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Most of us have a certain amount of space in which to plant flowers and vegetables. We grow the tomato varieties that have served us well for years, and our pots and planters are filled with the favorite flowers we enjoy.
But along come the plant breeders with hot new varieties that look enticing. Do we stick with the tried-and-true, or do we throw caution to the wind and experiment when there’s seldom room to grow all?
The All-America Selections organization takes the guesswork out of new flower and vegetable varieties. Since 1932, All-America Selections’ volunteer judges across North America have tested new varieties, comparing them to the current best-in-class flowers and vegetables.
If it’s sufficiently different or better, a new variety is awarded the coveted honor. Popular past winners include Purple Wave Petunia, Celebrity Tomato, Sugar Snap Pea and Straight Eight Cucumber.
Here are the 2019 award winners, with their key characteristics provided by the AAS judges.
- Begonia, Viking XL Red-on-Chocolate: The leaves of this extra-large, mound-shaped begonia are a rich, dark bronze, and the flowers are vibrant red. The 30-inch plants are strong enough for landscapes and flower beds, as well as containers.
- Marigold, Big Duck Gold: Very large 3-inch diameter golden yellow flowers are borne on strong, compact plants 15 inches in height, with rich, clean, deep-green foliage. Well-adapted to both flower beds and container-growing.
- Nasturtium, Baby Rose: The last time a nasturtium won an AAS award was in the 1930s. Baby Rose has a unique, neat, mound-shaped habit and vibrant color great in small spaces and containers. Flowers and leaves are both edible.
- Petunia, Wave Carmine Velour: The newest color in the popular Wave petunia series, with large 2.5-inch flowers in a velvety carmine rose shade. The spreading plants grow only 6 to 8 inches high, but spread 3 to 4 feet in diameter, making it a good ground cover or trailer in hanging baskets and planters.
- Melon, Orange Silver Wave: The fruits of this exotic South Korean melon measure about 5 inches in diameter, with sweet, orange flesh. Ripens in 75 days if direct-seeded in the garden, or 50 days from transplants.
- Pepper, Just Sweet: Three-inch fruits have thick walls, bright golden color, and a delicious, sweet flavor for fresh eating. Harvest 70 days from transplanting into the garden.
- Tomato, Chef’s Choice Black: The sixth color in the Chef’s Choice line, this beefsteak type has a rich brown-black hue. The strong indeterminate vines grow to 5 feet, so staking is required. Flavor is described as sweet and rich with a hint of saltiness. Harvest 75 days from transplanting.
- Tomato, Fire Fly: Fruits are smaller than the average cherry tomato, but mild and sweet. Each indeterminate plant easily produces more than 500 tomatoes. Slightly late for a small-fruited type at 80 days from transplanting.
- Tomato, Red Torch: Oblong stiped fruits average 1.5 inches long and bear up to 100 fruits on indeterminate vines 65 days from transplanting.
- Tomato, Sparky XSL: The initials stand for "extended shelf life," and this cherry-type tomato retains its quality longer than average after picking. Each indeterminate plant bears 60 to 70 fruits with high sugar content, with harvest 65 days from transplanting into garden.
- Watermelon, Cal Sweet Bush: Vines only grow to 18 inches on this true bush-type melon, making it ideal for small spaces or containers. Each plant yields two to three 10-pound melons with sweet, crisp flesh ripening 65 days from transplanting.
Note about availability: The new AAS winners are usually not found on in-store seed racks. Some garden centers carry starter plants of new AAS award-winners. For gardeners wishing to purchase seed, or start their own transplants, the winners are readily available from companies including Burpee, Harris Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Jung Seed, Park Seed and Territorial Seed.
Buy a calendar
Looking for a new wall calendar? Consider the 2019 Growing Together Gardening Calendar, which is graced with local gardening photos by Forum photographers and filled with nearly every "when-to" needed by gardeners tailored specifically for our Upper Midwest gardening region of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Montana. Order calendars online at https://www.inforum.com/2019gardencalendar.
Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler’s Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at email@example.com.