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Every year garden catalogs advertise new, exciting varieties of our favorite plants. Sometimes the options can be overwhelming, with each new addition sounding better than the previous. So how do you go about deciding which new variety to select? Fortunately, All-American Selections (AAS), an independent, non-profit organization tests these new plant varieties and names the best performers as AAS Winners.

Varieties that have never been commercially available are grown and evaluated for a full growing season in anonymous trials that are done by volunteer professional horticulturalists throughout North America. Judges look for significantly improved qualities such as earliness to bloom or harvest, disease or pest tolerance, novel colors or flavors, novel flower forms, total yield, length of flowering or harvest and overall performance. A variety needs to have at least two significantly improved qualities to be considered for an AAS award. There are six national winners for 2019:

Begonia Viking™ XL Red on Chocolate F1 produces vibrant red flowers and has large, uniquely colored dark leaves that maintain their color throughout the season. Plants reach 28-34 inches tall and maintain their mounded shape well and don't become leggy. These extra-large mounded plants are perfect in both landscapes and containers.

Marigold Big Duck Gold F1 produces large (3-inch!) golden-yellow flowers and continues to bloom throughout the season. These plants are 11-15 inches tall with deep-green foliage. These marigolds can be used almost everywhere, in beds and containers; in landscapes as mini hedges, back of the border plants, or even as a filler in new perennial beds.

Pepper Just Sweet F1 is a snacking pepper that produces vivid yellow 3-inch fruits that are sweet with nice thick walls. The plants are also vigorous growers, growing up to 36 inches tall and 15 inches wide, but don't need to be staked because they've been bred to have a strong bushy habit.

Petunia Wave® Carmine Velour F1 is the newest color of the popular Wave® petunias. Large 2-2.5 inch carmine rose flowers cover these spreading plants that rarely need deadheading. Plants are 6-8 inches tall and act like a ground cover, spreading 3-4 feet. They are excellent performers and do equally well in containers or hanging baskets and in the landscape.

Tomato Fire Fly F1 produces super sweet pale-white to pale-yellow round fruits that are less than 1 inch in size and weigh about 1/2 oz. that are perfect for snacking and salads. These are indeterminate plants and need to be supported as they grow 5-6+ feet. They also have good disease resistance and ripen 80 days after transplanting.

Tomato Red Torch F1 is a striped oblong tomato with 1.5" long fruits that weigh about 1.5 ounces and is a very prolific early-season producer. Plants have excellent tolerance to environmental stresses like heat and harsh growing conditions. Plants are indeterminate and grow 5-6' tall (so they will also require support). Fruit ripen 60-70 days from transplanting.

AAS also names regional winners. This year there was one regional winner for the Great Lakes (Illinois' region):

Watermelon Cal Sweet Bush is a short internode watermelon, meaning it has a compact growth habit, reaching only 14-18" long! Each plant yields 2-3 sweet, crisp fruits that weigh 10 -12 pounds. This watermelon is a great choice for those of us with limited space, and can even be grown in a container.

Whether you're an experienced gardener or just starting out, make sure to check out these and other AAS winners. To see a list of all of the winners dating back to 1934, visit the All-American Selections website at:


Good Growing Fact of the Week: Plants with an F1 indication means they are a first generation hybrid plant. Plant breeders take parent plants with desirable qualities and cross them and produce hybrid plants (F1). The best of these offspring are then selected for commercial production.