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Don Kinzler, Published March 28 2014

Growing Together: New award winners for this year’s garden

“Hot new cucumber!” makes a catchy headline, but the real question is whether “new” translates to “better.” All-America Selections winners for 2014 can help answer the question.

Maybe you’ve noticed the small red, white and blue All-America Selections logo on seed packets or plant labels. Each year since 1932, the All-America Selections nonprofit organization tests new varieties of flowers and vegetables in 70 official trial grounds located throughout the United States and Canada.

Judges look for improved qualities such as earliness to bloom or harvest, disease tolerance, taste, novel colors or flavors, higher yield, length of flowering or harvest and overall performance. If varieties are deemed worthy, they receive the coveted AAS award, and home gardeners are relatively certain the variety is worth trying.

The following vegetables and flowers are 2014’s award winners.

Bean “Mascotte” – Dwarf green bean produces heavily in window boxes and patio pots or the garden. Straight, long, round pods are deliciously crisp.

Cucumber “Pick a Bushel’ – Great for northern areas because it sets fruit early, bears heavily and is a compact bush-type. Sweet tasting light-green cucumbers are perfect for pickling when harvested early or left longer for slicing fresh in salads. It’s a great option for gardening in patio containers.

Cucumber ‘Saladmore Bush” – Semi-bush vines set sweet, crisp cucumbers. Good disease resistance. Pick small for processing as pickles and harvest larger for fresh slices or spears.

Eggplant “Patio Baby” – A very early and highly productive eggplant with a compact habit, making it great for containers and gardens. Loads of tasty fruits 3 inches long.

Pepper “Giant Ristra” – Heavy yield of bright red very hot 7-inch chili peppers. Fruits can be eaten fresh, roasted or dried. Its red fruit can be strung together in long bunches, dried and displayed for use throughout the winter months.

Pepper “Mama Mia Giallo” – Judges declared this a great yellow pepper because of the huge yield, uniform shape and smooth skin of the long, tapered fruits. Its nice, sweet flavor makes it excellent either fresh or roasted.

Pumpkin “Cinderella’s Carriage” – Magical pink-red fruit shaped like a pumpkin carriage. Large trailing vine sets up five to seven yellow-fleshed, sweet, nutty flavored pumpkins well-suited for baking or fall decorations with average weight 18 to 20 pounds.

Radish “Ravioli” – Leaves are healthy with even-colored bright-red radishes. Uniform roots are very round and about 1½ inches in diameter.

Tomato “Chef’s Choice Orange” – Heirloom-type orange indeterminate tomato with deep orange, beefsteak-shaped fruit. Flavor is sweet and mild. Midseason ripening in 75 days.

Tomato “Fantastico” – Very flavorful unique determinate bush tomato with grape-shaped fruit. Each plant produces up to 12 pounds – about 350 glossy, red ½-ounce fruit. Great for containers.

Tomato “Mountain Merit” – Medium to large round, red tomato offers mild flavor and great disease resistance for a good yield of slicing tomatoes for sandwiches and burgers. Midseason.

Angelonia “Serenita” – Judges praised this entry for being drought- and heat-tolerant while continuing to produce a large number of flowers all season long.

Gaura “Sparkle White” – Floriferous and graceful plant with an exceptionally long period of bloom. Showy in containers and flower beds.

Impatiens “New Guinea Florific Sweet Orange” – Creates high-color impact in shade or semi-shaded garden locations with its unique salmon bicolor.

Ornamental Pepper “NuMex Easter” – Compact plant displays clusters of fruit ranging from lavender to light yellow to orange. The colors of the fruit resemble the pastel colors of Easter eggs.

Osteospermum “Akila Daisy White” – Clean and fresh daisy flower sporting a pale center. Free flowering performance will give the home gardener a great show in containers and gardens beds.

Penstemon “Arabesque Red” – A winner for the pollinator garden that hummingbirds will love! This beauty is a season-long repeat bloomer with large tubular blooms almost one inch across. Great for combination containers. It’s a non-hardy perennial used as a beautiful annual.

Petunia “African Sunset” – Plants bloom prolifically all season long with a show of attractive designer color orange-hued flowers. Mounded spreading plants are 12 inches tall, spreading outward to 32 inches. Truly unique in containers or flower beds.

Sunflower “Suntastic Yellow” – Naturally dwarf and compact early flowering sunflower that grows to a height of only 18 to 24 inches. Floriferous plant produces up to 20 flowers per plant!

All-America Selections winners are always fascinating to try. I’m excited to try the tomatoes, African Sunset petunia, and gaura for the first time. Many award winners set new standards and stand the test of time. Nearly everyone is familiar with Purple Wave petunia, which was an AAS winner from 1995 and has been huge ever since.

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