Because the display garden I steward at the Rochester senior citizen’s center — the OPC — is going to be on a garden walk this June, I started making my plant lists in October. I’ve learned the hard way that if I wait and visit the garden centers without a list and make selections on impulse, I quickly become overwhelmed with all that gorgeous color and the promise of success.

I know from experience some plants put on a great show in a greenhouse, having been pampered and fertilized on a daily basis, only to fizzle out when planted outdoors. Some hate the heat and humidity, while others are easily whacked by disease.

When choosing annuals and vegetables, All-American Selections award winners (AAS) always get my attention because they’re tested in more than 200 trial gardens across the United States and have proven not to be just dependable growers, but have significantly outperformed those already on the market.

Take zinnias, for instance. These once-popular annuals fell from favor when hybrids became susceptible to powdery mildew and leaf spot, needing to be sprayed with a fungicide to be kept disease free. However the new generation of zinnias — the compact hybrids Zinnia Profusion and Zinnia Zahara series — have proven to be tough as nails, pumping out color nonstop from the time they are planted through to a killing frost. Their blossoms last a long time and they age gently, making deadheading them much less onerous than their relatives. Available in singles and doubles in shades of yellow, orange, pink and red, along with white, by mixing varieties I am able to provide interesting texture as well as color.

In 2010 the double zinnia Zahara Fire, a vibrant dark orange, was an AAS bedding plant winner. In 2015 the zinnias Profusion Double Deep Salmon and Double Hot Cherry both took AAS honors. All have become staples in my color-blocked beds.

This year I’m adding the AAS 2017 winner Zinnia Profusion Red, a vibrant clear red, to my red collection of plants.

Another exciting AAS zinnia winner is Queeny Lime Orange, a dahlia-like bloom of showstopping color that evolves from dark coral/peach/orange to light peach with a dark center as the flower ages. When used as a cut flower it’s said to last in a vase three weeks without preservatives or feed.

To find a list and photos of this year’s and past ward winners, along with some of the display gardens, check out the AAS web site at

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnewscom/homestyle.

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