URBANA, Ill. – The weather is turning colder as we approach the holiday season. Leaves have finished displaying their autumn color and fallen, and gardens have been cleaned up to begin their winter rest. Gardeners can finally enjoy a well-deserved break, but it may not be long before the anticipation of spring creeps in.
“There is no quicker way to beat those winter blues than starting your garden planning early,” says University of Illinois Extension educator Bruce Black. “Garden planning starts by thumbing through paper and online plant catalogs looking for something new, yet tested. The All-America Selections are a nice starting place."
All-America Selections (AAS) is an independent, non-profit organization that tests new varieties every year through 88 registered private and public trial gardens located around the United States and Canada. Independent AAS judges award overall national winners and winners in specific geographic regions. Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin are located in the Great Lakes Region, so Black says to look for either national winners or Great Lakes winners.
“For those of you located along the Mississippi River, Iowa, and Missouri, consider national and Heartland winners. In far southern Illinois bordering Kentucky, you could also consider Southeast winners,” Black notes.
Five 2017 AAS Winners have been announced, including four vegetables and one flower. They are:
Celosia Asian Garden (Celosia argentea var. Asian Garden): Asian Garden is a continuous bright pink flowered annual with dark green foliage noted for attracting pollinators. National Flower Award Winner.
Okra Candle Fire F1 (Abelmoschus esculentus var. Candle Fire F1): Candle Fire is a bright red, rounded okra noted for high productivity, pod taste, tenderness, and texture, as well as possible ornamental usage. Candle Fire is disease resistant for hot and humid climates. National Vegetable Award Winner.
Pea Patio Pride (Pisum sativum var. Patio Pride): A compact, uniform, and quick maturing variety, Patio Pride is ideal for container plantings or in-ground gardening. Due to its fast growth in the cool season, Patio Pride is perfect for spring, fall, or succession plantings. Southeast Vegetable Award Winner.
Squash, Winter Honeybaby F1 (Cucurbita mushata var. Honeybaby F1): Honeybaby is a semi-bush compact variety with larger, meatier, and sweeter fruits when compared to similar varieties. Powdery mildew-tolerant and crack-resistant. Heartland Vegetable Award Winner.
Watermelon Mini Love F1 (Citrullus lanatus var. Mini Love F1): As the name suggests, Mini Love is a shorter 3- to 4-foot vined Asian watermelon with up to six small 7- to 9-pound dark green fruits. National Vegetable Award Winner.
Founded in 1932, All-America Selections has a list of all current and past winners—vegetables and flowers—available on their website (all-americaselections.org) that have been "Tested Nationally and Proven Locally®." AAS winners are announced three times each year. Look for more selections in January and July.
“Just reading about these winners has begun to paint the garden possibilities for next year,” Black remarks. “A possible theme for 2017 could be a rainbow-colored garden, using some of these colorful new winners and some standard garden varieties.”