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All-America plant selections

Provided by John Fulton

[DEC. 8, 2004]  URBANA -- With the arrival of the first garden catalogs, area growers are beginning to make decisions for next year's garden. Recognition by All-America Selections always brings added attention to "something new" that is of interest and has improved qualities. Following is a list of the all-America winners for the 2005 season.

Arizona Sun is the first flower winner. A mahogany red and bright yellow gaillardia, it has 3-inch blooms and is constantly in flower all summer. It is a compact grower to about 10-12 inches, making it great for containers. Even the spent blooms are attractive in that they look like tufts of seed. It is very easy to grow from seed, and though it is an annual in some areas, with a little protection it may overwinter. It is great for cutting and for bringing butterflies to a garden.

The second new flower is a blue-flowered vinca called First Kiss Blueberry. The large 2-inch blooms have a darker center that accentuates the violet-blue color. Mature plants grow to about 12-16 inches and are great for the sunny border or in containers. As with all vincas, it has great heat tolerance.

Rounding out the flowers is a new zinnia called Magellan Coral. This zinnia is part of a series of zinnias called Magellan and offers radiant coral blooms. The fully double dahlia flower has 5- to 6-inch blooms that are on top of very compact plants, growing to about 15 inches. Earliness to bloom and undemanding of attention in the garden are some of the qualities that drew praise from the judges.

On the vegetable front, varieties of eggplant, tomato and squash earned the All-America Selections emblem for 2005.

The Fairy Tale ornamental eggplant is a small plant with decorative miniature fruits and is white with violet-purple stripes. The fruit are sweet with a tender skin and few seeds. There is an extended window for harvest, and the fruits can be picked when young, about 1 to 2 ounces, or they can be left on the plant until they double in weight without compromising the flavor or tenderness. Harvest can be expected in about 49 to 51 days after setting out transplants. Fairy Tale makes a great ornamental plant. For people who like to grow vegetables in containers, it offers a tropical look with interesting flowers.

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The new tomato is the Sugary. The name says it all. The trial judges raved about its sweet flavor. The half-ounce dark pink fruit has a sugar content of 9.5 percent, which is considerably higher than other varieties. The fruit is produced in clusters like grapes and can be eaten like them. It has a unique shape -- oval with a pointed blossom end. High-yielding and vigorous, the plants probably need tomato cages in most gardens. Plants will start to produce fruit in about 60 days from the time transplants are set out.

The new squash, a winter variety, is called Bonbon. This buttercup-type squash has three improved traits. It is a restricted-growth-habit squash, which means that limited-space gardeners can have squash without it taking over the whole garden. It also has earliness qualities and is superior for eating. The upright-habit plant can spread about eight feet. When seeds are sown in the garden, look for the first ripe fruit about 81 days after sowing. That's almost a full week ahead of others. The boxy-shaped dark green squash is painted with silver stripes and weighs about 3 to 4 pounds. The orange flesh delivers a sweet flavor when cooked; hence, the name Bonbon.

[Provided by John Fulton, unit leader, University of Illinois Extension, Logan County Unit]

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