(Family Features) Experimentation seems to be the key to a great garden. Where one plant thrives, its neighbor can simply wither away. So, how's a gardener to know what plants to buy from year-to-year? The All-American Selections designation is designed to take some of the guesswork out of gardening.
All-America Selections is an independent, non-profit organization that tests new varieties around the country each year then introduces as AAS Winners. The AAS plants that have generated the most buzz this year are:
Ornamental Kale "Glamour Red"
This kale has outstanding shiny, fringed leaves. The flower head is about 10 to12 inches across. The leaves start to turn red when temperatures go below 55 degrees Fahrenheit for at least two weeks. "Glamour Red" needs full sun and will bloom from seed in 90 days. It was blooming in the Smart Home garden well into late November this year.
Sunflower "Ring of Fire"
"Ring of Fire" is a late-season sunflower that takes about 120 days to bloom from seed. It stands out in the garden with its golden petals and a ring of bright red around the brown center. It will grow to 4 to 5 feet tall and makes a good cut flower. "Ring of Fire" needs full sun for best growth.
Ornamental Pepper "Black Pearl"
This is an outstanding plant with almost black leaves. The plant produces pearl-like shiny peppers. The peppers turn a bright red, contrasting beautifully with the black foliage. The peppers are very hot. It will grow 18 to 20 inches tall and does well in containers. "Black Pearl" needs full sun.
Zinnia "Zowie! Yellow Flame"
"Zowie! Yellow Flame" has an unusual bicolor pattern with a scarlet rose center and yellow petal edges. It is easy to grow from seed to flower in 8 weeks and has a long bloom period from early summer to frost. When used as a cut flower, it will last for 2 weeks. "Zowie! Yellow Flame" does well in containers and is heat and drought tolerant.
Carrot "Purple Haze"
"Purple Haze" is purple on the outside and orange on the inside. When cooked in water, the purple color will fade, but it will not lose its purple color in a stir-fry. If cut for salads, it will keep a purple halo around the orange center. It can be grown from seed, but it does need loose, deeply dug soil because the carrots grow to about a foot long. "Purple Haze" can be grown in containers. It also makes a great addition to a children's garden.
Zinnia "Zahara Starlight Rose"
Zinnia "Zahara Starlight Rose" has outstanding white flowers with rose-colored stripes. It is easy to grow and heat and drought tolerant. It will bloom throughout the summer and seldom needs deadheading. "Zahara Starlight Rose" is resistant to mildew and leaf spot. It needs full sun for best growth.
Ornamental Pepper "Chilly Chili"
This ornamental pepper is kid safe; it is not hot. The fruit goes from yellow to orange to red, a real kaleidoscope of color. "Chilly Chili" is very tolerant of hot weather. It will grow about a foot tall and spread 6 to 10 inches. It can be used as an ornamental garnish on salads.
Gaillardia "Sundance Bicolor"
The globe-shaped, mahogany red and yellow bicolor flowers will often cover the plant. "Sundance Bicolor" is heat and drought tolerant and will spread 15 to 16 inches. Full sun is a must. It does well in containers and hanging baskets. No pinching or staking is needed.
Swiss Chard "Bright Lights"
"Bright Lights" has probably gotten the most buzz in the garden. The yellow, pink, violet, orange, red, and white stems attract attention. It can withstand the summer heat unlike lettuce and spinach. It is easy to grow from seed and is ready for harvest in 60 days.
For more information about these and other All-America Selections, visit www.all-americanselections.org.