Each year the best of the new annual flowers (those that only live for one year) are judged, and the winners given the All-America Selections (AAS) designation. In the past these have all been grown from seeds, but starting in 2015 those grown “vegetative” from cuttings were included as well. This year’s annual flower winners, grown from seeds, include a celosia, dianthus, two vincas, and a zinnia. The two vegetative annual flower winners include a geranium and verbena. All prefer full sun, average well-drained soil, and regular fertilizer.
To be an AAS winner, flowers must show improvements over any similar existing cultivars (cultivated varieties). If grown from seeds, as most are, they must bloom that same year as when sown. So a few perennials that bloom the first year from sowing have won as well, such as the penstemon winner for this year.
In the past, the winners only were those that were deemed worthy across much of North America. While there are still these “national” winners, there are now regional winners as well—those performing particularly well in a particular region.
Celosia Asian Garden is a spiked type of cockscomb, two feet or more high, having bunches of narrow rose-pink flower spikes. It grows well in containers or garden beds, and is attractive to pollinators. Other benefits to this flower are its tolerance to drought, and use as a cut or dried flower.
Dianthus Supra Pink joins its sister winner from 2006, Supra Purple. The unusual flowers, mottled in various shades of pink, have quite frilled petal tips. Flowers cover the bushy plant through the season on plants under one foot high. Although grown as an annual, it may overwinter in warmer regions.
Geranium Calliope Medium Dark Red forms a mounded, semi-spreading habit with velvety deep red flowers. It would be a good choice for landscape beds, containers, and hanging baskets. This is one of the two winners this year you’ll need to buy as a small plant, not as seeds.
Penstemon Twizzle Purple is a perennial in zones 5 (-10 to -20F winter average minimum) and warmer, but will bloom in mid to late summer the first year when grown from seeds. Sow in cell-packs or small pots six to eight weeks before the last frost and planting them outside. This native plant has one-inch tubular purple flowers on slender stalks, almost three feet high, which are attractive to pollinators. Although a winner this year in the Great Lakes and Southeast regions, it will grow elsewhere too.
Verbena Endurascape Pink Bicolor is another flower winner you’ll need to buy as small plants, not seeds. Flowers are lighter pink at the tips, getting darker towards the centers. The habit is spreading, and 8 to 12 inches high. It tolerates not only drought and heat, but temperatures in fall into the low teens. Use it in masses, along walks, or in containers.
There are two vinca or annual periwinkle AAS winners this year—Mega Bloom Orchid Halo and Mega Bloom Pink. While the former has rich purple flowers with white “eyes” or centers, the latter has soft pink flowers with white centers. Plants keep a compact, dense habit one foot or so high, and begin flowering earlier than many vincas.
Zinnia Profusion Red is the fourth color to win the AAS award in this series. Profusion zinnias are notable for their compact form only one foot or so high, disease resistance, early and continuous bloom, and easy culture. The single flowers, up to two or more inches wide, are attractive to some pollinators.
Each year, the last five years of winners are displayed in about 200 official All-America Selections gardens across North America, including our own Waterfront Park in Burlington. If traveling this summer, make sure to look up which gardens may be near your route (all-americaselections.org/visit-an-aas-display-garden/). On the AAS website you’ll also find the vegetable winners and their details.
Check out our ratings and listings online, along with some photos, of which flowers have performed best in Vermont (pss.uvm.edu/ppp/aaswp.html). Of the 100 or so new flowers in the Burlington display garden each year, many are not All-America winners, and most are those grown from cuttings.
Dr. Leonard Perry, Horticulture Professor Emeritus
University of Vermont