Continuing our look at 2011 plants of the year, we come to the All-America Selections. This year, there are three vegetables and four flowers chosen by the AAS. We’ll look at the flowers this week.

Continuing our look at 2011 plants of the year, we come to the All-America Selections.

The AAS, around since 1933, celebrate the best vegetables and annual flowers to come on the market for homeowners. Plants may be totally new and different, such as the sugar snap pea in the late 1970s.

Or, more often, an improved cultivar may flower, produce a vegetable with a different color or different size fruit than normal, have an increased disease resistance or it may come into bearing earlier.

This year, there are three vegetables and four flowers chosen by the AAS. We’ll look at the flowers this week.

Alphabetically first is the gaillardia Arizona apricot. Gaillardia is sometimes called “blanket flower” and looks similar to a daisy or zinnia with ray petals surrounding a center filled with disc petals. However, the flowers are lighter in texture and more elegant than coarser zinnias.

The standard gaillardia has bicolor petals with darker orange-red toward the center and yellow-orange at the tips. Typical flowers are about 2 to 3 inches across.

Arizona apricot tends toward bright, sunny yellow at the tips and an apricot orange in the middle. Flowers are a little larger, especially if side shoots are removed. About the only pruning homeowners need to do is remove old flowers to encourage new ones to form.

Plants bloom earlier than typical gaillardias if you plant them by seed, and because most gardeners purchase their annual flowers, you may not notice any difference.

Arizona apricot doesn’t grow much more than a foot high and spreads about the same. It can be planted in the ground or in containers as soon as the frost danger passes. Like other gaillardias, it is drought-tolerant, hating excessive moisture.

Next up is an ornamental kale, which you find in the fall. Glamour red has a more intense center than the traditional flowering kales, which means it will stand out when grown in the cool part of autumn. It’s also the first kale to win an AAS designation.

You would think by the name that the color would be red; instead, think a shiny pink framed by green and then purple-green shiny leaves at the base.

While ornamental kales are technically edible, they are grown for their vividly colored leaves, which come into play when temperatures drop below the mid-50s. Depending on the winter, they can survive until spring, though most bite the winter dust because of excessive cold and snow.

Ornamental kales and ornamental cabbages can get confusing. The big difference is the ruffled leaves on the kale. Both plants still grow about 12 to 15 inches wide and about 9 to 12 inches high. The red-pink is more intense in full sun. Plants can be grown in containers or in the ground.

Gardeners appreciate salvia throughout the summer for the intense red colors that can attract hummingbirds looking for nectar. Salvias are stalwarts in landscape, whether planted in containers or massed in the ground.

Summer jewel red behaves just like its name says. Its spikes of red flowers appear earlier than normal varieties and last until frost. It also is a compact plant. If you’re lucky, the plant will make a foot-and-a-half mound, branching freely to produce a multitude of spikes of half-inch flowers.

This is different from the standard red salvia that doesn’t branch freely and produces larger spikes and flowers. Still, the smaller spikes on these full sun plants do quite well drawing in hummingbirds. Size isn’t important to hummingbirds.

The last plant is viola shangri-la marina. The velvety, five-petal flowers are baby blue with a dark blue face surrounded by white. Violas, like ornamental kales, are winter or cool-season annuals, thriving when temperatures are above freezing but below 60 degrees.

Violas planted in the fall might be around in the spring –– might. Shangri-la marina is supposed to survive winter’s snow and temperatures. Only time will tell.

Violas planted in the early spring will survive until summer’s heat. Because they are easily grown from seed, consider starting your own transplants, which you can set out in early March and October.

Violas are smaller than pansies, seldom getting more than 1 1/2 inches. The plants seldom are more than 6 inches high. Those willing to start their own transplants can find seeds in many garden catalogs.

David Robson is a specialist with the University of Illinois Extension. For more gardening information or for your local extension unit office, go to www.extension.uiuc.edu/mg.