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All-America Selections Announces 2011 Award Winners

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One way to pick the best plants for my garden is to look at the All-America winners for the new year. If it has been tested and approved in the All-America Selections (AAS) testing program, I can trust the plant to will grow in my yard. They have almost 50 test gardens from Alaska and Canada to California and Florida. It is very useful to develop a test garden in a similar climate as your own landscape. They also have over 175 display gardens across the continent. They aren't used for judging, but they do show gardeners how well the plants grow locally.

AAS trial gardens have tested around 50 plant varieties every year since 1932, and they only accept previously unsold varieties. The AAS award recognizes a flower or vegetable for significant achievements, proven superior to all others on the market. The judges evaluate the plants all season long, not just during an end of season harvest. Only the entries with the highest nationwide average score are considered to be worthy of an AAS award.

The judge evaluates entries by looking for desirable qualities, such as novel flower forms, flower colors, flowers held above the leaves, fragrance, length of flowering season, and disease or pest tolerances or resistance. Vegetables are judged by observing traits, such as earliness to harvest, total yield, fruit taste, fruit quality, ease of harvest, plant habit, and disease and pest resistance.

When you see the red, white and blue logo of All-America Selections on seed packets, bedding plant tags or in catalogs, it's a promise of gardening success. AAS has taken the guesswork out of finding reliable new flower and vegetable varieties, which will show improvements over other varieties. For the past couple of years, there were four winners, but there are seven winners this year.

Gaillardias are sun-loving flowers that look like a daisy.

They often grow too tall and messy, but not "Arizona Apricot," which grows to a compact 12 inches tall. It has 3-inch yellow flowers that deepen to apricot in the center. Hardy from zones 2 to 10, this perennial should be planted in masses in the front of full sunflower beds or in containers.

Violas or pansies are great winter bloomers for the warm or cool winter states. Planted in the fall, they will bloom all winter when not covered in snow as well as in the spring until the summer heat gets them. Viola "Shangri-La Marina" is a deep-blue flowering plant that only grows to 6 inches tall.

For the first time in 78 years of AAS trial gardens, an ornamental kale has been chosen. It shows off a 1-foot diameter head of shiny green leaves with a bright pink center, which will last from November to March in warmer climates. It's a good fall plant to contrast with mums in colder climates.

The plant that I am salivating for is the "Summer Jewel Red" Salvia. It has brilliant red flowers on a 20-inch stalk that is sure to attract hummingbirds and butterflies. The seeds also attract goldfinches.

There are three vegetable winners in this year's AAS awards. The "Hijinks" pumpkin produces uniform 6-pound orange fruits. It's notable for its resistance to powdery mildew.

This year's tomato winners are both excellent for hanging baskets and patio containers as they both only grow to about 2 feet tall. "Lizzano" is the first late blight-tolerant, cherry-fruited, semi-determinate variety on the market. This feature will help many people get tomatoes later into the season. "Terenzo" is a cherry tomato with a very high sugar content, which makes it wonderful for salads.

E-mail questions to Jeff Rugg at info@greenerview.com. To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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