David Robson: This year’s All-America Selections for the garden

David Robson

Every year, certain vegetable and flower seeds receive the all-important All-America Selections designation. Hundreds have received the award since 1933.

Three vegetables and three unique flowers are 2013 winners.

Canna South Pacific Scarlet

One of the flower winners is Canna South Pacific Scarlet. Unlike the typical canna, which is grown from tuber, South Pacific Scarlet can be started by seeds. Order them as soon as possible and start them as soon as they arrive.

The last AAS canna was Tropical Rose, which was more of a pink than a red. South Pacific Scarlet is a lighter red with maybe a touch of orange to the flowers. Like the typical canna, these will reach about four to five feet high, given full sun and warm temperatures, the warmer the better (within reason).

Cannas also love water. Some gardeners will even grow the plants in ponds, provided the container soil is loose.

South Pacific Scarlet is also a great container-grown plant, providing the height many containers need.

Echinacea Cheyenne Spirit

Another winner is Echinacea Cheyenne Spirit, a coneflower that blooms the first year from seed in rich pinks, purples, reds, yellows, oranges and whites. But there is a caveat – the seeds need to be sown by Feb. 1.

Plants are the traditional three feet high with flowers three to four inches in diameter. Like most coneflowers, Cheyenne Spirit would have thrived last year when it was hot and dry.

Hopefully, the plants are winter hardy. Many of the newer types don’t become as established as we’d like by winter and don’t come back the next year, especially if the winter is cold and without much snow cover.

Pinto Premium White to Rose

The last flower winner is a geranium, Pinto Premium White to Rose. To be specific, while the above two were “flower award” winners, this geranium is really the “bedding plant” winner.

Like some hydrangeas, the flowers of Pinto Premium White to Rose start out as white and as they mature the flowers turn to a pink and then a darker pink or rose color. Flowers are four to five inches across, forming the nice rounded form gardeners appreciate, set against the dark green leaves with the contrasting zonal markings.

Geraniums are more semi-arid plants, preferring warm days and cool nights, which is why they flower better in the spring and fall. Geraniums can tolerate drier conditions, but if potted in loose soils, will thrive in full sun in containers.

More than likely, you’ll find Pinto Premium geraniums as bedding plants instead of seeds, though you might find seeds.

Jasper tomato

The good thing about the vegetable winners is you don’t need to start them early.

Jasper tomato continues the tradition of recent years of cherry tomato winners. Unlike the other recent winners, Jasper tomatoes can reach six to seven feet high, which means you should keep the plants caged or staked.

Plants produce tomatoes in less than three months, and will keep producing hundreds of tomatoes until frost. The tomatoes are a little less than an inch across and a bright red, perfect for salads or nibbling in the garden.

Plants are resistant to many of the tomato diseases, though not all. To minimize diseases, stake or cage the plants and space them about three feet apart to encourage air movement.

Start seeds about six weeks before the last frost, and set them out in full sun. Give plants a balanced fertilizer initially, and provide water if we go through a drought.


There were two melon winners for 2013 – Harvest Moon watermelon and Melemon Melon.

Harvest Moon is a seedless triploid watermelon, similar to the Moon and Stars, a medium 15-inch melon that can weigh up to 15 or 18 pounds. The rind is a dark forest green with yellow splotches. The flesh is a deep red.

Some folks love seedless melons; some think they taste flat. Harvest Moon taste sweet, but it isn’t the easiest plant to grow.

First, it’s not the best for containers. You need garden space. Plants can spread up to six feet.

Second, you can’t grow it just by itself. You need another watermelon to pollinate the flowers to ensure you get the triploid fruit. The ratio is one diploid watermelon to three triploid plants. If buying seeds, the diploids will be included. When sowing the seeds, keep those separate so you won’t mix up the pants.

Melemon melon is a Piel de Sapo type, though most gardeners will think “this is a honeydew.” They wouldn’t be too far wrong except there is a more sweet-tart or sugary-tangy taste. Fruits start out dark green and turn a yellow-green when mature. The flesh inside is a creamy white when mature.

Another outstanding feature is that the 4 1/2-pound fruit will last for a month after harvest. Fruit are only about six to seven inches in diameter, though not perfectly round.

Melemon isn’t as spreading as Jasper tomato or Harvest Moon watermelon. Plants could work in a large container, in the vegetable garden, or next to a fence, allowing the vines to climb. You’ll need to support the fruit so it doesn’t pull the plant off the fence.

Seeds can be started indoors in individual peat pots and transplanted between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day.

Most garden centers and nurseries will carry seeds and/or plants this spring. Most garden catalogs will also offer the seeds.

David Robson is a specialist with University of Illinois Extension.