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Try these top picks in your garden

January is the start of garden catalog season! Throughout January, my mailbox is crammed full of colorful seed catalogs that lure me into trying something new and exotic in the coming year. I dream of June: fresh asparagus and spinach; and the juicy, sweet/tart early tomatoes in July.

If you'd like to try something new this year, but are not sure what, look into the 2011 All American Selections. Each year, AAS chooses new introductions of annuals, perennials and edible plants, and grows them at selected sites across the country.

The West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris trials AAS plants each year in their test gardens. The trials provide useful information regarding which plants excel in our west central Minnesota location. These varieties are also grown in other locations with a wide variety of growing conditions, and are then evaluated by professional horticulturalists. The ratings are quite demanding, with the finalists performing reliably in most locations nationwide.

When looking through your seed catalogs, look for the All American Selections winner symbol. Ornamental and edible plants are included in the winners, and your favorite catalog may include previous years' winners as well as the current year's champions.

The All American Selections for 2011 are:

• Gaillardia "Arizona Apricot" are 3.5 inch apricot-colored daisy-like flowers. They grow on compact 12" plants that bloom from early summer through first frost. Hardy from zones 2-6, these perennials are a good choice for our west central Minnesota gardens.

• Ornamental kale "Glamour Red" is flowering kale with shiny, fringed, vividly colored leaves. It grows 10" tall and will bloom 90 days from seed sowing. As night temperatures drop below 55 degrees, the colors intensify.

• Viola "Shangri-La Marina" is an early flowering, mounding viola and colored a vibrant lavender blue. It is a vigorous, frost tolerant plant that will re-seed and return in coming years.

• Pumpkin "Hijinks" produces small-sized, 6 to 7 pound fruits of a very uniform size and shape. The skin is smooth deep orange with distinctive grooves, and makes a great jack-o-lantern. It is ready to harvest 100 days from direct seeding, 80 days from transplants.

• Tomato "Terenzo" is a high yielding, determinate, cherry tomato that is a prolific producer on a tidy low-growing, trailing plant. With high sugar content, this tomato is one of the sweetest out there.

For more information, visit the All American Selections website at