New Cut Flower Introductions By John Dole

Take a look at the top picks.

Cut flower growers are always searching for the latest innew cuts to jazz up their product line. To provide that information, theAssociation of Specialty Cut Flower Growers (ASCFG) conducts an annual NationalSeed and Perennial Trial Program. Last year was a banner year for the ASCFGNational Cut Flower Seed Trials, with 76 cultivar submissions for the seedtrial, 18 for the perennial trial, 10 participating breeders and suppliers and44 trialers returning evaluations from 23 states and Canada. Most of thetrialers are commercial cut flower growers, along with a few universities, seedsuppliers and others interested in supporting field cut production. We had anumber of great selections in the trials this year. The top performers in thetrials are entered in the ASCFG Cut Flower of the Year contest.

Annual Trial

Dianthus.Just in case there are any cut flower growers who have not yet heard about’Amazon Neon Duo’ from PanAmerican Seed, let me be the first to tell you: Thiscultivar has made one of the grandest entries into the cut flower market inyears. It is one of the few seed-propagated, sweet william-type dianthus toproduce a highly marketable flower the first year from seed. Add a strong,thick stem and vivid pink and cherry colors, and we have a real winner. AmazonNeon Duo also handles the heat of southern summers quite well, producing allseason long in Raleigh, N.C. Amazon Neon Duo received the highest scores in theseed trial this year and will be available next year in two colors, Cherry andPink. Always wanting more, we hope other colors will be available in thefuture.

Sunflowers. Several years ago, I wrote about all of the wonderfulsunflowers being produced by plant breeders and declared 1998 the year of thesunflower. This year we had 18 sunflower cultivars in the trial from threecompanies. Is it too soon to declare another “Year of the Sunflower”?Certainly the many cultivars bred by Tom Heaton and introduced by SeedSensehave generated much discussion. The new colors and forms include ‘Jade’, the firstgreen sunflower (actually pale greenish white), an interesting palepeach/orange sunflower called ‘Apricot Twist’ and a dark-center sunflower withlong twisted petals called ‘Stella Gold’. While the novel colors of Jade andApricot Twist were welcome, both were too short and had too many branches forsome trialers. With these cultivars, try pinching a few seedlings when theyhave 2-4 pairs of leaves to see if you can get fewer but longer side shoots.Stella Gold was a non-branching type with excellent stem length, but thetwisted petals were too much for many customers. Certainly, all three cultivarswill find a niche in the market due to their novelty.

Several more mainstream SeedSense cultivars were among thetop performers in the trial including ‘Chianti’, a beautiful, single darkÁ bronze; ‘Starburst Lemon Aura’, a yellow double; and ‘Terracotta’, arich light bronze. All three are pollen-free, nonbranching types. Chianti wasparticularly notable because several trialers thought it was better than theother bronze-reds already on the market. Two traditional types –dark-centered, single oranges and yellows on unbranched plans — that performedwell were ‘Summertime’ and ‘Sunny’. Benary and American Takii also included twosunflowers in the trial, ‘Florenza’ (Benary), a striking bicolor, and ‘PremierLight Yellow’ (Takii), a pale yellow. The latter was exceptionally early,flowering 3-4 weeks after we put out transplants. While the pale yellow colorand relatively short height will limit sales, this cultivar may be useful forstarting the season off in a hurry.

Greens? In addition to the new green sunflower, a new greenzinnia ‘Benary’s Giant Lime’ from Benary was introduced this year. The cultivaris part of the popular Giant series but has a smaller flower and slightlyweaker plant than other cultivars in the series. However, most participantsreported that Giant Lime was a significant improvement over the cultivar’Envy’, which generally produced unattractive single flowers and was notproductive. Giant Lime was more productive and produced more doubles.

Another green flower in the trials, Amaranthus cruentus’Tower Green’, produced mixed results. For some growers, including us, onlyshort plants were produced, but for others, impressive 3- to 4-foot-long stemswere obtained. The difference may be due to daylength and starting time, asmany amaranthus species are short-day plants. Those trialers that had the bestresults put out transplants in June when the days were long. We started ourtransplants in March, which may have induced flowering too early, resulting instunted plants. Regardless, amaranthus is easy to grow and the striking flowerspikes always garner comments. Á

On a personal note, I was initially unimpressed by the greenflowers of Jade and Giant Lime; the individual flowers were attractive, but abunch of each was not particularly striking. My attitude changed when FrankieFanelli, one of our NC State graduate students, made a spectacular arrangementwith Giant Lime, Amazon Neon Duo and Scabiosa ‘Qis Deep Red’ (Kieft). The greenzinnias did a great job of setting off the other strongly colored flowers.Subsequently, I have used Jade and Giant Lime in other arrangements with greatresults. (Word of warning: I don’t claim to be talented in this area.) Thegreen flowers are the perfect companion flower, mixing with any other flower.

Scabiosa. They have always been known for their beautiful colors,and Qis Deep Red was no different, scoring well in the trial. The rich, dark redor burgundy flowers are carried atop long, strong stems. As with other annualscabiosas, it can take a while to harvest of bunch of these flowers.

Zinnia. It has been several years since we have had cultivars ofthe popular zinnia submitted in the trial, so it was great to evaluate ‘SunCherry’ and ‘Sun Yellow’ (Takii). Trialers noted that both had a highproportion of large, heavily double flowers on productive plants. As with otherlarge flowered zinnia cultivars, powdery mildew was still a problem.

Lisianthus. A number of the 18 cultivars in the trial struck a cordwith the participants, including several unnamed experimental cultivars. Therichly colored ‘Twinkle Deep Blue’ from Goldsmith and the charming spray type’Alice White’ from American Takii performed well in the trials.

Perennial Trial

Helenium. ‘Helena Gold’ and ‘Helena Red Shades’ performedexceptionally well in the first year, producing large numbers of stemsaveraging 27 inches long. The durable plants survived the summer well and werescored very high by the participants. Helena Gold produced sprays of brightgold, and Helena Red Shades had bronze/yellow bicolored flowers. Trialers notedthat the number of flowers per spray varied, complicating harvest and bunching.

Eupatorium. In the second year, Eupatorium candidum continued toperform well, producing Á stems up to 3 feet that were topped withbeautiful silvery pink flower clusters. Unlike other eupatoriums, E. candidumstayed a manageable size in year two, yielding more than six stems per plant.We noted a problem, however, with aster yellows disease in our plantings. Thepostharvest life was phenomenal, however, with cut stems lasting 19 or moredays.

Physostegia. ‘Summer Spires’ was also impressive in the second year. Itproduced large numbers of bright pink flowers on multibranched 28-inch stems.Both plants were quite hardy, as 100 percent survived the winter for our trialparticipants.

Cut Flowers of the Year

For tried and true field cuts, consider the ASCFG CutFlowers of the Year. Each year, the ASCFG membership selects one cultivar torecognize as the “Fresh Cut Flower of the Year” and another as”Dried Cut Flower of the Year.” Plant materials are selected on thebasis of reliability, adaptability, overall quality and suitability as a cutflower.

Fresh Cut Flower of the Year. Blue has always been an uncommonand cool color in the cut flower industry, and ageratum ‘Blue Horizon’ deliversit. The very uniform, 30-inch tall plants produce many long-lasting, 3-inch,medium-blue flower Á

clusters on long, strong stems. This cultivar grows well inany fertile, well-drained soil in full sun. For season-long production, put ina new planting every 3-4 weeks, as the head size and stem diameter of olderplantings will decrease with plant age, especially in the South. Blue Horizoncan also be grown in the greenhouse; a layer of netting may be helpful.

Maryland grower Roxana Whitt says, “Blue Horizonageratum works well in bouquets for us and is superior to other ageratums we’vetried.” Indiana cut flower grower Beverly Sharritt says, “We had anincreased demand for it from our florist customers this summer and willincrease production for 2003.”

Dried Cut Flower of the Year. Woody cuts continue to grab theattention of cut flower growers and cut flower buyers around the country.Hydrangea paniculata produces strikingly large pyramidal clusters of white topale pink flowers that lend themselves quite well to preserving and drying. Theflowers can also be artificially colored or allowed to age to pink or green.Valued for its vigor and wide range (Zones 3-8), H. paniculata is also quitepopular as a fresh cut. Many great cultivars of paniculata are available:’Grandiflora’ (PG or PeeGee hydrangea) and ‘Praecox’ can be used to start theseason in early to midsummer, and ‘Tardiva’ can finish it in early fall. Othercultivars are available; try them to find your favorite.

“PG hydrangea pays my bills in October. My customersstart asking for it by early August, and by the time I finally have flowersthat are Á ready for drying, the anticipation has reached a feverpitch,” says Susan O’Connell of Fertile Crescent Farm, Hardwick, Vt.

Joanne Harrison of Harrison Flowers, Hood River, Ore.,reports: “My customers buy it any way I offer it — fresh, almost dry,preserved (with supplemental color) or air-dried. I use it fresh in largebouquets and arrangements and save the dried and preserved stems for use inholiday wreaths and winter arrangements.”

The author would like to thank all of the evaluators whoreturned their trial reports and the seed and perennial suppliers for providinggreat plant materials. Compliments to Chaz Gill (Kennebec Flower Farm andNursery), Betsy Hitt (Peregrine Farm), Vicki Stamback (Bear Creek Farm) and BobWollam (Wollam Gardens), who all participated in both the seed and perennialstrials and returned evaluations on all of their trial plants. Also to BettyColeman for laboriously typing in everyone’s comments, Ingram McCall for dataanalysis and for taking care of the NC State portion of the trials and FrankieFanelli, Diane Mays, Lane Greer and Sarah Lane for assisting with the NCSUtrials. Thanks to everyone for making this important service for cut flowergrowers possible.

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John Dole

John Dole is a professor in the Department of Horticultural Science at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C. He may be reached by phone at (919) 515-3537 or E-mail at [email protected]

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