All-America Selections announced that, for the first time in their 80-year history, they will trial seeds and plants for prospective regional winners.
Now, the Mountain/Southwest Region will have winning plants appropriate for growing in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and the southern tip of California.
In 2014, the Mountain/Southwest Region has three winners from AAS: Penstemon hartwegii ‘Arabesque™ Red,’ Capsicum annuum ‘Giant Ristra,’and Cucurbita maxima ‘Cinderella’s Carriage.’
Penstemon Flowers Bloom in the Mountains and Southwest Region
Penstemon is a prairie plant and a native in North America. In the southwest, it is a common perennial used in desert gardens or xeriscaping landscapes because of its drought-tolerant properties.
All-America Selections Mountain/Southwest Regional Winner, Penstemon hartwegii ‘Arabesque™ Red’ is an F1 hybrid, informally called Harweg’s beardtongue.
The large bicolor red and white flowers stand out against the plant’s sturdy deep green branching. The bell-shape of a beardtongue’s bloom is a magnet for hummingbirds and butterflies.
Penstemon hartwegii ‘Arabesque™ Red’ grows best in full sun and tolerates the kind of dry heat found in the Southwest. The vertical flower spikes are a little less than one-inch in diameter and benefits from deadheading as it encourages the formation of more flowers.
The upright plant grows to 10” – 24”, however, staking the tall spikes is unnecessary. Gardeners should set out plants 18” – 24” apart to give them space to grow and allow good air circulation. This beardtongue is hardy in the warmer zones, 6 – 9.
You can grow Beardtongue as a perennial or an annual, depending on the climate where you live. Start your seeds indoors, and then transplant them outside, as it takes 110 days from seed to flower.
The genus of Penstemon contains many species. While most are hardier in the southern drier sections of the United States, Penstemon barbatus is hardy in zones 3 – 8. In the Midwest, it is a short lived perennial, especially where the soil is clay and drainage is lacking. Penstemon plants must be planted where soil drains well; organic matter dug into the planting bed will help them thrive.
Penstemon digitalis is a better choice in a northern climate. The cultivar Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker’s Red’ has a well-earned reputation in the Midwest, known for its deep reddish foliage that sets off the white flowers in spring.
Vegetables Fit for Growing in the Mountains and Southwest
Warm season crops like peppers and pumpkins like the soil warm and the nights frost-free before stepping their roots into a garden. You must harden off transplants by gradually exposing the tender seedlings to longer and longer periods of outside weather.
The Capsicum annuum is divided into several culinary varieties of pepper plants: sweet, chili and Italian sweet, which is also called a marconi pepper. Originally bred in Italy, marconi peppers are best used for grilling or roasting; as the two-lobed form is less suitable for stuffing.
Capsicum annuum ‘Giant Ristra’ is a very hot 7” elongated horn shaped chili pepper; the shape of a marconi, but as spicy as a cayenne. Giant Ristra may be eaten fresh, cooked on a grill, or dried and used as an herb.
The Giant Ristra is a tall plant reaching over 24” tall, spreading 15” – 18”, and needing spacing in the garden from between 12” – 24”. However, you can grow this plant in a container garden, as well. Gardeners need 110 days from sowing seeds to harvest or 80 days from transplant to pick the peppers.
This variety of pepper plant is resistant to tobacco-mosaic-virus (TMV.) Individual fruit will reach approximately 4 ounces, but the plant can produce upwards of 15 peppers. Staking is not required, though in a windy site or where the plant is heavy with fruit developing at one time; it may be important to add a structure to support the plant.
The Giant Marconi is another pepper plant, an All-America Selections winner: It is a sweet pepper and good for roasting on a grill.
Warm Season Vegetable for Autumn Harvests
The warm season vegetable, the F1 hybrid Cucurbita maxima ‘Cinderella’s Carriage’ is a pumpkin with pinkish red skin. The shell grows into the shape of a carriage, reminiscent of the fairy tale, Cinderella.
Each plant will produce a harvest of 5 – 7 fruits and each weighing 18 – 20 pounds with yellow flesh inside. The pumpkins are worthy of turning into pies or carved decorations with equal success.
Like many vegetables grown in the Southwest, gardeners who want to plant pumpkins seeds in their garden should know the recommended planting dates for their locale’s elevation.
AAS called ‘Cinderella’s Carriage’ pumpkin the “first hybrid Cinderella-type pumpkin on the market which results in a higher yield.” The plant is resistant to powdery mildew, another bonus for gardeners.
All-America Selections Announces Regional Plant Winners
All-America Selections announced their regional plant winners beginning with trials taking place in 2013.
For AAS’ purpose, North America is divided into six regions: Northeast, Southeast, Great Lakes, Hearland, Mountain/Southwest and West/Northwest.
All-America Selections decided that varieties that do not score across all regions, but may do well or are viable winners in specific regions are worthy of distinction.
AAS made these changes for future vegetable gardeners, after 80 years of trialing seeds for home gardeners.