URBANA, Ill. – Another Illinois winter comes to a close after rain, thunderstorms, and snow replenish the soil moisture. A welcome cure for those winter blues has been the arriving garden catalogs and planning for spring. What new garden challenge is your goal for this year? A theme or color scheme? Floral, woody, or edible additions? Whichever way you plan it, always leave room for the unexpected when shopping for plants.
Review your garden records from previous years to aid in the planning for the new spring. When planning your new theme, look for plants that are suited for USDA hardiness zone 5 or colder. Using a plant map, think about where you could incorporate your theme or where your new plants should go. My starting place is the new additions of All-America Selections.
All-America Selections is a non-profit organization that releases several trialed plants each year as AAS Winners. AAS tests new varieties every year at private and public trial sites located around the U.S. and Canada. Currently, there are four trial locations in Illinois, with three northern and one central.
Independent judges, who are professional horticulturists in geographically diverse areas, evaluate trial entries against comparison plants. The results and observations are compiled, and winners are chosen. For the best plants suited to Illinois residents, look for Great Lakes winners or National winners on the AAS Winners lists.
This year, there are 11 AAS winners, six of which are suited for Illinois – three vegetables and three flowers.
- Pepper jalapeno San Joaquin F1 (Capsicum annuum var. San Joaquin F1): This National Vegetable Winner is a determinate, thick-walled jalapeno setting about 50 fruits per plant. Good for preserving or roasting, holds taste and firmness until harvest. 2,500 to 6,000 Scoville units. It has 60 days to harvest from transplant.
- Squash kabocha Sweet Jade F1 (Cucurbita maxima var. Sweet Jade F1): This National Vegetable Winner is a single-serving-sized, fall harvest squash. High yielding, 1- to 2-pound squash. Jade colored outside with deep orange flesh perfect for an edible bowl. It has 85 days to harvest from transplant.
- Tomato Zenzei F1 (Solanum lycopersicum var. Zenzei): This Regional Vegetable Winner is a high-yielding, early-maturing Roma, plum type tomato. Its uniform, fleshy, easy-to-harvest tomatoes are good fresh or for preservation, and born on bushy indeterminate plants. Less disease issues than other tomatoes. It has 70 to 80 days to harvest from transplant.
- Coleus Premium Sun Coral Candy (Solenostemon scutellarioides var. Premium Sun Coral Candy): A National Winner, this is the first seed coleus to be an AAS Winner. This flower is a compact, multicolored foliage plant with narrow, serrated leaves that holds color well in full sun. Perfect for a 14” to 16” container or hanging basket.
- Salvia Blue by You (Salvia hybrida var. Blue by You): This National Winner is a perennial salvia with blue flowers blooming up to two weeks earlier. It is both heat tolerant and winter hardy. Blooms late spring into fall with deadheading of spent blooms. It is pollinator friendly and not deer or rabbit friendly.
- Snapdragon DoubleShot™ Orange Bicolor F1 (Antirrhinum majus var. DoubleShot™ Orange Bicolor F1): This National Winner is an intermediate-height, double-flowered annual snapdragon. It has warm shades of orange and orange-red, that transition to dusty shades on strong stems producing more branching and a higher flower count. Perfect for containers or in-ground plantings.
Looking for something else to fill in your landscape and gardens? The website all-americaselections.org contains a list of all past vegetables and flower winners since its founding in 1933.
For more information about gardening, check out the Illinois Extension Horticulture website at extension.illinois.edu/plants or our YouTube channel go.illinois.edu/UniversityOfIllinoisExtensionHorticulture.
For more research-based information on gardening, connect with your local Illinois Extension county office at go.illinois.edu/ExtensionOffice.
Bruce J. Black is an Illinois Extension horticulture educator for Carroll, Lee, and Whiteside counties. Gardeners Corner is a quarterly newsletter from gardening experts around the state. Each issue highlights best practices that will make your houseplants, landscape, or garden shine in any season. Join the Gardeners Corner email list at go.illinois.edu/GCsubscribe for direct access to timely tips.
Photos: Snapdragon DoubleShot™ Orange Bicolor F1 (Antirrhinum majus var. DoubleShot™ Orange Bicolor F1) is a National Winner flower with beautiful shades or orange and red. Squash kabocha Sweet Jade F1 (Cucurbita maxima var. Sweet Jade F1) is a 2023 National Vegetable Winner. Photo credit All-America Selections. Photos available to download for media use from All-America Selections.
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