Growing together: Award-winning flowers, vegetables for 2017

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What’s a gardener to do? Most of us fill our available yard space with our favorite flower and vegetable varieties that have bloomed beautifully and yielded well in the past.

But seed catalogs and garden centers are filled with new varieties each year. Should we throw caution to the wind and try new varieties or stick with the old favorites?

What if new varieties are duds? Will the season be wasted on ugly flowers and non-productive vegetables?

One answer lies with the All-America Selections organization, with its small, red, white and blue logo on seed packets and plant labels.

Since 1932 All-America Selections has tested new varieties of flowers and vegetables in trial grounds throughout the United States and Canada.

Judges look for improved qualities like earliness, disease tolerance, taste, higher yield, prolific flowering and overall performance. If varieties receive the coveted AAS award, home gardeners are relatively certain they’re worth trying.

Here’s what the judges said about the award winners for 2017:

Supra Pink Dianthus

Mottled pink flowers cover compact, bushy plants that tolerate heat and drought better than previous varieties. Twelve-inch height is ideal for low borders, edging and containers. Start indoors from seed eight weeks before outdoor transplant date, or purchase transplants from garden centers. (Pictured above)

Calliope Dark Red Geranium

Flowers are deep velvety red, and the mounded, semi-spreading plants are well-branched for containers, hanging baskets, combination planters and in-ground flowerbeds. Plants grow 12 to 14-inches high and are propagated from cuttings like other vegetative geraniums. Check with garden centers for plants.

Twizzle Purple Penstemon

Judges were impressed with its vibrant purple spike-shaped blooms and strong flowering habit reaching a height of 35 inches. Although penstemon is a perennial, Twizzle Purple blooms the first year from seed started indoors about 10 weeks before outdoor transplanting.

EnduraScape Pink Bicolor Verbena

Soft pink blossoms have a slightly darker center. Vigorous plants grow eight to 12 inches high and spread outward 20 inches for edging, low borders or spilling over the edges of containers. Vegetatively propagated by cuttings. Check garden centers for availability.

Mega Bloom Orchid Halo Vinca

This vinca series tolerates disease better than other available types. Great choice for hot, sunny spots, the 14-inch plants bloom vigorously in containers or flowerbeds. Grown from seed, plants can be started indoors eight weeks early or purchased from greenhouses.

Profusion Red Zinnia

One of the few truly red zinnias, plants are compact, growing eight to 14 inches high and spreading 24 inches wide. Disease resistant plants grow well in hot, droughty locations. Easily grown from seed started four to six weeks before outdoor transplant date.

Antares Fennel

This flavorful plant produces edible fronds, 5-inch diameter white bulbs plus seeds. The sweet, licorice-anise flavor is described as much-improved over other varieties. Ready for harvest 68 days from direct seeding in the garden.

Mad Hatter Pepper

The three-sided, disc-shape is unique, and the flavor is sweet and citrusy. Fruits can be harvested green in 65 days from garden transplanting, or left for another 20 days to ripen red.

Patio Choice Yellow Tomato

Compact determinate growth habit is ideal for small spaces and containers. Each plant produces over one hundred sweet, one-inch diameter fruits. Ready to harvest 45 days from outdoor transplanting. Start seeds indoors six to eight weeks prior.

Patio Pride Pea

Compact plants are well-suited for containers and small-space gardens. Sweet, tender pods are ready in 40 days from direct seeding.

Honeybaby Winter Squash

Productive, short vines produce eight or nine fruits per plant. Fruits of this sweet squash are meatier than other buttercup types. Can be staked for planting in small spaces. Harvest 90 days from direct seeding into garden.

Mini Love Watermelon

Small vine produces six personal-sized melons per plant. Deep red flesh with high sugar content contains few seeds. Harvest 80 days from direct seeding to garden, or in 70 days from pre-started transplants.

Candle Fire Okra

Bright red fruits on vigorous 48-inch high plants. Harvest 60 days from direct garden sowing, or 30 days from transplants.

Note about availability: It takes time for seed and plants of new varieties to become widely available. All-America Selections publishes lists of national companies carrying seed of winners. Although many eventually carry them, the company currently carrying most of the 2017 winners is Jung Seed, whose catalog can be viewed online at Jungseed.com.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler’s Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at forumgrowingtogether@hotmail.com. He also blogs at http://growingtogether.areavoices.com.

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