Have you noticed a little blue and red “AAS Winner” logo on some of the flower and vegetable photos in mail order nursery catalogs? Have you wondered what that means and how a particular plant earns that designation?
AAS stands for All-American Selection. The AAS designation is like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for plants. The plants, which are new previously unsold varieties, are tested for performance in the garden by independent judges throughout the United States. There are national and regional winners, but regional winners are to be considered no less exalted than national winners. When a plant is a regional winner, it just means that it isn’t suitable for planting over the entire United States. For example, the Serrano Pepper ‘Flaming Jade,’ the pumpkin ‘Super Moon’ and the radish ‘Sweet Baby’ do particularly well in the Great Lakes region but perhaps not as well in other climates.
The expert judges are from seed companies, universities and botanical gardens throughout the United States. In Wisconsin, we have two AAS judges, Mark Konlock at Green Bay Botanical Garden, and Mark Dwyer at Rotary Botanical Garden in Janesville, so we are well represented both north and south. You can understand why the AAS tagline is “Tested Nationally and Proven Locally.”
The judges plant the AAS nominees next to a control group of plants for comparison. They document bloom time, disease and pest tolerance, novel colors, flavors and flower forms, yield, length of bloom or harvest time, and overall performance. An entry needs to be significantly better than the control group in at least two of those categories to be considered for AAS designation. At the end of the growing season, the judges give each plant variety a score from zero to five and add their comments and observations. The information is sent to the AAS office for tabulation and only the highest scoring plants earn the AAS designation.
Once a plant receives the AAS Winner designation, it is immediately available in garden centers, big box stores, mail order nurseries and online, either as seeds or young plants or both.
There are nearly 200 AAS Display Gardens across the United States that are open to visitors. Visiting an AAS Display Garden is an opportunity to see former AAS winners in an attractive, well-maintained setting. In Wisconsin, we are fortunate to have eight of them. They are Antigo Community Garden, Boerner Botanical Garden in Hales Corners, Green Bay Botanical Garden, Hancock Agricultural Research Station, Kenosha County UW Extension/Racine-Kenosha Master Gardeners in Bristol, Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville, University of Wisconsin-West Madison in Verona, and UW Spooner Ag Research Station.
If you’re planning to travel, you can find the complete list of United States AAS Display Gardens here: https://all-americaselections.org/search-garden-displays/.
AAS is not a marketing ploy and it’s not new – testing has been going on since 1932! A complete list of plant winners can be found at https://all-americaselections.org/complete-aas-winner-list/.