Tidewater Gardening: January 2006

New Annuals for 2006

     For serious gardeners January is a contemplative month. What grew well last year? What didn’t? Did I experience any major insect or disease problems in the garden or the landscape? How should I prepare for the upcoming gardening season? And, ah yes, the boatload of gardening catalogs arrive in the mail.
      If you have an e-mail address and have bought anything online for the garden this last year, then all the e-mail solicitations come from plant and seed suppliers, garden equipment dealers and the like. Call me old fashioned, but I still like to get the Burpee’s, Park’s, Harris, White Flower Farms, or whoever’s printed catalog in the mail and thumb through it, anticipating March and the arrival of spring.
      The question is what’s new and recommended for 2006? In the annual flower and vegetable lines, the All American Selections have released their 2006 winners. Have you ever heard of Diascia? I hadn’t until the AAS folks brought it to my attention. Diascia (Diascia integerimma) is native to South Africa, like gerbera and dimorph-otheca (say that fast three times!).
      This first F1 hybrid diascia, ‘Diamonte Coral Rose’ has been bred for improved early flowering, branching habit, flower production, and length of bloom. ‘Diamonte Coral Rose’ flowers are tubular with backward pointing spurs. The five lobed blooms have broad lower lobes. The plant will flower within 60-70 days after seeding. The 8- to 10-inch height and 18-inch spreading habit is perfect for mixed containers where a cascading plant is desirable, or as a low edging plant in a sunny garden.
      The one-inch rosy coral blooms are produced in spikes on all sides of the plant. These frost tolerant plants can be literally covered with blooms.
      Not all tobacco plants are bad actors. Flowering tobacco has always been a neat addition to the annual flower bed. Nicotiana, named for Jean Nicot, who introduced tobacco to the French Court has lots of uses in the landscape. A 2006 AAS Winner, Nicotiana F1 ‘Perfume Deep Purple’ is a cross of Nicotiana x and is named for the delicate evening fragrance that will charm the senses.
      This variety was bred for the scent and unique deep purple flower color. The single, 2-inch star-shaped flowers are produced in abundance. Keeping with the star theme, the stars shine at night and this is when ‘Perfume Deep Purple’ begins its performance. The nightly release of its unique fragrance will cause you to linger on the patio or porch. Plants can reach 20 inches and spread 15 to 18 inches in a full sun garden location. ‘Perfume Deep Purple’ readily adapts to containers, or a semi-shade garden planting. This variety has another unique characteristic. Unlike other nicotianas, ‘Perfume Deep Purple’ is easy to grow from seed.
      They also do not require pinching, pruning or deadheading to maintain their flower display. ‘Perfume Deep Purple’ seed and plants will be available in garden centers.
      When I say “Skippy” do you think of peanut butter? Or a government official? Oh, sorry, that’s Scooter. Anyway, there is a new Viola available to gardeners this year. Viola F1 ‘Skippy XL Red-Gold’ won the AAS Cool Season Bedding Plant Award Winner.
      Also known as Viola cornuta, this is the first Viola cornuta to win the prestigious AAS Award. The improved qualities are flower size, flower colors and freedom of bloom. The large, 1½ inch, round flower appears to be a pansy, but it’s a viola. The colors on its bloom were designed by an artist. They are ruby red with violet red shading below the golden yellow face containing penciling or whiskers. The whiskers are an attribute of violas.
      AAS Judges noticed the strong, dense plant which exhibited heat tolerance combined with winter hardiness with protection. These two traits result in improved freedom of bloom and length of the flowering season. When mature, the plants will spread 8 inches and remain dwarf, about 6 inches tall.
      Some gardeners may say, “do we really need another Salvia”? Well, yes. Especially if it exhibits great characteristics. AAS Flower Award Winner Salvia farinacea ‘Evolution’ expands the color range of Salvia farinacea. The 6- to 7-inch flower spikes are violet, distinctly different from blue. ‘Evolution’ is a medium height annual reaching 16 to 24 inches tall and spreading 16 to 19 inches. Gardeners who search for plants with minimal maintenance should reserve space for ‘Evolution.’
      When planted in fertile soil, irrigation is the only requirement for ‘Evolution’ to flower consistently. Water efficiency tests in Colorado show Salvia farinacea plants are drought tolerant. ‘Evolution’ plants are undemanding with few disease or pest problems. They also do not require deadheading to maintain their flower display. They can be grown in patio containers or ceramic pots and the lilac flower spikes can be cut, dried and used as everlasting flowers for bouquets, decorations or craft projects.
      This year the AAS vegetable winners include two peppers, ‘Mariachi’ and ‘Carmen’. Capsicum annuum ‘Carmen’ is a beautiful, improved Italian-type sweet pepper. Earliness is important for home gardeners and ‘Carmen’ is a week earlier than comparisons.
      The distinctive horn-shaped peppers have wide shoulders, tapering to a smooth point. The upright plant reaches 28 inches tall and spreads 16 inches – a perfect size for a patio container. Tasting ‘Carmen’ will let you know why it won the AAS Award. The flavor is very sweet when red ripe, whether raw or cooked.
     ‘Carmen’ is widely adaptable because it is early maturing and productive in a wide temperature range. Unusually sweet, delicious peppers can be harvested early. Expect ripe peppers about 75 days from transplanting.
      Capsicum annuum ‘Mariachi’ won due to superior fruit size, improved earliness, marvelous yield, and unusually fine flavor. Most gardeners think of a bell shape when “sweet” peppers are mentioned. ‘Mariachi’ is an Italian bull’s horn type which refers to its elongated shape. It is an improved cone-shaped pepper - 500 to 600 Scoville heat units - a mildly “hot” chile pepper.
      Fruit can become more pungent when plants are stressed by hot weather or lack of water. This is a fleshy pepper that ripens from yellow to red, but will mostly be used in the yellow stage. The vigorous, attractive 18- to 24-inch plants set fruit continuously throughout the growing season. ‘Mariachi’ produces an abundance of 3- to 4-inch peppers when grown in gardens or in containers on the patio.
      Harvest can begin within 65-68 days from transplanting. The fruits lend themselves to a wide variety of dishes including salsas and sauces, or, stuff, grill and enjoy.
      Grow ‘Carmen’ plants with sun-loving, training annuals such as verbena to drape over the edge. This is the most trendy combination planter- growing edibles and annuals together. ‘Carmen’ is easy to grow in gardens or large size containers.
      So plan to add some “heat” to your vegetable garden this year with these two AAS Winner peppers and spice up your landscape with some new and different annuals.
      Happy Gardening!!!