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Take a look at the 2012 All-America Selections Winners
by Dan Gill
by Dan Gill


Dan Gill earned B.S. and M.S. degrees in horticulture from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, and is an Associate Professor in Consumer Horticulture with the LSU AgCenter.

He is the spokesperson for the LSU AgCenter’s Get It Growing project, a statewide educational effort in home horticulture utilizing radio, Internet, TV and newsprint. Gardeners throughout Louisiana read his columns in local newspapers, watch his gardening segments on local TV stations and listen to him on local radio. In the New Orleans area, Dan appears weekly on the Channel 4 Morning News, writes a weekly gardening column for The Times-Picayune and hosts the Saturday morning WWWL Garden Show, a live call-in radio program.

Dan is co-author of the Louisiana Gardener’s Guide and author of Month-by-Month Gardening in Louisiana. His “South Louisiana Region Report” and “Only in Louisiana” columns appear monthly in the Louisiana Gardener Magazine.

January 8, 2012

All-America Selections is a non-profit organization that tests newly developed seed-grown varieties of bedding plants and vegetables in garden plots all across the United States. Duplicating conditions in the average home garden, the testing program is independent and unbiased. AAS Winners have been introduced each year since 1933, and AAS continues as the oldest, most established international testing organization in North America.

As always, the 2012 AAS Winners were judged in side-by-side comparison tests with standard varieties and were selected based entirely on the plants’ performance. Only those few varieties that demonstrate unique new characteristics, exceptional productivity and superior garden performance make the All-America Selections list each year.

So when it comes to bedding plants and vegetables, those that are All-America Selection Winners are generally considered good choices. That’s not to say that every winner is going to be an outstanding choice for Louisiana, and we may use them differently than gardeners in other parts of the country. For 2012, four winners have been named.

AAS Flower Award Winner: Ornamental Pepper Black Olive

The AAS Judges said Black Olive ornamental pepper (Capsicum annuum Black Olive) was a standout, especially in the southern trial gardens where heat was a major presence during the 2011 trials. The plants grow to be about 18 to 20 inches tall and 12 to 15 inches wide.

All season long this beauty keeps its upright habit with nicely draping leaves and dark purple/black fruit that appear in small clusters along the stems. As summer progresses, the fruits mature to red, giving a beautiful contrast against the dark purple foliage and bright purple flowers. The fruit is edible, but be careful. Like most ornamental peppers, the fruits are fiery hot. I think they make a nice hot pepper vinegar to go with cooked greens. Plants will perform best in full sun and can be grown in garden beds or containers. You can even cut branches to use as cut flowers in mixed bouquets.

AAS Bedding Plant Award Winner: Salvia Summer Jewel Pink

Last summer, Summer Jewel Red salvia was an AAS winner. Summer Jewel Pink salvia (Salvia coccinia Summer Jewel Pink) is similar with delicate pink flowers. Both of these salvias have performed very well in trials at the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station. This salvia will thrive in beds or containers in full to part sun. Once established, they are fairly drought tolerant.

Summer Jewel Pink salvia is a dwarf-sized, compact plant that is notable for its prolific production of spikes of delicate pink flowers throughout the growing season. The plants grow to be about 15 to 20 inches tall and about 10 to 15 inches wide. The foliage is an attractive mid-green and is slightly fuzzy.

You can purchase transplants from local nurseries this spring or grow transplants yourself from seed. As a bonus, when grown from seeds, the blooms appear almost two weeks earlier than the other pink salvias used as comparisons. Its compact growth and early blooming are major reasons it is the Bedding Plant Award Winner for 2012.

The flowers are rich in nectar, and the hummingbirds love pink just as much as they do red! Summer Jewel Pink, along with Summer Jewel Red, is an excellent choice for hummingbird and butterfly gardens.

AAS Vegetable Award Winner: Pepper Cayennetta F1

If you love the spicy flavor of peppers but don’t want so much heat, consider growing the new Cayennetta pepper (Capsicum annuum Cayennetta). It is an excellent tasting, mildly spicy pepper that is easy to grow. This variety produces chili peppers about 3 to 4 inches long on a compact, well branched upright plant. The tapered, bayonet-shaped fruit start off green, mature bright red and are produced in great quantities.

Plants produce best with eight hours or more of direct sun (full sun) and grow to be about 24 inches tall and about 20 inches wide. The plants generally require no staking, which would make Cayennetta pepper a great choice for container or patio gardens.

A unique character of this variety is that it has good cold tolerance. This is important for gardeners planting as early as possible in spring and a good characteristic for late-summer plantings for fall production. Also notable is the dense foliage cover that protects the fruits from sun scorch. And it handled extreme heat very well.

This pepper is an all-around good choice no matter where you’re gardening. Market growers will benefit from the heavy yield and prolific fruit set from each plant. Everyone will love the excellent pepper flavor that outshone all the comparison varieties.

AAS Vegetable Award Winner: Watermelon Faerie F1

Faerie is a non-traditional watermelon because of its appearance. It has an unusual creamy yellow rind with thin stripes instead of the more traditional green or green-striped varieties. Yet it still yields sweet pink-red flesh with a high sugar content and crisp texture. Home gardeners will like growing something unique in their garden and the fact that the vigorous vines spread only to 11 feet means it takes up less space in the garden. Each 7- to 8-inch fruit weighs only four to six pounds, making it a perfect family-size melon. Gardeners will appreciate the disease and insect tolerance as well as the prolific fruit set that starts early and continues throughout the season.

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