In the world of flowers, vegetables and fruits, there are millions of choices a home gardener can choose to plant.

A good starting place is the All-America Selections®. Founded in 1932, it is the oldest independent testing organization in North America. Every year, new varieties are trialed in the AAS Trial Grounds, and professional horticulturists determine which varieties are winners based on their garden performance.

You may not find your new favorite flower or tomato on this list, but it’s a good starting place. If these picks don’t suit you, stop by your favorite greenhouse and tell them what you want. The staff there should be able to guide you to the most reliable plants for our area. And we’ve got two local growers who have some suggestions to supplement this list.

“Actually, there are a lot of really good AAS winners that we continue to grow, especially in vegetables,” said Maria Kreidermacher, owner of Pork and Plants in Altura, Minn. “The nice thing about them is they’re really field-tested at so many locations across the country so they have to do well for a consumer-type environment to make it. We always look at the winners to see what things would work into our mix and that people would want.”

Linda Zoerb of La Crosse Floral said it’s often hard to find some of the AAS winners the first year they are available. But don’t worry, there are plenty of other things to choose from in the wide world of gardening.

AAS picks for 2013:

Canna South Pacific Scarlet F1

South Pacific adds a touch of the tropics to your garden with showy, 4-inch flowers that bloom all summer long in a delicious shade of scarlet. South Pacific grows up 4 to 5 feet tall, providing a great grouping of specimen plants or a back-of-the-border focal point. The colorful blooms are produced on a flower spike held above the large-leafed plants. It boasts six to seven stems per plant and delivers larger flowers than other seed cannas. The scarlet flowers appear early, bloom consistently all summer and withstand a light frost better than comparisons. South Pacific tolerates wet conditions so it can be used as a pond border or in other similar growing conditions.

Canna is a perennial but can be treated as an annual by northern gardeners. Rhizomes can be dug before the first frost and stored properly for the next season.

Kreidermacher said she hasn’t tried this particular canna yet.

“We have another canna we’ve been doing from seed,” she said, in the Tropical series. “We’ve grown for years a yellow that’s a really bright yellow, and a scarlet that has a dark bronzy leaf. We plant them in our display gardens and they’re wonderful.”

At La Crosse Floral, Zoerb said they’ll have limited quantities of South Pacific Scarlet that they’ll be starting from seed, but they’ll also have plenty of other cannas.

“I love cannas. I think cannas are one of the most underused plants. It’s drama,” she said and can look wonderful in a container. “It’s going to have a tropical look without a lot of care.”

Genus species: Canna generalis

Common name: Canna

Unique qualities: First F1 seed canna, more vigorous and sturdy than other seed-propagated cannas, non-stop flowering all season long.

Flower color: Scarlet

Foliage color: Green

Flower form: Standard

Flower size: 4 to 4.5 inches

Plant height: 4 to 5 feet

Plant width: 12 to 18 inches

Plant type: Tender perennial in zones 7-10 (in this area, you dig the rhizome in fall and replant next year)

Garden location: Full sun

Garden spacing: 18-24 inches

Length of time from sowing seed to flower: 11 to 12 weeks

Closest comparisons on market: “Tropical” series

Echinacea Cheyenne Spirit

This first-year flowering echinacea produces a mix of flower colors from rich purple, pink, red and orange tones to lighter yellows, creams and white on well-branched, durable plants. Cheyenne Spirit does not require a lot of water and offers a wide range of uses from the perennial border, in a mass landscape planting, in a butterfly garden or as a cut flower.

Even during wind and rain, this compact plant does not topple over like many echinacea. The variety of intense, bright colors adds sparkle to the garden from mid-summer through fall and does not need deadheading.

“It’s a coneflower; we don’t have to sound like we’re getting a throat culture,” Zoerb said.

And because it’s a coneflower, it’s tough.

“It’s perfect for going into fall in the garden. It will attract bees, so don’t put it by the patio.”

Kreidermacher said she’s excited by this coneflower because more recent strains have not wintered over well. But this coneflower was bred by a company in Chicago, she said, and that means it was bred for toughness. “It’s neat that you can get all these different shades of orange and red in the same variety.”

The bonus, said Kreidermacher and Zoerb, is the long bloom time. “The coneflowers will really be wonderful in terms of color all summer,” Kreidermacher said.

Genus species: Echinacea hybrida

Common name: Coneflower

Unique qualities: Vivid color range in a first-year flowering perennial from seed

Flower color: Shades of purple, pink, red, orange, yellow, cream and white

Foliage color: Green

Flower form: Single daisy

Flower size: 3 to 3.5 inches

Plant height: 26 to 32 inches

Plant width: 25 to 30 inches

Plant type: First-year flowering perennial

Garden location: Full sun

Garden spacing: 24 inches

Geranium “Pinto™ Premium White to Rose” F1

The flower color changes from white to rose, and the numerous 5-inch blooms are long-lasting and slightly earlier than similar varieties. The well-branched stems sport leaves with dark green zone coloration. The 2012 trials were tough because of extreme heat, but this geranium performed extremely well, making it a great choice for landscapers or gardeners wanting a carefree, colorful summer garden.

“We haven’t grown pintos because they’ve been on the smaller side, geared more for the grower than the consumer,” Kreidermacher said. She prefers the Designer and Fantasia geraniums. “They’re really big, vigorous geraniums. You get so much more for your money.”

Zoerb is also less than enthusiastic about seed geraniums in general. “That’s not a big flower, and they tend to shatter more in rain storms, and La Crosse has heavy rain storms. I would recommend the Rocky Mountain series of cutting geraniums.”

The color range is better, and it’s got one of the purest whites on the market, Zoerb said.

Genus species: Pelargonium x hortorum

Common name: Geranium

Unique qualities: Coloration of white to deep rose pink as flowers mature

Flower color: White to deep rose pink

Foliage color: Green and dark green zonal

Flower form: Standard

Flower size: 5 inches

Plant height: 14-16 inches

Plant width: 12-18 inches

Plant type: Annual

Garden location: Full sun

Garden spacing: 12 to 18 inches

Length of time from sowing seed to flower: 100 to 110 days

Closest comparisons on market: Pinto Blush, Maverick Appleblossom, Diva Rose Ice

Zinnia Profusion Double Hot Cherry and Double Deep Salmon

Both zinnias offer an abundance of double flowers. This continuous bloomer covers well-mounded plants from late spring through fall. In trials, the dramatic large double blooms held the color significantly better than comparisons and later into the season. The plant covers spent blossoms giving a much fresher appearance without deadheading. Mature plants 8 to 14 inches tall are perfect as a low- or medium-height divider. This excellent garden performer also offers disease resistance to Alternaria and powdery mildew.

Zoerb is a big fan of both the Profusion and Zahara series.

“They’re amazing. Anything in Profusion or Zahara rocks. They can take heat and are disease-resistant to powdery mildew,” she said, and the colors don’t fade. “If you buy hot cherry, it stays hot cherry.”

Genus species: Zinnia hybrida

Common name: Zinnia

Unique qualities: Unique salmon double flower or vivid deep rose double flower, disease tolerant, early flowering, flower petals do not fade under high temperatures

Flower size: 2.5 to 3 inches

Flower color: Rich warm salmon color or vivid deep rose

Foliage color: Green

Plant height: 8 to 14 inches

Plant width: 24 inches

Garden location: Full sun

Length of time from sowing seed to flower: 60 days

Closest comparisons on market: Zahara Double Fire, Profusion Double Golden, Profusion Deep Apricot, Profusion Double Cherry and Double Zahara Cherry

Tomato, Cherry Jasper F1

Excellent taste, a long harvest window and outstanding performance in the trials contributes to this tomato’s success. Judges liked the texture and sweetness of the tomato, as well as the uniformity of the fruits that grow on vigorous, healthy plants. Jasper is a high-yielding variety with fruits that stay on the vine then hold well after ripening both on the vine and post-harvest. Vigorous vines require little or no fertilization. A bonus is high disease resistance to Late Blight, Fusarium races 1, 2 and Early Blight plus the ability to overcome weather-related stresses.

This one is fine, Zoerb said, but her favorite is Sun Sugar.

“Oh my gosh, children love it. Once I get people hooked on this, they plant it every darn year. They’re so naturally sweet you can pop them like candy.”

Genus species: Solanum lycopersicum

Common name: Cherry tomato

Unique qualities: Superior eating quality and taste

Fruit size: 1 inch, 7 to 10 grams

Fruit shape: Round

Fruit color: Uniform red

Plant type: Vigorous indeterminate

Plant height: 7 feet

Plant width: 3 feet when staked

Garden location: Full sun

Garden spacing: 1 to 2 feet

Length of time to harvest: 60 days from transplant, 90 days from sowing seed

Disease resistances: Late Blight, Early Blight, Fusarium races 1, 2

Closest comparisons on market: Suncherry Premium F1, Juliet F1, Sweet Baby Girl F1

Watermelon Harvest Moon F1

Similar to the popular heirloom variety, Moon and Stars, Harvest Moon is an improvement in that it features healthy, shorter vines that produce medium-sized fruits and sweet, crisp pinkish-red flesh. Harvest Moon retains the familiar dark green rind with yellow dots but is seedless, earlier to ripen, higher yielding and better tasting. It’s great for bedding plant growers as a transplant item.

“I think watermelon is kind of trendy right now, even in terms of kebab,” Zoerb said. “You grill fish with melon cubes, and it keeps the fish really moist.”

Genus species: Citrullus lanatus

Common name: Watermelon

Fruit size: 18 to 20 pounds

Fruit shape: Elongated round

Fruit color: Dark green rind with large and small yellow spots; flesh is red/pink

Plant type: Large vigorous spreading and trailing yellow spotted vines

Plant height: 15 inches

Plant width: 3 to 5 feet

Garden location: Full sun

Garden spacing: 3 to 5 feet

Length of time to harvest: 100 days from transplanting

Closest comparisons on market: Moon and Stars Red, Moon and Stars Yellow

Melon Melemon F1

The earliness, high yield on healthy, strong plants and superior taste all contributed to this melon becoming an AAS Winner. A uniform fruit shape makes it perfect for market growers and home gardeners. Each fruit has refreshing crisp flesh and a unique sweet and tart taste.

Genus species: Cucumis melo L.

Common name: Piel de Sapo type melon

Unique qualities: Unique sweet-tart taste, fruits hold one month after harvest

Fruit size: 4.5 pounds

Fruit shape: Oblate

Fruit color: Green rind turns to chartreuse at maturity, white flesh

Plant type: Vining

Plant height: 10 to 12 inches

Plant width: 28 inches

Garden location: Full sun

Garden spacing: 14 inches

Length of time to harvest: 70 to 80 days from transplant, 89 to 95 days from sowing seed

Closest comparisons on market: Lambkin F1, Kermit F1, Saporosa F1

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