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Thursday, April 18, 2013 01:58 pm

New and recommended flowers and vegetables


One All-America Selections 2013 award-winner is a canna called “South Pacific Scarlet.”
There seems to be an award for everything, whether it is for the best picture, best actor, best country music video or best automobile for 2013, and gardening is no exception, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

“There are plenty of ‘new’ things out there to try. For many gardeners, the problem is ‘so many neat things to grow and so little space.’ So how does one choose?” asked Greg Stack. “Well, one way is to look to All-America Selections (AAS) and the Perennial Plant Association (PPA) to help you out.”

AAS recognizes new flowers and vegetables that are significant improvements over previous varieties and that offer gardening success. Only the best receive this award. In the perennial arena, the PPA showcases a perennial that is a standout among its competitors and is suitable for a wide range of growing conditions, requires minimal care and offers multiple seasons of interest.

“Let’s look at what each organization has selected as things to consider for your 2013 garden,” he said.

The first AAS winner is a canna called “South Pacific Scarlet.” This plant is compact, growing to about four-feet tall, and it is well-suited for the garden or container. It is a multi-branched heavy bloomer, producing flowers in shades of scarlet, held high above the tropical-looking foliage. It is easily grown from seed that is sown indoors, starting around mid- to late February. Transplant seedlings to individual pots and grow them indoors until all danger of frost is past. Set them outside in a full-sun location and enjoy the show. The rhizomes (underground stems) can be dug up in the fall and stored indoors for planting next season.

Echinacea “Cheyenne Spirit” is a coneflower for the perennial garden offering a mix of colors from purple, pink, red and orange tones to light yellow and cream. They grow to about two feet tall and are well branched. Once established in the garden, they are very drought tolerant. Bloom time is from mid-summer to fall. “Cheyenne Spirit” will bloom the first year from seed if the seed is sown indoors around Jan. 25.

“A trick for good germination of Echinacea seed is to sow it on top of moist media and cover it very lightly or not at all with media,” Stack noted. “Exposure to light helps germination. These sturdy plants also hold up well in the garden during wind and rain.”

Geranium (Pelargonium) “Pinto Premium White and Rose” is the third AAS flower winner for 2013. Plants grow to about 12 to14 inches tall and produce large, five-inch-diameter blooms of a unique flower color that goes from white and then deepens to rose pink, giving them a bicolor effect.

Fans of seedless watermelons should look for “Harvest Moon” F1.

These plants are well branched with deep green leaves and a very dark “zone” marking. Removal of the old flowers along with regular fertilization keeps the plants neat and free-flowering.

In the vegetable category, look for three additions to the vegetable garden.

Melon “Melemone” F1 is an early, high-yielding, honeydew-like melon with a delicious tanginess. Fruit size is about four pounds, and it will hold about one month after harvesting. Plants are compact, spreading to about 24 inches. For northern gardens, sowing seed indoors about four weeks ahead of the frost-free date and setting out plants helps to ensure an earlier harvest.

Tomato “Jasper” F1 is the new AAS tomato winner. The very vigorous plant produces high yields of cherry-type sweet tomatoes. “Jasper” is also resistant to fusarium, a common soil-borne disease.

Fans of seedless watermelons should look for “Harvest Moon” F1. This melon is similar in appearance to an heirloom variety called “Moon and Stars.” The short vines produce melons that weigh about 15 to 18 pounds and have a sweet, pink-red flesh.

“There are some things to note when growing seedless (triploid) melons,” Stack said. “If you sow seeds direct to the garden, the seed packet will come with diploid pollinator melon seed in a ratio of three triploid to one diploid seed. Make sure you plant both types of seed. They are usually treated with a colorant to distinguish them. If you buy transplants, you need to include another variety in the garden for proper pollination.”

Tomato “Jasper” F1 is the new AAS tomato winner.
The Perennial Plant Association (PPA) also hands out awards and announces a perennial plant of the year. For 2013, it is variegated Solomon seal (Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’). This classic beauty is a great plant for the shady woodland garden. In addition to the variegated green and white foliage, it produces bell-shaped, fragrant white flowers in late spring. This is followed by bluish-black berries. Also in the fall, the foliage turns an attractive yellow. This perennial grows to about two feet and tends to colonize an area. It is hardy to zones 3-8.

“So there you have it. The awards have been given to some new, interesting, and unique flower and vegetable entries,” Stack said. “Try at least one and expand your horticultural palette beyond the everyday. These plants will also give you some interesting talking points when visitors come into your garden.”