Tuesday, January 31, 2017


Years ago petunias were offered only in solid colors -  typically red, pink, white and purple. Now they come in yellow and even black. There are loads of new petunias being offered for the 2017 growing season and here are a few of them.

The big "break through" in 2016 for new petunias  was "Blue Skies" produced by Selecta, a company that serves the North American market with vegetative propagated bedding plants and poinsettias.

"Blue Skies"

It looks like a purple/blue flower that has been splattered with white and every bloom is different.   It was an instant success and "flew off the shelves."  This year that plant has a big sister, "Pink Sky."  I've only seen photos of this plant, but I am definitely going to grow it.

"Pink Skies"

Another trend that is being tried in many color combinations is to have the eye of the petunia be one color and have the rest of the pedals blend out  to another color.

Potunia Purple Halo

 Sweetunia Johnnie

"Crazytunia Moonstruck"

There are oodles of new patterns turning up on petunias blooms as well.  One that I will definitely try this summer is "Amore Queen of Hearts."

"Amore Queen of Hearts."

It will be interesting to see if the heart pattern is prominent in "real life."

Years ago all petunias were started as seeds.  Petunias that you purchase in six-packs are still started from seed, but now most of the petunias you see in hanging baskets and sold individually in pots are grown from cuttings.  They are more vigorous growers and generally benefit from more fertilizer.    Because they don't put their energy into producing seeds they produce more blooms.  Most of these petunias from cuttings don't need dead heading.

The downside is that they are more expensive.  The greenhouse owner not only pays quite a bit for each cutting, they pay royalties and a propagation fee.  The only way to grow more of the same plant is to take cuttings, which is legally prohibited.  The plants are registered and trademarked.  There are actually plant police who come around to large greenhouse operations to make sure their copyrighted plant is not being used for making more cuttings.

Petunias will remain one of gardeners favorite flowers and they just get easier to grow and of course the choice is now huge.

Monday, January 23, 2017

More Award Winning Plants for 2017

Europe’s top award for new plants is the Fleuroselect Award. These are flowers grown on trial grounds across Europe “…proven to clearly supersede existing varieties in terms of breeding innovation and beauty.”

If a new plant wins both the AAS designation (see previous blog) and the Fleuroselect “quality mark” I will definitely give it a go.  This year one flower falls in that category -  Profusion Red zinnia.  


Profusion Red Zinnia - AAS Photo

(Profusion Cherry zinnia also won both awards in 1999).  The Profusion series (and Zahara series) are shorter zinnias with tons of flowers and they are resistant to powdery mildew.

Others that have won both awards in the recent past include Fresh Look Red celosia  and Tidal Wave Red Velour petunia, both good plants that I grow.  

Fresh Look Celosia

Senator Rose Bicolor  is one of three flowers that won the Fleurosecect award for this year.  Its pink flowers stand out against the bronze foliage and I have always found that the darker foliage stands up the best in full sun.

Senator Rose Bi-color Begonia- Fleuroselect photo

The AAS program has recently added “ornamentals from vegetative cuttings.”  These are plants that can not be grown from seed, only from cuttings of the same plant.  Starting in 2019 there will also be an AAS award for herbaceous perennials.  

While I study new award winning plants carefully, I also browse the reviews of plant performance in the many trial garden sites on the internet.  Most of these plantings are sponsored by a university or a large wholesaler of plants.  If one plant gets top scores from  several northern trial gardens I am probably going to try it.

The trial gardens at Ball Seed in Illinois

Seeds for two of my favorite AAS winners seem to have disappeared - Green Comet broccoli and Bonanza Bolero marigold.  I assume this is because there are only a few vegetable seed companies left in the world and they are eliminating the older varieties in favor of new, “improved” hybrids.  

Like most gardeners, I have my favorite varieties that I grow every year and at the same time  I am also easily tempted to try something new.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Award Winning New Plants - The Best of the Best?

The best known award for annual plants in the US is the All American Selections (AAS) program.  New flowers and vegetables are grown side-by-side with comparable available varieties and are evaluated by garden performance, size, taste, disease-resistance  and any other characteristic important to the home gardener. 

2017 Winner Okra Candle Fire

Judges deem the performers that  show clear superiority to their comparison as AAS winners.  There were 16 AAS winners this year, including a red zinnia, a miniature watermelon, and a purple okra. 

There was a time when I grew every new AAS winner each year.  This stopped in 1992 when “Thumbelina Carrot” (above) was designated an AAS vegetable.  No way was I going to go to the trouble of germinating and weeding carrots to harvest a root “roughly the size of a golf ball” at the end of the season.  New is not always better.

AAS was founded in 1932 and hundreds of plants have been designated winners.  Very few of the early winners have had staying power.   Most of those “new” prize-winning seeds are no longer available, demonstrating that they either did not live up to the judges’ expectations or they have been superseded by an improved variety.  

2017 Winner Celosia Asian Garden

Some remain stalwarts in many gardens today.  Sensation cosmos was an AAS winner in 1936 and Early Prolific Yellow squash won in 1938.  Red Sails lettuce won in 1985   Other previous AAS winners that I grow are Rocket snapdragons, Snowcrown cauliflower, Carmen peppers, the Profusion series of zinnias, certain petunias from the Wave series and Bright Lights chard.  Two widely grown tomatoes that have received the AAS award are Celebrity (1984) and Big Beef (1994). 

2017 Winner Yellow Patio Choice tomato

More about new plants winning awards in the next blog....

Sunday, January 8, 2017

A New Year and New Plants

My brother lives in San Francisco and he doesn't understand Vermonters' penchants towards bright and flashy flowers.   I explain that our growing season is short and we want to pack in as much showy bloom as we can.  Along with craving hot weather and bright days we crave color.  What follows are a few of the new bright blooming flowers I will be offering this year, started from seed.  

One catalogue calls Dianthus Jolt Cherry "...a shocking blaze of super charged color all summer long." I like this new series of dianthus because it is easy to grow, branches out nicely and makes a good "cut." It is a cross between Sweet William and annual dianthus. It is 16 - 20 inches tall and continues to set flowers all summer without setting seeds. And it is very flashy.

Dianthus Jolt Cherry from PanAmerican Seed

The Select Seeds catalogue says of nasturtium Cherrelle "...our new favorite double nasturtium with great flower power, outstanding in early summer and early fall when the summer heat wanes.  "This is a large-flowered new introduction with full-bodied double flowers held well above the unspotted green foliage. It is semi-trailing.

Nasturtium Cherrelle

Profusion Red zinnia won both the All American Section (AAS) and Fleuroselect Award for 2017. The Profusion series of zinnias are prolific bloomers of 2" flowers.  They are disease resistant, easy to grow, and continuously bloom  all season.  Judges appreciated the true red color of this zinnia which doesn’t fade in summer.

Red Profusion Zinnia from Sakata 

I like using begonias for hanging baskets,  in particular the newer sun tolerant versions.  Because they do not have a robust root system they don't need as much water as other plants in baskets.  Santa Cruz looks terrific in a hanging pot, but the falling flowers can be messy and are best used as outdoor baskets.

Santa Cruz Begonia