Snow at Sandhill

In the Garden
Ralph Purkhiser, Purdue University Master Gardener

     A blanket of snow on Sunday reminded us that it is winter in southern Indiana.  However, I was fully aware that beneath that white blanket, there were hellebores, aconite and crocus in bloom.  I had spotted the blooms of those tough flowers last week.  It really is not unusual to have those blooms in January at Sandhill Gardens, but they always bring a smile on a winter day.  It is as if they have come to remind us that winter will not last forever.
     A cold winter day is a good time to plan for the next year’s garden.  With the increase in interest in gardening in recent years, plant breeders have been busy creating new cultivars.  It is important to realize that new does not mean better, and I caution gardeners to do their homework before investing heavily in a lot of new plants, especially since new cultivars often command a premium price.
     Fortunately, there are some trustworthy organizations that run trials to determine the best of the new offerings.  Perhaps the most trusted of these organizations is the All American Selection Association.  Breeders and nurseries submit their plants for consideration.  They are then planted in test gardens across the country.  Some go to the gardens of professional gardeners, others to universities and others to botanical gardens.  Plants are evaluated for a few years, and those deemed worthy are awarded the All American Selection.
     Recently, the selection committee has announced the awarding of the AAS label to five plants as national winners and one has been selected as a regional winner for the Midwestern area.  Three of the selections are ornamental plants and the other three are in the edible category.
     A new coleus, dubbed Sun Coral Candy was selected for its multi-colored foliage on compact plants.  It has serrated leaves, adding texture to a container or in a flower bed.  It tolerates more sun than other coleus varieties and shows good disease resistance.  Many people grow coleus for the foliage and cut off the flowers.  This selection does not produce many flowers, so pruning is rarely necessary.  This coleus is offered by Pan American Seed Company.
     Hem Genetics submitted the award-winning Double-Shot Orange Bi-color snapdragon.  The stems on this plant are stocky and well-branched, resulting in better flowering than older snapdragons.  The plant also is less prone to disease and will flower until the first frost.
     The last the ornamental selections is indeed a stand-out plant.  Not only has it been awarded the AAS, but was also chosen as a Green Thumb Award winner by the National Garden Bureau and was touted as a new plant to watch in an American Horticulture Society publication last year.  This celebrated plant is an elephant ear dubbed Colocasia Royal Hawaiian Waikiki.  It has waxy dark green leaves with white and flamingo pink veins.  The plant is disease resistant and has a compact, clumping habit.  At three feet tall, it is a good selection for planting in the ground or in a container.  In our area, it must be lifted and taken in during the winter or grown as an annual.  This plant was developed by Plant Development Services, Inc.
     A pepper, a squash and a tomato round out the AAS selections.  Jalapeno San Juaquin is a determinate plant, setting an abundance of thick-walled peppers at one time.  The peppers are mild, with just a little heat.   Bejo Seeds offers this new plant.  The squash is a single-serving sized kobocha squash.  Sweet Jade, from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, will hold fruits on the vine well and will store for several months.  The regional winner is a tomato called Zenzei.  It is a Roma type, great for sauces.  The plants are compact, growing to only about four feet tall.  They will need cages, but no pruning is necessary.  Despite the compact size, they plants are indeterminate, and will continue to set fruits until a killing frost.
      If you want to grow any of these plants this summer, begin searching for them soon.  Award-winning plants often sell out quickly and command premium prices, but the AAS award is a guarantee of the plant’s value.


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