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Horticulture & Home Pest News is filled with articles on current horticulture, plant care, pest management, and common household pests written by Iowa State University Extension specialists in the Departments of Entomology, Horticulture and Plant Pathology.

Accolades for Vegetables, Annual Flowers, and Perennial Plants

This article was published originally on 1/12/2001

While winter has just officially begun, many Iowans have already developed a bad case of cabin fever. An excellent way to overcome this condition is to leaf through the seed and nursery catalogs and start planning next year's garden. When browsing through the catalog, don't forget to check out the award winning flowers and vegetables for 2001.

The Perennial Plant Association is a national organization of growers, landscape designers, educators, and researchers. Each year the members select a Perennial Plant of the Year. Criteria used in selecting an outstanding perennial include low maintenance, adaptability to a wide range of climates, multiple season interest, and ease of propagation. The 2001 perennial plant selection is 'Karl Foerster' Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'). The botanical name s come from the Greek kalamos, a reed, and agrostis, a grass.

'Karl Foerster' produces loose, feathery, light pink inflorescences in early summer. The seed heads eventually mature to a golden tan and persist into winter. The deep green foliage appears in early spring and provides early winter interest turning a light tan color. The tight habit of this cultivar creates an 18-inch wide clump. 'Karl Foerster' was imported into the United States from Denmark in 1964. Since that time, this highly acclaimed ornamental grass has been distributed and has grown well in USDA hardiness zones 4 through 9.

Five new flower varieties were given All-American Selection awards for 2001. To receive this award, the variety must possess unique or improved characteristics compared to existing cultivars. The number of award winners makes 2001 a great opportunity to try some new flower varieties.

Nicotiana x sanderae 'Avalon Bright Pink' Flowering Tobacco is a great choice to include in plantings as it provides season long color with little garden maintenance. Plants produce bright pink flowers on bushy, well-branched, 8 to 10 inch tall plants. 'Avalon Bright Pink' is an excellent plant for use in borders, beds, and containers. Ideal growing conditions are partial to full sun and a well-drained soil. The AAS judges noted freedom of bloom and the plant's ability to adapt to cool, wet weather then hot summer conditions as two outstanding qualities of 'Avalon Bright Pink'. Flowering tobacco requires minimal care and is bothered by few pests.

A second AAS winner is 'Margarita Rosita' Moss Rose (Portulaca grandiflora 'Margarita Rosita'). Plants have a mounded bushy habit and grow approximately 4 to 6 inches tall and 12 inches wide. Flowers are semi-double, deep pink and 1.5 inches in diameter. 'Margarita Rosita' requires no special care for superior performance. It will bloom heavily throughout the growing season when planted in a sunny location and a well-drained soil. However, like other Portulacas, it can tolerate poor soils and hot, dry conditions. The double pink blooms appear to be made from thin tissue paper yet are quite durable.

'Ring of Fire' Sunflower (Helianthus annuus 'Ring of Fire') was selected for 2001 because of its distinctly colored flowers. The 5 inch flower head consists of a deep mahogany red ring that surrounds a chocolate brown center. The edge of the petals are gold. Plants are well-branched and grow from 3.5 to 4.5 feet tall. Sunflowers are easy to grow. The major requirement is full sun. If starting from seed, wait until the garden soil has warmed to about 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Space plants two or three feet apart due to the plant width.

Zinnia interspecific 'Profusion White' Zinnia provides abundant 2 inch white flowers from spring to fall. Unlike many zinnias that succumb to powdery mildew by late summer, 'Profusion White' possesses clean foliage and flowers to the first frost. Plants grow approximately 10 to 12 inches tall and have a slightly wider spread. Minimal garden care is needed to produce good results. Only sun, nutrients and water are needed; no staking, pinching or pruning. 'Profusion White' like all zinnias, prefer warm soil and growing conditions. Waiting for warm temperatures will reward gardeners with strong vigorous plants.

The final AAS flower winner is 'Forever Blue' Lisianthus (Eustoma grandiflorum 'Forever Blue') and is one to add to your garden if blue is what you desire. 'Forever Blue' has a distinct branching habit. This results in a lush, full plant continuously producing new flowers throughout the growing season. 'Forever Blue' offers blue flowers throughout the growing season. 'Forever Blue' performs best in moist, fertile soils. However, it will tolerate hot, dry conditions. Because of its compact size, 'Forever Blue' is highly recommended for patio containers.

Accomplished gardeners can grow 'Forever Blue' from seed. However, it is a challenge. Lisianthus requires precise growing conditions and is slow growing. Flowering occurs approximately 21 weeks after the seeds are sown. For most gardeners it would be easier to purchase young plants at a local garden center.

Four vegetable varieties were chosen as All-America Selection winners for 2001. The first AAS vegetable winner is 'Super Star' onion (Allium cepa 'Super Sweet'). It is the first hybrid onion to win an AAS designation. Most onions leave the judges in tears, but not this one. 'Super Star' produces sizeable sweet onions, earlier than the comparison. Onions can reach the weight of one pound if the growing season is 100 days or more. 'Super Star' can be grown almost anywhere in the U. S. because it is the first day neutral white onion. Most other onion varieties require long or short days to bulb. 'Super Star' has a mild sweet flavor and is suitable raw for salads or lightly grilled. Sow seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before transplanting into your spring garden or purchase transplants from mail order catalogs or local garden centers. Space or thin onions 3 to 4 inches apart in the garden. Rows should be spaced 12 to 18 inches apart.

'Jolly' tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum 'Jolly') is the second AAS recipient for 2001. 'Jolly' produces large numbers of cherry-type tomatoes. The pink, 1.5-ounce fruit are peach-shaped with a distinctive point on the blossom end. The meaty tomato has a sweet flavor perfect for salads. 'Jolly' has the distinction of being almost crackless increasing the yield of edible tomatoes. Tomatoes on the plant are produced in grapelike clusters of 9 to 14 fruit. Space plants 3 feet apart. 'Jolly' plants can be started from seed indoors or purchased from local garden centers.

'Honey Select' (Zea mays 'Honey Select') is a new sweet corn offering gardeners a wider harvest window. The ears remain edible longer on the plant due to supersweet kernels. Unlike many supersweet types of sweet corn 'Honey Select' does not need isolation. This improved yellow sweet corn was noted by judges for its flavor and quality. Ear size is approximately 8 inches long with 16 to 18 rows of kernels. Space seeds 8 to 10 inches apart in the rows. Rows should be spaced 2 to 3 feet apart.

The final AAS selection is the 'Giant Marconi' pepper (Capsicum annuum 'Giant Marconi'). Bred in Italy, 'Giant Marconi' produces exceptional 8-inch long, tapered fruit. The deep green fruit turn red at maturity. 'Giant Marconi' has improved traits such as high yield, adaptability to severe growing conditions and resistance to Tobacco Mosaic Virus and Potato Virus Y. The virus resistance is important because the plants will live longer, providing higher yields. Plants can reach heights of 30 to 36 inches and a width of 24 inches. Recommended garden spacing is 2 feet between plants. To insure the pepper blossom end does not touch the soil, place organic mulch around the base of the plants. This prevents a rot caused by contact with the soil. These quality peppers can be eaten raw, baked or grilled, depending upon your meal plans. The best place to plant 'Giant Marconi' is as close to the grill as possible.

This article originally appeared in the January 12, 2001 issue, pp. 2-3.

Year of Publication: 
IC-485(1) -- January 12, 2001