.
Sow Celosia seed indoors 6 weeks before the last frost date. Barely cover the seed with the germination medium. Soak the medium with lukewarm water and allow it to drain. Keep the medium uniformly moist. Cockscomb seed germinates best at a temperature of 70 to 75 F.
The second AAS flower award winner for 1997 is Gypsophila muralis 'Gypsy.' 'Gypsy' is an annual baby's breath. Plants are compact. They grow to a height of 10 to 14 inches. 'Gypsy' produces small, 1/4-inch, pink flowers. The blooms can be single or double.
Annual baby's breath performs best in well-drained soils and sunny locations. It does not tolerate heavy, wet soils. 'Gypsy' would be an excellent choice for containers, rock gardens, or annual beds.
Sow annual baby's breath seed indoors 6 weeks before transplanting into the garden. The medium temperature should be 70 F. Once germinated, grow the seedlings at a temperature of 60 F.
The final 1997 AAS flower winner is Zinnia angustifolia 'Crystal White.' 'Crystal White' produces white, daisy-like flowers on spreading, compact 4- to 5-inch plants. Unlike the commonly grown garden zinnias (Zinnia elegans), Zinnia angustifolia and its varieties are tolerant of powdery mildew.
Zinnia angustifolia prefers full sun and well-drained soils. It possesses excellent heat and drought tolerance. Because of its spreading habit, 'Crystal White' is a excellent choice as an ground cover or border plant. It is also suitable for window boxes or other containers.
'Crystal White' is easy to grow from seed. Sow seed indoors 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost date or sow directly outdoors in early May.
There are also three All-America Selections vegetable winners for 1997.
The cabbage variety 'Dynamo' produces small, round, blue-green heads. The dense, uniform heads average 2 to 2 1/2 pounds and mature approximately 65 to 70 days after transplanting. The heads hold well in the garden with less loss due to splitting. 'Dynamo' is resistant to Fusarium yellows.
Cabbage seedlings can be planted in the garden in mid-April in central Iowa. Sow seed indoors 6 weeks before transplanting into the garden.
Okra 'Cajun Delight' was chosen as an AAS winner because of its earliness, tender pods, and higher yield in comparison to similar varieties. 'Cajun Delight' produces 3 1/2- to 5-inch pods about 50 to 55 days after transplanting. Mature plants may be 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide.
Okra is a warm-season vegetable. Gardeners in central Iowa should plant okra seedlings outdoors in mid- to late May. Sow seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before planting outdoors. Soak the seed in water overnight to hasten germination. Okra can also be direct-seeded into the garden after the threat of frost is past.
Thai basil 'Siam Queen' is the final 1997 AAS vegetable winner. 'Siam Queen' plants have thick, reddish-purple stems and large, green leaves. The leaves are twice the size of some basil varieties. 'Siam Queen' also flowers later than other Thai basils. The large leaf size and late flowering increases plant yield. The leaves of 'Siam Queen' have a licorice/basil aroma. Mature plants may reach a height of 30 to 40 inches and spread 30 inches wide.
'Siam Queen' is easy to grow from seed. Sow seed indoors 4 to 6 weeks before planting outdoors. Plant outdoors in the spring after the danger of frost is past.
As you browse through the seed catalogs during the next few weeks, be sure to check out the 1997 All-America Selections for this gardening season.
This article originally appeared in the January 7, 1997 issue, pp. 3-4.
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