Many gardeners enjoy leafing through seed catalogs during the winter months looking for new, exciting additions to the garden. With the wide variety of plant materials available, choosing a few new additions can be difficult. Before making any selections, be sure to check out the All-America Selections for 2000.
Since 1933, All-America Selection judges have been evaluating new flower and vegetable varieties in trials all across North America. Based on their outstanding performance, five flower and four vegetable varieties have been chosen as All-America Selections for 2000.
Cosmos sulphureus 'Cosmic Orange' was selected as an All-America Selection for 2000 because of its compact growth habit and free-blooming, semi-double, orange flowers. Since 'Cosmic Orange' grows about 12 to 20 inches tall, no staking is needed. Plants begin to bloom earlier than most varieties and produce 2-inch-diameter flowers.
'Cosmic Orange' performs best in a well-drained soil and full sun. Plants do tolerate dry conditions.
A second AAS winner is Vinca 'Stardust Orchid.' 'Stardust Orchid' produces 2-inch-diameter flowers that are pinkish purple with white centers. Plants grow about 1 foot tall and produce glossy, dark green foliage.
Like other vincas, 'Stardust Orchid' is heat and drought tolerant. Plants perform best in well-drained soils and full sun. They perform poorly in wet soils and cool weather.
While tithonia or Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) produces attractive, daisy- like flowers, it has never been widely planted because it is tall (the species grows 4 to 6 feet tall) and often breaks over in mid-summer. The third AAS winner, 'Fiesta del Sol,' is a dwarf, 2- to 3-foot variety. The shorter plant height makes it easier to utilize the plants in the garden. Also, breakage is not a problem. 'Fiesta del Sol' produces single, bright orange, 3-inch-diameter flowers beginning in mid-summer. The large leaves have a velvety texture.
Mexican sunflowers are heat and drought tolerant. They perform best in well-drained soils and full sun. Avoid wet, poorly drained sites. 'Fiesta del Sol' begins to bloom about 12 to 15 weeks after the seeds have been sown. To promote early bloom, buy transplants at a garden center or sow seeds indoors about 6 weeks before the intended outdoor planting date. Since tithonia prefers warm temperatures, do not transplant outdoors until mid to late May in Iowa.
Sunflowers have become extremely popular in the last few years. 'Soraya' produces 4- to 6-inch-diameter flowers that have orange petals with a dark center. They are excellent cut flowers. 'Soraya' is self-branching, producing up to 20 to 25 stems per plant. Plants ultimately mature to a height of 5 to 6 feet.
Sunflowers are easy to grow. They tolerate hot, dry conditions and grow in almost any soil. Their only requirement is full sun. Since sunflowers are difficult to transplant, sow the seeds directly outdoors in early to mid-May.
The final AAS flower winner is Dianthus 'Melody Pink.' This heat tolerant variety produces one inch, single, light pink flowers on 20- to 24-inch-tall plants. An excellent cut flower, 'Melody Pink' produces clusters or sprays of flowers on stems up to 1 foot in length. This annual dianthus performs best in well-drained, slightly alkaline soils.
'Blushing Beauty' is a sweet bell pepper that produces large quantities of blocky, 4- inch peppers. The yellow-white fruits slowly change to blush pink before maturing to a deep red. The colorful fruits are produced on bushy, 18-inch tall plants.
An early savoy cabbage, 'Savoy Express' produces small 1 to 1 1/2 pound heads approximately 55 days after transplanting. The crinkled leaves have an excellent sweet flavor.
Similar to ornamental Indian corn, 'Indian Summer' is a supersweet (sh2) sweet corn variety with multi-colored kernels. Kernels are yellow, white, red, and purple. Ears are approximately 8 inches long and have 16 to 18 rows of kernels. Pick 'Indian Summer' at full maturity for best color.
'Indian Summer' and other supersweet varieties must be isolated from sugar-enhanced and standard sweet corn, popcorn, and field corn. Cross-pollination with other types of corn will destroy the quality of the supersweet varieties. Isolation can be achieved by planting sh2 types at least 250 feet away from other types of corn. Cross-pollination may also be avoided by planting the different types so there is a minimum 14 day difference in tasseling dates. Since supersweet varieties do not germinate well in cool soils, 'Indian Summer' should not be planted until mid-May in Iowa.
The final AAS vegetable winner is 'Mr. Big.' 'Mr. Big' is an English or garden pea that produces well-filled, 5-inch pods containing 8 to 10 peas per pod. The peas possess an excellent sweet flavor. Vines average 30 inches in length. Plants can be grown without support or on a 3- foot fence for easier harvesting.
As you browse through the seed catalogs during the next few weeks, be sure to check out these award-winning selections.
This article originally appeared in the January 14, 2000 issue, p. 2.