AAS (All-America Selections) is a non-profit organization that tests new cultivars for home gardeners. Their motto is “Tested Nationally and Proven Locally®”. They have trial gardens all over the country and Canada in every growing zone. Seeds are grown in the trial gardens and then judged for features such as harvest, flowers and disease resistance. Each year the best new varieties earn the title of AAS Winner. The AAS Winner designation means that gardeners can be confident that the flowers and vegetables with that title will grow well in their area.
AAS winners are grown in display gardens throughout the US and Canada so that gardeners can see the plants before growing them in their own gardens. Rutgers Gardens, where I volunteer, is an AAS display garden. There is a separate AAS garden located near the Donald B. Lacey Display Garden, where current and recent winners, both flowers and vegetables are grown.
This year one of the winners that will be on display is a new basil cultivar, Dolce Fresca. It is a bush type basil meaning that it will grow in a compact shape, making it suitable for containers or in an ornamental border. It grows 10” to 14” high and 10” to 12” around. In the garden, they should be planted 10” to 12” apart.
According to the AAS site, Dolce Fresca can be direct sown in your garden May 20 but for best results, I recommend that you start your basil seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost date. I start my basil seeds in the greenhouse the third week in March for sale at Spring Flower Fair which is held on the second weekend in May.
I would not plant my basil plants outdoors until after May 15 even though the last frost date in New Jersey is April 15. We have had frosts in May which will kill basil. Basil is originally from southeast Asia, which is tropical.
Like all basils, Dolce Fresca should be planted in full sun and watered regularly. Watering is especially critical when grown in containers which tend to dry out quickly. Basil does not like to be dry.
The taste is described as mildly anise with a minty aftertaste. Be sure to pinch off any buds to prevent flowering. Basil leaves become bitter after the plant blooms. The leaves can be used fresh or dry.
I will be posting photos on Facebook as I grow out Dolce Fresca from seed and then follow its progress in the AAS Display Garden. Be sure to visit the AAS Display Garden when you visit Rutgers Gardens to see Dolce Fresca and the other AAS winners.