Begonia Basket Options from the Pack Trials 2002 By Rick Schoellhorn, University of Florida

Despite their attractive presentation and higher price point, few growers have tapped this market. These are some of the author’s favorite varieties.

This was my first trip to the California Pack Trials, and itwas a really wonderful experience. The term “trials” is a bit of amisnomer, though, as there was very little comparison trialing and a lot ofdisplay material. I understand that, in the past, trialing was more the norm,but as the focus shifted to sales, the emphasis on trialing dropped off.Don’t let that dissuade you from going to the Pack Trials, though, as itis still the best way to see what is new and in the works for the crops yougrow. As an example, having just written an article on Angelonia, I found thatmost of the major companies have new Angelonia series coming out this year, andthere are some marked differences between the different series. I’mlooking forward to trialing these and seeing what the differences are (look foran article update on Angelonia in the near future).

Everywhere we went, we were given educational tours and aton of great production information. If you have a new grower on your staff,this would be a really good opportunity to collect an impressive grower’snotebook all in one week. Coming from the university system, I want to giveKudos to American Takii who had a great series of displays showing thedifferent plant growth regulators at different rates on their crops; it was areally informative set-up.

I have a lot more sympathy for garden writers afterattending Pack Trials. There is simply too much material to hold it all in yourhead, and still so many incredible plants coming out that you feel an obligationto do them all justice. It is really a great time to be in this field as ournation’s breeders and production nurseries are able to churn out newmaterial much faster than they could in the past. As a result, there are a lotof really exciting new plant introductions on the way for 2003.

In the next two articles, I will cover a couple of areas Ifeel are especially promising. Begonia basket options, which have always been apersonal favorite of mine, is this month, and in the next issue, some of thenew and very different materials released by a variety of breeders for use ascomponent plants or stand-alone material.

Why begonia basket options? As we move into a retail marketthat is always looking for instant gardens, this group of plants provides ahuge selection of varieties for both Northern and Southern growers.

Cool-Season Tuberous-type Begonias

Northern nurseries rely on strong tuberous-type begonias forearly spring sales, and there were some extremely nice options at Pack Trialsthis year. Most of these plants are not new for 2003, but many of them have newcolors or forms available. Since the tuberous begonias are a very difficultcrop in the Deep South (there’s a good niche market for someone), it wasgreat to see them again and to be reminded of their value in the Northern andWestern markets. Although the non-stop types are proven performers, I’mgoing to focus mostly on the hanging (or pendula) forms and less on theuprights. With the pendula types, growers will want to ship material in bud andlet the plants grow out in a retail setting because once plants get very farover the side of a hanging basket, they become very difficult to ship. Easilybruised and somewhat fragile, they are best in localized markets and will sellwell once the buds show color.

There were quite a few major displays of hangingtuberous-type begonias that I saw as I drove through California. Most of thebegonia series below have similar production requirements, and the limitingfactor on who can grow them appears to be growing temperatures. All preferdaytime temperatures around 70-80° F and night temperatures somewherearound 55-60° F. These begonias are best in early spring production, assummer temperatures can be very hard on them, but in the extreme north, they dobeautifully all through the summer.

Lorelei (Gro-Link).Lorelei are available as rooted cuttings in 72-cell trays. The flowers are 2-3inches in diameter and a brilliant, clear orange with a cactus form flower (seepicture and culture information on page 108). The individual petals areserrated and quite straight, giving each bloom a rounded look. Lots of colorand a very graceful habit. The plant is fairly open, unlike some of the otherbasket types, and leaves are a lighter green. Average crop times: 14-15 weeksfor an 8- to 10-inch basket (three plants per basket); seven weeks for a 4-inch(one plant per container).

Tenella Series (S&G Flowers). This series is in many ways similar to Lorelei, butthe flowers have fewer larger petals and smooth edges, giving the plant adifferent, softer look. Colors include pink, white, orange and rose; white andpink have pale green foliage; orange and rose forms have a dark green leaf.Otherwise, habit and production for this series are similar to Lorelei. Makes anice-looking, 6-inch plant but would also do well in baskets. Average croptimes: From seed to first flower is roughly 16 weeks; production timing issimilar to Lorelei.

Illumination Series (Benary Seed). Illumination series is a full, Camellia-type floweron a cascading plant and is larger in stature and habit than the previous twoseries. This series is also available in the Proven Selections line. Theseplants were displayed in 10-inch baskets and were a mass of color. Leaves andflowers are larger; stems are thicker; and all around, this is a bigger plantthan Lorelei or the Tenella series. So plan accordingly.

Fortune Series (Dæhnfeldt). This series is much more upright with fully doubleflowers, so production will be similar to nonstop series. These are camellia-floweredtypes with blooms up to 4-5 inches in diameter. Strong, vigorous plants makeexcellent 10-inch baskets but no hanging stems, just full bushy plants. Thisactually works well because the flowers are presented either horizontally orupright, making it good for displays. The series is not new, but they added anorange this year.

Solenia series (Oglevee). The Reiger-type begonias are a little bit different in theirproduction than some of the other types we have looked at. If you are notfamiliar with their production, I suggest checking with your distributor beforepurchasing the plants and making sure you know what you are doing as they are abit tricky, but well worth the trouble. Flowers are 2+ inches in diameter,fully double with some single flowers mixed in and a bit more heat-tolerantthan the true tuberous types. Incredible, iridescent colors are more upright ingrowth habit and a great way to get into something that will set your cropsapart from mainstream flowering plants.

All-Season Fibrous Begonias

Fibrous begonias in general are produced as plugs; somegrowers may still do in-house production by seed, but due to the size andexpense of the seed, most nurseries opt to have them produced by plugspecialists. In this way, they take less bench space and time to get to sale.

The selections I will be talking about each had someattribute that made them different from generic bedding begonias, but all willdo well being grown under the same conditions as their generic counterparts.Like the typical bedding begonia, these crops are easy to grow, and consumerslike them because they require little additional care after purchase to keepflowering and putting on a good show of color all summer.

Lotto Series (Benary Seed). The major difference between these begonias and standard bedding typesis flower size. Many of the series have single flowers up to one inch orlarger, with a nice habit and strong growth. Green foliage will bronze up inbrighter light. The pink stood out in my mind as being exceptionally strong,but this series all looked good, and the increased flower size was really aplus.

Maribel Light Pink (S&G Flowers). This begonia is one of the old-fashioned Begoniarichmondensis types and is not at all like the generic bedding begonia, thoughjust as attractive and easily produced. This is a very striking plant withglossy olive green to black foliage, pale pink blossoms and a plant size of10-18 inches in height. The leaves are somewhat like an angelwing begonia butwith a bit of serration on the edge and a little bit of fuzziness to the leafsurface. This is a sleeper of a plant and deserves much more exposure.

Dragonwing (Pan American Seed). If you aren’t growing this begonia, youshould be. This is one of the most attractive begonias on the market; it givesan incredible show with minimal effort, and season-long interest in part sun tofull shade. Pan American had it in their displays in 20-inch baskets, and theplants were four feet across! It is marketable in 4-inch pots as specimens, andin bright light, the foliage will bronze, which sets off the red or pinkflowers. A truly exceptional plant!

Queen Begonia Series (Dæhnfeldt). I have always thought the double sempervirensbegonia market was undersold. The flowers of these plants resemble miniaturepeonies, and the plants are tough. What set this series apart from others wasthe size of the leaf; some of the leaves were up to seven inches across, andthe baskets were eye-catching. Some of the doubles have problems in the extremeheat of the Deep South, but these will still be great spring and early summerbaskets nationwide.

Doublet series (Oglevee). Another double-flowered form but with smaller leaves and incredibleflowering. The foliage is almost invisible under the masses of flowers. Thistype of Begonia can be used for winter color as the Begonia sempervirens typeswill tolerate a light frost and continue flowering. I’ve seen this seriesin production, and it is really a strong crop.

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Rick Schoellhorn, University of Florida

Rick Schoellhorn is associate professor of horticulture at the University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla. He can be reached by phone at (352) 392-1831 x634 or E-mail at [email protected]

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