Every year All-America Selections (AAS) announces the best of the best new varieties of annuals and vegetables, proclaiming them AAS Winners. AAS is a nonprofit organization that was formed in 1932 to promote new varieties with superior garden performance.
Plant breeders enter their new varieties in one of four categories: ornamentals grown from seed, ornamentals grown from cuttings and edibles grown from either seed or perennials. Plants are grown in more than 100 AAS trial sites around the United States and Canada.
Plants are evaluated by a team of 80 industry professionals who are unbiased and unpaid trialing experts. These AAS judges look for plants with characteristics like better taste, higher yield, superior disease resistance, unique flower or foliage color and longer bloom.
This year's edible award winners include Sweet American Dream sweet corn, Asian Delight F1 Pak Choi, Red Ember F1 cayenne pepper, Roulette F1 habanero pepper, Red Racer F1 cocktail tomato and F1 grape tomato.
A new corn variety hasn't received an AAS award since 1988 until this year. Sweet American Dream is a bicolor super sweet cultivar with large, 8-inch cobs. Tender kernels fill cobs all the way to the tips. Sturdy stalks grow vigorously 6 to 7 feet tall.
Plant seeds after frost in warm soil in full sun. Enjoy a tasty bite just 77 days after planting.
Asian Delight F1 Pak Choi impressed judges big time. A mildly flavored, small to mid-size Chinese cabbage, it has white stems and dark green, heavily textured leaves. It was extremely slow to bolt resulting in higher yields than other varieties.
Plant Asian Delight F1 Pak Choi in full sun. I think it would be beautiful planted in spring containers with pansies and alyssum.
Red Ember F1 cayenne peppers are for impatient cayenne pepper lovers. Four to 4½-inch rounded end fruits matured considerably quicker than comparison varieties. AAS judges touted its taste as "tastier than the traditional cayenne, with just enough pungency for interest." A multipurpose pepper, it can be used fresh in salads and sauces or eaten whole and dry as powder or flakes.
Roulette F1 habanero peppers are for me because they are not hot. They may look like other habanero peppers, but their thick red walls have a citrus flavor. Sturdy, medium-sized plants produce up to 100 peppers in a season.
Sow pepper seeds 8 to 10 weeks before last frost date. They are slow to germinate -- up to 3 weeks and seedlings grow slowly. Small plants, already well on their way, can be purchased at local garden centers. Plant peppers in full sun when the soil is warm. Mulch around the root zone to keep the soil moist.
Two tomatoes received AAS awards. Valentine is a deep red grape tomato that matured earlier than comparison varieties. Sweetness, bountiful yields and ability to stay on the vine longer without cracking or sacrificing quality were characteristics that impressed judges. Indeterminate vines produced tomatoes all summer.
Red Racer is a cocktail-sized tomato (larger than cherry and grape tomatoes) that received the top prize for its great taste, uniform size and high yield. Determinate vines produced fruit a week or more sooner than other cultivars in the trials.
Tomatoes are sun lovers. Plant seeds 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date. Keep lights close to the top of seedlings to keep plants from stretching and to promote strong stems, turn a fan on them for a couple of hours each day. Feed them with liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength once every week or two.
After the danger of frost has passed, plant transplants in a spot that gets at least 6 to 8 hours of sun. Indeterminate varieties need strong, tall supports; a small cage may be enough to bolster determinate types. Determinate plants are better suited for growing in containers than indeterminate cultivars.
All-America Selections takes the guesswork out of choosing the best vegetables for your garden. Find a complete list of all AAS award winners since 1933 on its website, all-americaselections.org.
• Diana Stoll is a horticulturist, garden writer and speaker. She blogs at gardenwithdiana.com.