All-America Selections is a nonprofit organization that tests newly developed cultivars 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 was founded in 1932, and the first AAS winners were announced a year later, after the results were tabulated for the first trial. 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 2009 AAS winners were judged in side-by-side comparison tests with standard cultivars and were selected based entirely on the plants’ performance. Only those few cultivars that demonstrate unique new characteristics, exceptional productivity and superior garden performance make the All-American 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 2009, four winners have been named.
AAS Cool-Season Bedding Plant Award Winner — Viola Rain Blue and Purple creates a spreading pool of cool blue colors in flowerbeds and containers. The plants are cold-tolerant and are best used as cool-season bedding plants in Louisiana. Plant transplants from November through March. Like other violas, Rain Blue and Purple produces smaller flowers than pansies. Don’t let this stop you from giving them a try as they produce flowers in such great quantities their color impact in the landscape is outstanding. An especially appealing trait of this viola is that the one and one-half-inch blooms change color from purple and white to purple and blue as they mature. Few flowers change colors naturally, and Rain Blue and Purple is a lovely example. The six-inch-tall plants spread 10 to 14 inches in the garden or container. The trailing habit is perfectly suited for hanging baskets or patio containers.
AAS Vegetable Award Winners — Eggplant Gretel is the earliest white eggplant available. Early production means beating the intense heat of summer that can sometimes reduce harvests. The glossy white mini-fruit are produced in clusters and can be harvested in 55 days after transplanting, depending upon growing conditions. Like all eggplants, Gretel will grow rapidly under warm temperatures. Transplants are best planted into the garden in mid to late April or early May. The pure white fruit contain few seeds and are sweet with tender skin even if they mature beyond the ideal fruit size of three to four inches. This trait means gardeners have a longer timeline to harvest fruit. Gretel plants are relatively small, about three feet wide and tall. This smaller size makes it adaptable to the popular trend of growing edibles in containers. It is recommended to use a rather large container, about 16 inches deep.
Melons are all about sweet juicy flesh and excellent flavor, and Lambkin produces melons with the delicious taste gardeners crave. The oval melon weighs between two and four pounds and has a thin rind surrounding sweet, aromatic, white, juicy flesh. Another outstanding characteristic is the earliness. Most other gourmet melons of this type mature much later than the 65 to 75 days of Lambkin. Because of the early harvest, the vigorous vines can produce more melons. This results in more melons to share with friends, if you can stand to let any go. The yellow melon skin with green mottling is unique. Lambkin stores well and can be stored longer than other melons in a cool place such as a refrigerator. Seeds are best planted in the garden in April. The vigorous vines grow six feet or more.
Acorn squash Honey Bear was bred to be baked and served in the half shell. The honey in ‘Honey Bear’ refers to the sweet squash flavor when cooked. In addition to flavor, it has three outstanding qualities: being compact, high yielding and tolerant to powdery mildew. The bushy plant reaches two to three feet tall and spreads four to five feet without vines. Each plant can be expected to produce about three to five fruit. The dark green acorn squash weighs about a pound, which is a perfect size for sharing between two people. The yield is high due to the powdery mildew tolerance. At the end of the season many acorn squash plants succumb to the mildew and fruit on the plant never matures. Honey Bear continues to bear fruit through the growing season. From sowing until harvest of the first squash is about 100 days.
For more information, contact Dr. Chris Robichaux, county agent, St. Martin/Iberia parishes at 332-2181 or 369-4440.