University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter News Article


Dr. Leonard P. Perry, Extension Professor

The All-America Selections is a national non-profit association of the horticulture industry.  Each year they receive the best new seed selections from breeders, and send them out to trial across North America.  Those showing a new trait such as color or habit, or an improvement, over existing varieties become All-America Selections (AAS) winners.  They must bloom from seed the first year, so most are annuals.  For 2004 there are five winning flowers.

Two plumed cockscombs or celosia are winners-- Fresh Look Red and Fresh Look Yellow.  In fact, Fresh Look Red won the gold medal, reserved for only the most improved varieties.
Both celosia have huge flower plumes, up to ten inches long and five inches wide under top conditions, but probably a bit less in the north.  The flower plumes hold up well and look attractive in all sorts of weather, and throughout the season.  They don't lose their color under severe conditions as many flowers do.

Reaching 12 to 18 inches high in northern gardens, these celosia also are great in containers or as dried flowers in bouquets.  As other celosia, these require minimal care and less water than many annuals since they tolerate drought. You can sow their seeds indoors four to six weeks prior to planting outside.  Wait until the garden soil warms to plant them outside.  These tropical natives don't grow well in cold soil.

Just as several celosia have been AAS winners, so have several petunias, with another for 2004.  'Limbo Violet' is a grandiflora petunia, meaning it has large flowers, about three inches wide.  Unlike many petunias though, especially the newer trailing varieties, this one is a compact genetic dwarf.  It only reaches six inches high.   With such large flowers on such small plants, this petunia appeared stunted in my own garden trials.  I also found the bright violet flower difficult to combine with other colors.  Sowing seeds indoors four to eight weeks before planting outside is recommended for more experienced gardeners, as this flower can be a bit tricky.

Another short flower winner is baby's breath (Gypsophila) 'Gypsy Deep Rose.'  It showed improvements over other similar varieties such as 'Gypsy.'  It has more, larger, and darker rose flowers that are semi- to fully double and bloom for most of the season.  Mature plants are only about eight inches or less tall.  Perhaps the best place for this plant is as I used it-- along the edge of a mixed container planting where it could easily be seen and appreciated.  Sow seeds of this one indoors four to six weeks before planting outside.

Short is also the theme with the winning 'Queeny Purple' hollyhock.  It only reaches 18- to 24-inches tall, unlike its 3- to 4-foot biennial relatives.  Most hollyhocks are biennial, meaning they have a two-year life cycle, blooming the second year.  They may then reseed for subsequent years.

'Queeny Purple' is the first short hollyhock, and first to bloom the first year from sowing.  Once flowering, the double "powderpuff" blooms continue until fall.  For this reason it is grown as an annual, although it may overwinter in warmer climates and locations.  Sow these hollyhock seeds indoors four to eight weeks before planting outside.  It will flower about 12 weeks from sowing.

All of these flower winners need full sun to perform best, a well-drained soil, and average fertility.  Of course wait until after the last usual frost date for your area to plant outside.  Ask your local greenhouses or complete garden centers early if they'll have these winners for this year.  Otherwise you may need to order seeds to start yourself, or you may wish to anyway just for fun.

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