Pick of the Pack Trials, Part I By Carrie Burns, Catherine Evans and Bridget White

If you’re in the market for new varieties, we searched the Pack Trials for those with the most promise.

It’s Pack Trial time again. Hard to believe, but the breeders/marketers are already tempting us with their new offerings for next spring. So if you’re still feeling overwhelmed from sorting through spring 2004, we do have one positive sign from this year’s trip: There were fewer really new introductions this year than either of the past three years. Our best estimate is 800 new varieties and 46 new series (not including entire category additions such as Proven Winner’s perennial line or S&G Flowers’ vegetative line). We know that still sounds like a lot, so we’ve tried to make it a bit more digestible.

Over 25 pages in two issues, we’ve distilled 10 days at Pack Trials and 800 new introductions into a few digestible parts: major trends we saw this year, new varieties of note and each editor’s favorites. This month focuses on seed varieties, with next month covering vegetative. This is by far not all of the new introductions. For a complete listing from each company contact the breeder/marketer companies individually; contact information is provided on page 32. We’ve also included a few more introductions from our faithful traveling companion, Rick Schoellhorn, in his column on page 20.

Trends from the Trials

If you’ve visited all the sites year after year like we have, you start to notice trends. A certain crop might be hot one year, and it seems like every breeder/marketer has one. Or maybe a certain company has changed its exhibition philosophy. It’s something different each year. This year, we noticed a number of interesting things, none of which will have a direct impact on your operation, but they are interesting to note.

Probably the most obvious trend this year was introductions targeted directly to large growers and production for the mass merchandisers. There were two new seed impatiens series — Xtreme from Goldsmith Seeds and Superseed from PanAmerican Seed — and one gerbera color, ‘Festival Speedy Mix’ from Sakata/Dæhnfeldt. The impatiens are for high-volume, pot-tight production with lower use of growth regulators and longer holding ability. Both series are limited in number to approximately eight colors that large growers use most. The gerbera should appeal to large growers because of its earlier bloom and more uniform pull rate.

Actually targeting large growers with a certain line of genetics is a new development in our industry, and one that we’re certain to see a lot more of as the largest growers continue to get bigger and account for a larger share of total production.

Another important crop this year seems to be coleus in both seed and vegetative forms. We saw two new entire series introduced this year and 22 new varieties. And while we all think coleus is a great crop, even we’re starting to have a hard time telling the different varieties apart…there are just so many offerings on the market now.

The breeding/marketing companies must agree because most of this year’s introductions tout new textures instead of new colors. More duckfoot varieties from Ecke Ranch and some large-leaved specimens from PanAmerican Seed top our list of favorites. Another good point about the new coleus varieties is that they are not just for filler material in mixed containers anymore. Several of the new varieties are striking enough to be used as monocultures or as a mixed container focal point. Some even boast the ability to thrive in artificial light.You certainly can’t afford to stay stagnant with your coleus selections, even if you wanted to. New varieties are being introduced so extensively that many of the old favorites are being taken off the market each year. The next big thing to look for in coleus: cut coleus.

If you are looking for height material this might just be your year. This seemed to be a big trend, as at several of the tour locations, we noticed mixed containers using “alternative” height components. Calla lilies at Golden State Bulb Growers, formium at Bodger Botanicals and woody material at Proven Winners — the breeders/marketers have made it easier than ever to put together great mixed containers by emphasizing and bringing to market some great tall varieties, and they displayed them as such. Now, no one has an excuse for using a dracena spike as the only height component in combinations, mixed hanging baskets or any other display. (Look for more information about height component plants in an article later this year.)

Though not a new trend, marketing programs continue to proliferate this year, with several smaller breeder/marketer companies such as Selecta First Class and Ernst Benary of America getting into the act. Unlike the first marketing programs in the industry, these new programs are not all-inclusive, often applying to only a segment of the company’s offerings. Such is the case with Benary’s Summer Sizzle and Fall in Love programs, which target seasonal sales. They offer consumers a reason to buy, such as summer bloomers, instead of just a name brand.

The new marketing programs include a range of over-sized tags, POP banners and signs, and various other support materials. Thanks to the advanced technology in pot printing, Selecta is offering a great lattice-printed pot as part of its program. Benary, Ball FloraPlant and PanAmerican Seeds are all adding custom carts to their programs. And though the carts can be almost twice as much as a standard four-tier cart, they do look great with all the POP attached. Think what you will about whether or not marketing programs work; they’re here to stay.

As are the small breeder/marketer companies. There has been a lot of talk the past few years about how the three major brands — The Flower Fields, Proven Winners and Simply Beautiful — would affect the smaller breeder/marketer companies. Would the smaller companies try to get bigger? Would they just go away?

We got some answers this year. Some of the companies are trying to establish their own customer/consumer identity with marketing programs like the ones mentioned above; others are going back to their roots, so to speak, by trimming off excess products and focusing on what they do best. Oglevee, for example, has broken their relationship with PSI and will no longer carry a line of non-patented vegetative annual material. They made a point of telling us this was a conscious decision that would allow them to focus on the crops they do best, mostly geraniums.

It was good to see specialty companies narrow their focus — concentrate on being the best at one thing. Just as it was good to see the opposite — companies, especially the big boys, expanding their offerings to create a one-stop shop. We saw all of the major breeders adding crops to their lines. And though these introductions may not be a marked improvement over varieties currently on the market, they do offer more options and the opportunity to work with fewer suppliers.

Even if that means you’re looking for unrooted product. This spring saw a “new” player in the unrooted market: S&G Flowers will be offering a full line of more than 100 crops, many non-patented standards, through broker networks starting week 40. An offshore production facility in Guatemala was under construction at the time of the announcement, and S&G expects enough capacity to fill all orders upon completion. With the addition of an unrooted vegetative line, S&G Flowers will now be able to position themselves as a one-stop shop for both seed and vegetative items.

Introductions to Watch

Begonia (PanAmerican Seed)
‘Babywing Pink’ is an exciting new addition to the successful Dragon Wing begonia series from PanAmerican Seed. This begonia is very much like the standard Dragon Wing in its great heat and stress tolerances. These plants grow about 12-15 inches tall in the garden and spread approximately 10-12 inches.

The flowers are smaller with this variety, but it produces an abundance of light pink- to rose-colored flowers that are held above the foliage. The upright, oval habit is controlled, which helps with successful shipping. This very vigorous plant works best in 4- to 10-inch containers and 6- and 8-inch baskets. Babywing flowers about 2-3 weeks earlier than the standard Dragon Wing, and it loves the sun, even in humid areas.

Babywing does not require pinching but should get a very light spray of B-Nine at 2,500 ppm and Cycocel at 3,000 ppm that can be sprayed 2-3 weeks after transplant.

Calla Lily (Golden State Bulb Growers)
If you’re wondering why we classified a calla lily under seeds, it’s because the tubers originally come from seed. Planted in the field for one year, the seeds grow into the tubers you receive and grow. Enough about plant physiology; let’s talk varieties. There were a couple of good varieties introduced this year, and ‘Pillow Talk’ from Golden State Bulb Growers was a real standout because of its flexibility.A spring bloomer with late-season maturity, Pillow Talk can be used either as a cut flower or a flowering potted crop and performs equally well, retaining its bud count, in any pot size from 4-inch to 1-gal. Pillow Talk’s showy rose-to-red bicolor flowers measure approximately 2-3 inches in diameter with an excellent post harvest life. A robust plant habit features very strong stems and broad lanceolate leaves with a full range of maculation.

One note about tuber selection: As with most spotted-leaf varieties, plants tend to be a bit more apically dominant, so multiple smaller bulbs per pot are recommended instead of one larger bulb.

Coleus (PanAmerican Seed)
The new Kong coleus series from PanAmerican Seed definitely lives up to its name. The plant, bred by Sakata, has extremely large leaves that are monstrous in comparison to other coleus varieties, but it has a somewhat dwarf habit. The brilliant color of the leaves are splashed with red, green, cream and burgundy, and no two plants are the same.

These well-branched varieties grow to be around 18-22 inches tall in the garden. Unlike most coleus on the market, Kong can survive indoors as a houseplant, growing in artificial light. These fast-finishing plants are well suited to production in 4 1?2-inch to 1-gal. pots. There are five colors in the series; however, ‘Kong Mosaic’ is the only variety widely available through brokers; the rest are exclusive to Ball Seed.

The only major issue with this series is that it is not as aggressive as most coleus, so it tends to get taken over in mixed containers. It has good basal branching in the shade, and not over feeding will keep colors bright. Plants will stretch under low light and may suffer leaf burn under high light.

Cosmos (Ernst Benary of America)
The unique bright red flower color of Ernst Benary of America’s ‘Cosmic Red’ immediately made it one of our favorites. Free flowering in packs or 4-inch containers, the entire Cosmic series is Á relatively easy to grow and trouble free. Plants take most of the normal bedding plant regime, paying special attention to excessive amounts of ammonia-based fertilizers to prevent soft growth and stretch and growing on at a slightly cooler 60- to 65-degree temperature to ensure good quality.

Total crop time from seed to finish plant is 9-10 weeks for packs and 11-12 weeks for 4-inch, and plants should be finished in high light to intensify the bright red flower color. If grown in filtered light, flowers will still be a pleasing orange-red mix and will brighten up when put in high light.

Digitalis (Goldsmith)
Goldsmith Seeds brings you the first F1 hybrid digitalis on the market — the Camelot series. Its high germination and uniform growth and flowering are a few of the highlights of this series, but its secondary spikes that provide numerous high-quality and strong stems are the real focal point.

An early summer variety, radicle emergence on Camelot occurs in 3-4 days, plug production takes 4-6 weeks and 1-gal. crop time is 16-20 weeks from transplant, though it can be produced in as small of a container as 6-inch. Vernalization at 45° F will be needed for two weeks.

Camelot is a reliable first-year flowerer and heavy second-year bloomer. The flowers last two or more weeks. Available in four colors — Cream, Lavender, Rose and White — the huge tubular florets are highlighted with speckled throats. Camelot grows 31?2-4 feet high and 24-30 inches wide.

Something to look for: In trials, plants grown in greenhouses with additional lights exhibited stretched habits and loose flower spikes. Crops grown cool in protected cold frames will produce compact plants with good lateral development of secondary spikes. If needed, Camelot will respond to B-Nine at 2,500-3,500 ppm or Sumagic at 3 ppm at stage 3.

Gerbera (Sakata/Dæhnfeldt)
Finally, a long-awaited improvement to the Festival series comes with the introduction of Festival Speedy Mix. Though we were not able to see Sakata/Dæhnfeldt’s trial in person, this new mix caught our attention because it is geared toward mass production and because it improves what many consider the standard for gerbera daisies.

According to the breeder, it is 1-2 weeks earlier (depending on temperature) than the standard Festival varieties and is more uniform flowering, often allowing for full bench runs. Festival Speedy Mix has the same height, germination and usable plugs as the rest of the Festival line.

Helianthus (PanAmerican Seed)
Ballad is a great, new brightly colored sunflower variety from PanAmerican Seed. It is a pollen-less variety that has a retail shelf life of at least 12 days if shipped at bud. The plant is naturally dwarf under 10-hour days, and one pinch at visible bud will change it’s presentation and make the look more mum-like, with multiple blooms. This variety is very mildew tolerant according to PanAmerican Seed.

Ballad produces well-formed, bright golden yellow flowers with dark centers over shiny green foliage. The plant flowers more quickly and is a shorter height under short days; under long days plants are taller without PGRs and flower about two weeks later. Ballad grows to 24-30 inches in the garden.

Erysimum (Kieft Seeds)
Kieft Seeds is always a great place to see unique crops that aren’t widely produced; they didn’t disappoint this year. We were greeted with an abundance of crops not seen anywhere else during our Pack Trial trip. Such is the case with Erysimum ‘Goldrush’.

Goldrush offers large yellow flower spikes that are very fragrant. This compact and uniform perennial is not only first-year flowering, it does not need any PGRs, vernalization or supplemental lighting and is available as primed seed. Suitable for 1-quart or 4-inch production, Goldrush is great for anytime sales — spring/early summer or late summer/fall.

Part of Kieft’s Prime Perennial Collection, Goldrush has a short plug production period and lives up to the erysimum trait of holding its flowers for a long time, so garden performance is another plus to this variety.

Linaria (American Takii)
Six new colors join the Fantasy series. This series had Fleuroselect award winners for Blue, Magenta Rose and Yellow. American Takii hopes to add to that with unique, darker colors that really stand out due to large flowers: Autumn Mix, Pink w/ Yellow Eye, Scarlet w/Yellow Eye, Violet w/ Yellow Eye, White w/ Yellow Eye and Formula Mix.

This series is a great cool-season, spring or late fall crop and can be grown throughout the winter in the South. It should be grown cool, with day temperatures at 65-70° F and night temperatures at 40-45° F. Watch out for heat, as Fantasy cannot tolerate prolonged periods of heat and high humidity. After transplant or at plug stage, drench with Bonzi at 2 ppm to prevent stretch in the warm weather until temps cool.

Marigold (S&G Flowers)
S&G Flowers’ new African marigold series, Moonstruck, is a semi-dwarf F1 hybrid with perfectly round blooms that are extremely sturdy. The folks at S&G could not stop talking about how sturdy this plant is! Due to Moonstruck’s dense blooms, it is able to shed water better, which enables it to keep the plant fresher and have more Botrytis resistance.

This uniform series has really good side branching and secondary buds open and make a nice full plants. Moonstruck comes in two bright colors, Yellow and Orange. Best grown in 4-inch pots and large containers, it can also be successfully grown in mid to large packs. Depending on the culture, flowering time is approximately 75-80 days after sowing. If sown in the South after February 15 and in the North after March 15, short days (9 hours) should be provided during the first 2-3 weeks of culture to ensure reliable flowering. In a finished pack Moonstruck reaches a height of approximately 8-12 inches; in the garden it should reach about 12-15 inches.

Pansy (Floranova)
The popular Chalon Supreme Mixed pansy from Floranova has been broken up into individual colors, making this the only series of ruffled pansies on the market. The individual colors include Blue/Yellow Bicolor, Flame, Purple Picotee, Rose Shades and Yellow Picotee. One of the more exciting things about this series is that though they tend to get a little smaller in the heat, the flowers do remain ruffled. According to Floranova, the plants have been improved for a better uniformity in plant habit and flowering time.

Chalon Supreme must be grown cold to get the full ruffled effect, and seeds need to be germinated at 59-64° F and grown at 41° F. Flowering time for Chalon Supreme is from spring until early summer. These pansies grow 5-6 inches tall with a flower size of 2-3 1?2 inches.

Petunia (Floranova)
The Rapide F1 series from Floranova is a great early and well-branched spreading petunia. This series grows up and then trails down, becoming a spreading variety. However, this petunia develops a rounding habit in the landscape. There are many large florabunda flowers on each plant Á that continuously emerge from even the center of the plant. Plants are very upright in a 4-inch, and though it is a spreading petunia, it has really good pack performance and does not grow into neighboring packs.

There are five colors in the series: Chiffon, Purple, Pink, Bright Rose and Red, which has the Fleuroselect Quality Mark. Flowering for Rapide is from early spring on, but it is not recommended until the frost risk has gone. Sow from winter onwards, germinate at 59-64° F and grow at 54-59° F. Rapide grows to be approximately 8-10 inches; flower size is 2 1?2-3 inches.

Petunia (Floranova)
Unlike most primulas, the Primera series from Goldsmith Seeds requires no cool treatment to initiate flowering. So, yes you guessed it, these primulas save time, allowing early-season production. While primulas are traditionally sown in July, Primera was bred for early-season production, blooming October through December. Also, even with eight colors: Blue, Carmine, Orange, Pink, Rose, Scarlet, White, Yellow and a mix, the series has a very uniform habit throughout.

Primera is suitable for 3-inch production, but plants size up easily for 4-inch. It reaches 5-6 inches high and 5-6 inches wide. Crop time is 18-20 weeks.

With Primera’s beefier habit — rounded leaves and larger blooms — precautions need to be taken. With cooler temperatures, reduce frequency of watering. Overwatering combined with high temperatures will contribute to large leaf development. Also, to avoid malformed leaves do not allow plants to dry out.

Rudbeckia (American Takii)
The Becky series from American Takii has always been one of the standard rudbeckia mixes. But, now it’s available in three separate colors: Cinnamon Bicolor, Orange and Yellow, plus a Formula Mix. The flowers are still as large as the original Becky — 4-6 inches. However, the color and compact habit is more uniform because of purer breeding. Becky’s well-branched habit reaches 8-10 inches high and 10-12 inches wide.

Still a dwarf plant, Becky is ideal for 6-inch or 1-gal. production. It is heat and drought tolerant and will flower all summer and fall until hard freeze. So, it makes for a great cool-season alternative.

It is recommended to water early in the day and to provide good ventilation. Keep day temperatures at 65-75° F and night temperatures at 50° F.

Snapdragon (Bodger Seeds)
Standard garden snapdragons are poised to make a comeback. No trailers, no butterfly shapes, no tiny little plants, just good old Antirrhinum Á majus seed snaps. So it was great to walk into Bodger Seed and see new breeding work being done on the Freesong series. Classified as a medium height snap, this F1 hybrid promises great landscape performance, both because of its vigor (let’s face it everything is dwarf now, so a plant with any height is appealing) and its ability to immediately rebloom. In fact, the second flush of flowers is often cracking before the first is spent.

New additions this year are Apple Blossom, a traditional apple blossom pattern of white with a blush of pink; Princess Pink, a clear, pale pink (slightly later than the rest of the series); and Yellow Flame, our favorite of the new colors with clear yellow highlighted by bronze for a nice two-tone effect. Freesong can be produced in packs and 4-inch containers and makes a great backyard cut flower. Crop time is 4-5 weeks for packs and 5-6 weeks for 4-inch pots. For best germination, expose seed to light during germination and/or pre-chill in a refrigerator for a few days prior to sowing.

Zinnia (Ernst Benary of America, Goldsmith Seeds)
‘Benary’s Giant Lime’. Green continues to be one of the hottest colors in fashion and home décor, and Benary’s Giant Lime from Ernst Benary of America plays to this trend with a great new multiple-use Á zinna for commercial cut flower use, 1- to 2-gallon container production or mixed container height.

The 13th color in the series, Benary’s Giant Lime has fully double 3 1?2- to 4-inch flowers and 32- to 42-inch stems, which is slightly smaller and shorter than other colors in the series. Thick stems and a short crop time of 8-9 weeks from seed to flower make this an attractive, high value crop.

Like other colors in the series, Giant Lime is easy to germinate under a wide range of temperatures; temps above 60º F will speed flower initiation, as will short days. To achieve the full 10- to 14-day vase life, maintain high light and temperature and increase day length. A correct nutrient balance is fairly important in this crop, as calcium nitrate and low nitrogen improve stem strength and low boron can cause bud abortion and reduced branching.

Magellan Series. The Magellan series from Goldsmith Seeds replaces the Peter Pan series. The difference? It was bred for exceptional performance on the bench and in the garden, uniform habit, and, a big difference, large, fully double flowers. The Peter Pan series had some single/double flower variance throughout the series. The Magellan series remedies that, and all colors — Coral, Pink and Orange — have fully double flowers. Also, while zinnias are usually susceptible to powdery mildew, Magellan was bred for good disease resistance. Already winning awards, Coral is an All-America Selections winner for 2005 (See GPN May 2004).

Crop time from seed to finish is 6-7 weeks for packs and 7-8 weeks for a 4-inch. Watch for low light conditions, as it will promote stretching and alter its double flowers. So, during short days, it is recommended to light for two weeks after transplant to get fully double flowers. If not, you get the first flower will be single and the others double.

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Carrie Burns, Catherine Evans and Bridget White

Carrie Burns is managing editor, Catherine Evans is associate editor and Bridget White is editorial director of GPN. They can be reached by phone at (847) 391-1019 or E-mail at [email protected]

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