The All-America Selections organization field tests new varieties each year and have been doing so for the last 82 years. New varieties are entered into the trials by developers and tested against established varieties by amateurs and professionals alike. Their motto is “Tested nationally and proven locally.” This insures that a variety is suitable for the local in which it is to be grown.
The AAS is an independent organization whose sole purpose is to choose the best performing plants. There is no commercial interest involved. Plants are evaluated and results are tabulated by individual judges in each locale. This insures that only the best varieties for each area come out on top.
Test gardens are scattered throughout North America. There are 3 in Pennsylvania. South Park in Pittsburgh houses one such garden. Others are Aris Greenleaf Plants in Lancaster, Peacetree Farm in Kinthersville and W. Atlee Burpee & Co. in Doylstown. The AAS also has display gardens where the winners can be viewed in a formal, attractive and maintained s setting. These plots are often used as teaching gardens and can be visited on arranged tours with guides. In Pennsylvania there is one at the Ambler Arboretum at Temple University, one at Longwood Gardens at Kennett Square and one in Pittsburgh at Schenley Plaza operated by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.
There were two national award winning flowering annuals for 2016 and both were geraniums. Geranium ‘Brocade Cherry Night’ is an attractive bronze leafed geranium. The leaves have green borders and provide an attractive plant even when it isn’t in bloom. The flowers are bright cherry red and semi-double, held well above the leaves. Blooms can reach 5 inches. The plant has a mounding habit and grows to 10-24 inches in height. It is suitable for pot or basket growing, as well as a low border plant. Geraniums require full sun to partial shade and grow best in well-drained soil.
The second geranium is geranium ‘Brocade Fire’. This is an orange geranium with a semi-double, five inch flower. The foliage is multi-colored hence the name ‘Brocade Fire’. It too is suitable for baskets, posts or in-ground cultivation. It is the striking contrast between the bright orange flowers and the multi-colored foliage that makes this plant such a standout. Geraniums in general are propagated by cuttings but be advised that this is illegal if the plant is patented.
There were 9 national award winning vegetable. If you are looking for a small cabbage Katerina F1 might be a good choice. It produces a 4 inch head 1-3 weeks ahead of the earliest cabbage. Smaller heads continue to be produced after the main heard is harvested. Its small size makes it suitable for containers. The flavor is said to be milder and less bitter than standard cabbage.
Kale has become a very popular vegetable known for its healthful properties but it tends to require considerable room. Prizim F1 is a shorter variety that is happy growing in pots, as well as in the ground. They can be planted as close as 4 inches apart and can be cut early and re-harvested when the leaves grow back.
There are two tomatoes in the winner’s circle for 2016. Tomato Chefs Choice Green F1 produces a 6-7 inch fruit that weight 9-10 ounces. The ripe fruit is green with subtle yellow strips. It is said to have a sweet, tangy flavor that can be compared to Ruby’s Green. A plant produces 30 plus tomatoes. Staking is required although the plant is fairly compact. It is unusually disease resistant and cracking is rare. Harvest time from transplant is approximately 90 days.
The second tomato is Candyland Red. This is a currant tomato, one of the smallest varieties, at 1/2 inch in diameter. Over 100 exceptionally sweet tomatoes are produced by each plant. The plants are tall and can spread up to 48 inches. Staking is necessary. Time from transplant to harvest is 55 days.
There are a couple of peppers that have received national recognition. Cornito Giallo F1 was recognized for its exceptional flavor. It is described as “sweet and fruity.” It may be used raw or fried. The pepper is a bull’s horn type at 6 inches long by 2 inches in diameter. The yellow fruit is abundant with each plant producing 25-35 fruits over a long season well into fall. Peppers are ready for harvest 75 days from setting out. The plant itself is tall and robust.
The second pepper Escamillo was chosen for a number of desirable traits. The pepper is exceptionally sweet eaten raw or fried. It is an early bearing pepper at 77 days from transplant to harvest. The pepper is large at 8 inches in length and 2 1/2 inches in diameter and the fruit is abundant. The plant is fairly tall at 24 inches but compact making ideal for the home garden. Escamillo is also a yellow pepper.
Other national winners were kohlrabi Konan F1 chosen for its exceptional size and smoothness. Mizuna Red Kingdom F1 is a Japanese mustard that was selected for its beautiful red/purple color, high yield and mild taste. Pumpkin Pepitas produces hulless seeds and is also exceptionally decorative. Strawberry Delizz® F1 produces an exceptionally flavorful berry over a long season. It is heat resistant and prolific. The plant is neat and compact and is adaptable to both baskets and pots.
There are a number of regional selections that may or may not be adaptable to all regions. None of them were specific to the Pennsylvania region and, while some of them may grow here, they may not out-perform other varieties. These may be viewed at http://all-americaselections.org/winners/index.cfm