Breakthroughs In Breeding By Bridget White, Tim Hodson and Catherine Evans

Throughout our Pack Trials trip we try to think like you — the grower — by asking the kinds of questions we think you would ask, such as "Will this finish quickly, how much PGR cost will I incur, how much bench space will this take up, will it be easy to ship?" So when the three of us sat down to decide what we were going to cover from this year's exhibits, we were overwhelmed with the possibilities and real improvements exhibited by some of the new varieties.

Instead of lumping all of our featured varieties together, we decided to set apart those introductions that we think will truly make a difference in your world. We didn't set limits on the number of varieties that could be included, and we didn't try to cover all of the breeders. The following seven varieties embodied all of the positive traits we were looking for and have made our list of breeding breakthroughs.

Controlled Argyranthemum

We chose the word "controlled" to describe Proven Winner's new Mini Molimbas because they are not really compact. The great thing about this new subseries is that it is truly a grower product. Mini Molimbas stay compact during production, allowing for perfectly sized 4-inch pots, but they reach a nice garden height when planted out, growing as tall as 14 inches. Four Mini Molimba colors are currently available: Frizzle Pink, Double White, White and Yellow. These are Argyranthemum frutescens hybrids, so they have better heat tolerance than regular argys, and the compact habit during production means plants will probably need less growth regulation. Minis do not need to be pinched and will finish about 12-14 weeks after transplant.

Dwarf Astilbe

We were unsure about astilbe as a bedding plant (as you may be) until we saw this new series. Ernst Benary of America's Astilbe arendsii Astary series stays compact even years after planting and makes a great color presentation. It may be a perennial, but it has a unique flower form and enough color to sell for seasonal bedding or even as a potted flowering plant. Astary flowers the first year and does not need vernalization. In fact, if plants receive a cold treatment, they will not fill out. Astary is recommended for 4-inch to 1-quart production. Plants are currently only available as a plug because seed cannot be stored for very long, but Benary is developing a seed treatment that would solve this problem. The company hopes to be able to sell seed soon.

Double Bacopa

We do not have very much information about this new introduction. GGG did not even have much information, but the look was so unusual we wanted to make sure everyone was aware of it. What we do know is this is the first-ever double-flowered bacopa, and the look is pretty neat. A sutera type, 'Copia Double White' will be available in 2007. Even though the flowers are large for a bacopa, these are still tiny flowers: The doubleness makes each flower look like a knot of petals. The trait seems to be fairly stable, with all flowers being fully double and some having even more petals. 'Copia Double White' takes typical bacopa culture. The only drawback is that this variety is approximately one week later to finish than single-flowered bacopa.

Double Calibrachoa

This introduction might be the easiest to identify as a breakthrough since it is the first of its kind. In fact, a utility patent is being sought for the look. Calibrachoa 'MiniFamous Double Pink' from Selecta First Class has bright-pink, fully double flowers that look like tiny rosebuds. Some attendees thought the doubleness was lost on such a small flower, but everyone was definitely talking about the plant. Southern California had been experiencing low light, and we were told this had made the flowers somewhat flat with fewer petals. Pictures of plants produced under better conditions are impressive. 'MiniFamous Double Pink' is somewhat later to flower than other MiniFamous varieties, and the habit is fairly trailing. Other than these considerations, 'MiniFamous Double Pink' takes general calibrachoa culture. Selecta said more colors are coming, sporting flowers with even higher petal counts and a more mounding habit.

Premium Gerbera

There has been quite a bit of innovation in gerbera lately — improvements in consistency, different plant sizes and a multitude of flower colors. Even so, 'Flori Midi Bicolor' from Dutch breeder Florist de Kwakel B.V. (marketed in the United States by Northern Innovators) is like nothing we have ever seen. It is offered as a mix of unusual bicolors and unique flower forms with very few solids or light eyes. As unusual as the flowers sound, they are not why we picked 'Flori Midi Bicolor' as a breakthrough; its real attraction is the promise of a premium price at retail because it is so different. 'Flori Midi Bicolor' does not require special culture. It is currently in seed build up and will not be available on a large scale until fall 2007.

Yellow Torenia

Normally, we would not think of a new color addition as a breeding breakthrough, but the two new yellows added to Danziger's torenia Moon series are just that. Torenias are usually available in blues and pinks, so 'Yellow Moon' and 'Golden Moon' make great additions to the species. And these are true yellow torenias, not shaded or bicolor. Golden has the best deep-yellow color, and dark-purple throats set off both varieties. Both 'Yellow Moon' and 'Golden Moon' are consistent with the rest of the series. They feature the same mounding habit and flower power. These colors should take typical torenia culture and finish with the rest of the series.

Upright Verbena

It is hard to find something truly different in vegetative verbena, but the new Lanai Upright subseries is worth taking a close look at. Bred by Goldsmith Seeds and marketed by Fischer USA, Lanai Uprights tout a pronounced upright growth habit that makes them easier to produce in small containers. The difference is that Lanai Upright varieties are approximately 3-4 inches taller than and half the width of regular Lanais. Fischer recommends the same culture as regular Lanai — one pinch and PGR as needed — but given its more compact nature, Lanai Upright should need less PGR. Three varieties are currently available: Magenta, Purple Mosaic and Violet.

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Bridget White, Tim Hodson and Catherine Evans

Bridget White is editorial director, Tim Hodson is managing editor and Catherine Evans is associate editor of GPN. Hodson can be reached at [email protected] or (847) 391-1019.

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