2002 Bedding Plant Trials By Jim Klett; Bob Lyons; Rob Berghage & Alan Michael, & Brent Pemberton

Four universities put varieties to the test to see which are best-suited for garden performance.

From the effects of drought to the many new, different varietiesbeing introduced, the 2002 bedding plant trials were ground-breaking, as theyare every year. In GPN’s second annual bedding plant trial report, ColoradoState University, North Carolina State University, Penn State University andTexas A&M University give you the inside scoop on a few of their bestperformers. Look for additional, detailed trial comparisons from the Universityof Florida in upcoming issues.

Colorado State University

The annual trial gardens at Colorado State University are anideal evaluation site because of high elevation (approximately 5,280 feet),intense solar radiation, drying winds and large fluctuations between day andnight temperatures, season-long need for irrigation and clay-like soils. In2002 we had many days over 90° F and even several over 100° F. Ourprecipitation was below normal with only 4.72 inches of rain from May 1 toAugust 31, 2002. However, in June and July we only recorded 1.68 inches ofprecipitation. Also, many areas in the state enforced water restrictions forhomeowners and businesses.

Our bedding trials were planted at two sites: the W.D.Holley Plant Environmental Research Center in the southwest part of campus andat Remington Street Park, which is in a very visible site in Fort Collins. In2002 we also planted more than 370 containers at the Remington Street Parksite. More than 1,275 entries were planted in bedding trials and/or containertrials. Twenty-two different seed or vegetative companies participated in the2002 trials. Planting started on May 22 and was completed on June 21, 2002. Allplants were fertilized with a slow-release fertilizer (Osmocote 14-14-14) alongwith several liquid feedings throughout the growing season. Outdoor beds werewatered between two and three times weekly, applying approximately one inch ofwater at each application. The Trial Garden Advisory Committee, along withnumerous other professional and amateur horticulturists, evaluated the annualtrials on July 21, and a sub-committee reevaluated again on August 31.

Diascia. Voted”Best of Show” for 2002 was Diascia ‘Flying Colors Coral’ from ProvenWinners. The flowers on this plant were abundant and coral in color. The planthad a vigorous growth habit and good foliage color. It was an outstanding plantthroughout the growing season.

Brachycone. Votedthe “Best New Variety” was Brachycone ‘Hot Candy’ from ProvenSelections (EuroAmerican). It had hot pink flowers throughout the entiregrowing season. The foliage was continually covered in delicate, hot pinkblooms all summer long. It performed well both in containers and in the fieldtrials.

Petunias. The bestgrandiflora petunia was ‘Storm Pink Morn’ from Goldsmith Seeds. It had 2-tonepink blooms that covered the entire plant.

Geraniums. The best zonal geranium was ‘Americana Dark Red’because of its vigorous and lush foliage color and numerous dark red blooms.

New Guinea Impatiens. ‘Super Sonic Lilac’ from Fischer wasvoted the best New Guinea Impatiens. It had an excellent growth habit withlarge, pale lavender blooms that lightened up the entire plant.

North Carolina State University

The trials at the JCRA are rather standard in layout andpractice. We work with uniform, rectangular beds in both sun and shade andÁ uniformly space each entry within and between rows, but we’recurrently considering some changes for the future. We generally install oursummer material in late April, wait for establishment, and then rate on aweekly schedule through September.

We mulch with a variety of materials, but this year settledon one of our favorites–composted leaves. Our soil fertility levels are checked annually, andfertilizers are added as needed. Irrigation is an integral part of getting ourplants established, but upon establishment, irrigation is normally ceased toallow plants to grow within the rainfall conditions of our area. However, thedrought of 2002 forced us to irrigate several more times within the growingseason to keep the plants alive. We generally do not apply pesticides, as wefeel that the outside pressures of pathogens and insect pests are part of ourevaluation process.

For the past three years, we have been doing something a bitunconventional within our trials to better ensure trial diversity and visitorinterest. Two beds, which historically were devoted to standard evaluation andwere planted with commercially supplied and paid-for cultivars, were removed.Instead, one bed was planted with a single genus of plants to show”cultivar or species diversity.” To date, this bed has showcased over3-dozen sunflower cultivars, 30 sun coleus varieties, and in 2002, a wide arrayof dahlias. In the opposing bed, aptly named the “Annual Border,” aplanned design using only annuals and/or tender perennials demonstrates theversatility of these plants in much the same way perennial borders are created.Both changes have been met with enthusiasm by visitors and members of the greenindustry.

Petunias. Petunia ‘Tidal Wave Silver’ was one of thestrongest of its genus, exhibiting an exceptionally strong flowering behaviorand vigorous plant habit compared to its peers.

Portulaca. If yousimply can’t leave the 70s behind, then Portulaca ‘Fairy Tales Cinderella’ getsmy vote for the return of the “day glo” color palette! Its strikingand unique flowers set it apart from other moss roses; and its performanceduring our drought was admirable.

Ornamental Sweet Potato.Okay, I’m biased in picking ‘Sweet Caroline Bronze’ ornamental sweet potatomainly because it originated here at NC State, but you just won’t find thisfoliage color in any other cultivar. Beautifully bronze, more controlled growthand complete with a dense cover of leaves, Sweet Caroline Bronze makes afabulous addition to existing ornamental sweet potatoes for landscape use.

Pennisetum. Like somany others, we just didn’t think that Pennisetum ‘Purple Majesty’ was aPennisetum at all?but it is! Not just another purple leaf grass, PurpleMajesty maintains an erect stature; a non-fading purple color in leaves, stemsand flower plumes; and an ability to grow quickly once the weather warms up.

Ornamental Peppers.Finally, ‘Chilly Chili’ ornamental pepper was a fail-safe and compactperformer. It was named for its mild-tasting fruits, but we liked it becausethe fruits were ever-colorful and ever-present, right to the bitter end of thegrowing season.

Penn State University

The summer of 2002 was the second driest in Pennsylvaniahistory as well as one of the hottest. Although we received adequate rains earlyin the season, July and August severely stressed the annuals in the 2002 PennState University Variety Trials at the Southeast Research and Extension Centerat Landisville. Rains were slightly more consistent at the University Parktrial site and temperatures more moderate; however, regular irrigation wasrequired at both trial locations.

The vegetative trial had 930 entries, and there were about500 seed Á entries. Each was evaluated for its outdoor gardenperformance by growing nine plants in three containers for the vegetative trialin Landisville, or a block of 20 plants in a 4-foot-wide garden bed forseed-propagated annuals and perennials at University Park.

Evaluators rated each cultivar’s garden performance using anumerical scale where one is unacceptable, two is poor, three is acceptable,four is good and five is excellent. Plants were evaluated every 2-3 weeks onthe appearance of flowers and foliage, their uniformity, pest problems andoverall landscape display. The following varieties were awarded “Best OfSpecies,” which is reserved for cultivars with the highest rating in theirrespective species.

Angelonia. Gardenersare becoming more familiar with angelonia and are using it as asummer-blooming, snapdragon-like bedding and cut flower. Fortunately, breedersare introducing varieties such as Ball FloraPlant’s new ‘AngelMist Purple’Improved which produces many flowers with a compact habit.

Bracteantha (Helichrysum). Bracteantha breeders have been working hard at improving thisAustralian flowering plant. Helichrysum angustifolium ‘Icicles’ is outstandingand is grown for its attractive silvery foliage and was entered by EsbenshadeGreenhouse.

Calibrachoa. Of the47 calibrachoa cultivars entered in this year’s trial, three-quarters rated goodor excellent, a vast improvement over entries received four or five years ago.Henry F. Michell’s and Bodger Botanicals’ newly introduced ‘Spring Fling’ hasan excellent display of bright yellow flowers splashed with orange, displayedon a vigorous, mounded plant. It was one of the top cultivars in this year’strial.

Coleus. Vegetativecoleus are making a strong comeback with their attractive leaf color, fewdetracting flowers and good sun tolerance. Ball FloraPlant ‘Stoplight’ is anoutstanding variety with attractive, multi-colored foliage, few flowers anduniform growth that works well in the landscape.

Trailing Double Petunia. Breeders are successfully selectingfor disciplined growth and uniform flowering on sturdy plants with fewerdisease and cultural problems. Many of the best cultivars have moderately sizeddouble and semi-double blossoms that cover the entire plant. Double petunias inour trial generally come into flower a few weeks later than vegetative singlepetunias. Ball FloraPlant has a champion with its Double Wave series ofcompact, rounded plants, each displaying a multitude of moderate-sized flowerson robust plants, but ‘Double Wave Pink’ received “Best of Species.”

Single Petunia. This year had the largest group ofvegetative cultivars (105) ever entered into the Penn State Variety Trials.More than half of the vegetative cultivars rated good to excellent, and onlyseven rated poor, verifying that the plant breeders have created noteworthyimprovements with their new petunia cultivars. The best were Ball FloraPlant’s’Suncatcher Pink Vein’ and ‘Suncatcher Lavender’, and Fides USA’s ‘FortuniaPink Vein’. They have masses of eye-catching flowers covering the entire plantand plant centers, have no noticeable disease or insect problems, and do notshow excessive susceptibility to iron chlorosis with normal fertility programs.

Zonal Geraniums. Ofthe 148 zonal geranium varieties entered, 97 rated good or excellent for gardenperformance. Ratings were highest on cultivars that have superior flowerdisplays by early July and maintain it all summer, and on those that produceattractive, blemish-free foliage and have large flower heads held nicely abovethe leaf canopy. Dummen USA’s (HMA) entry, ‘Pinnacle Coral’, was one of thethree highest-rated geraniums in this year’s trial. Oglevee’s ‘PatriotWatermelon’ and ‘Stardom Floribunda Julia’ were the other highest-rated.

Texas A&M

Texas A&M trials are located about 100 miles east ofDallas at the Texas A&M University Agricultural Research and ExtensionCenter at Overton. Transplants are grown in greenhouses at the Center fromeither seed or rooted cuttings provided by the many companies enteringselections in the trials. More than 400 entries were planted this year inreplicated plots in field rows covered with black plastic mulch in late Apriland May. Plants were watered and fertilized using drip irrigation, and theywere monitored throughout the summer for flowering performance and health. Manyentries performed well, but only a few ended up being designated exceptional.

Petunias. In the world of petunias, many of the trailingtypes can stand up to our summer conditions. This year, the Explorer seriesfrom Sakata, especially ‘Explorer Magenta’, performed well along with perennialfavorites Waves and Tidal Waves from PanAmerican. Explorer Magenta spreadvigorously to cover the plots but did not get so tall that shearing wasrequired. Flowering was steady throughout the summer.

Impatiens. Impatiensdid well this year. ‘Tempo Lavender Butterfly’ from Bodger has done well fortwo years now. Not only is it compact in the flat, but it has excellent gardenperformance as well. The new trailing impatiens ‘Fanfare Orange’ from BallFloraPlant was also quite impressive! It was extremely vigorous to about 18 inches,with reliably large flowers throughout the growing season.

New Guinea Impatiens.The real surprise was the New Guinea Impatiens. I had written them off severalyears ago, but I received some entries this year that have changed my mindabout this group. Obviously, the breeders have been busy! The best this yearwere ‘Tamarinda True Pink’ and ‘Pink Eye’ from Fides North America, and’Celebrette Grape Crush’ from Ball FloraPlant. Look for more extensive trials in the future forheat tolerance.

Vinca. Vinca isalways a hit for hot weather. This year we had an outbreak of southern blightin our trial, but most entries went on to do well in the heat of late summer.Standouts were ‘Big Ruby’ from PanAmerican and the ‘Dan Diva’ series fromDanziger, especially Dark Purple. Love those big flowers!

Tropical Foliage. In the tropical foliage category,Alternanthera ‘Purple Knight’ did not fail to impress. This seed-grownselection from PanAmerican topped out at about 18 inches and displayed a richpurple leaf color throughout the summer. Another amazing selection was the’Variegated Tapioca’ from Hines Nursery. Growing about four feet or larger, itprovides a blaze of creamy variegation for full-sun tropical landscapes — thehotter the better! The ‘Sweet Caroline’ ornamental sweet potato series from theJ. C. Raulston Arboretum was also a pleaser, especially the bronze selection, acolor unique to this group. They are vigorous spreaders, but not nearly asstrongly spreading as ‘Blackie’ or ‘Sulphur’. The coleus ‘Amora’ from ProvenWinners was very nice as well. It grew about 18-24 inches tall and had not oneflower all summer!

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Editor’s note: Photos page 30 courtesy of Jim Klett; page 32courtesy of Bob Lyons; page 33, picture 1 courtesy of Rob Berghage and Alan Michael,picture 2 courtesy of Bodger, pictures 3-5 courtesy of Ball FloraPlant; pages34-5 courtesy of Brent Pemberton.

Jim Klett; Bob Lyons; Rob Berghage & Alan Michael, & Brent Pemberton

Jim Klett is professor and extension landscape horticulturist at Colorado State University. Bob Lyons is professor and director in the Department of Horticultural Science at North Carolina State University. Rob Berghage is associate professor of Horticulture, and Alan Michael is multi-county extension agent at Penn State University. Brent Pemberton is professor at the Texas A&M University Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

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