Scores of new plant varieties are released onto the market every year. Some are noticeably new: They have leaves or flowers in colors never seen before, bear noticeably more or bigger blooms, or have upgraded disease resistance. Other new plants offer advantages to greenhouse growers: They bloom earlier, have more compact habits, or can tolerate cooler temperatures so they don't need as much heat.
New plants aren't necessarily better for your garden, though, and that's why All-America Selections was established. It's an organization that tests new varieties across North America. The new varieties are compared with traditional selections; those that truly stand out are given the award. A small number of All-America Selections is awarded each year.
Even with a just a handful of varieties awarded every year, the list of winners is long. So we asked the All-America Selections judges to vote on their all-time favorite varieties. Here's what they said.
Petunias are one of the most popular annual flowers around, so you might guess there were a lot for the judges to choose from. (More than 60 varieties of petunia have won an AAS designation, the first in 1934.)
The AAS judges' all-time favorite is Wave Purple Classic, released in 1995. It grows about 6 inches tall and can spread 4 feet across, making a brilliant purple groundcover or bold hanging basket.
Also high on their list was a relative, Tidal Wave Silver, released in 2002. It has a more upright habit, growing almost 2 feet tall and capable of spreading 5 feet across. It shows off a profusion of beautiful silvery-blue flowers top to bottom from spring to frost.
Both petunias in the Wave family continue to bloom without the need for pinching or pruning, and they produce flowers throughout the plant rather than just on the tips of the stems as older petunia varieties did.
Learn more about petunias.
Zinnia, another hugely popular annual flower, has had its share of winners, too: There have been more than 40 AAS-designated zinnias since 1935.
Of these, AAS judges proclaimed 2010's Zahara Double Fire a top pick. Bearing fully double flowers in a bold shade of orange, it's also more disease-resistant than many other zinnias on the market. It's a drought-tolerant annual that's perfect for growing in container gardens and planters.
Zinnia Profusion Cherry, a 1999 winner, is just as popular today as when it was new. Featuring brilliant cherry-pink flowers, it grows 16 inches tall and 12 inches wide, and it attracts butterflies like crazy. It's also heat-, drought-, and disease-resistant.
Two other popular picks with the judges are Zowie! Yellow Flame and Magellan Coral. Zowie! Zinnia Yellow Flame shows off large, clear-yellow flowers with stunning red centers. It grows 36 inches tall and 27 inches wide. Zinnia Magellan Coral is a dwarf selction that bears big, double coral-pink flowers on a 12-inch-tall plant.
Learn more about zinnias.
Continued on page 2: Celosia, Salvia, and Marigolds