Quality Control By Bridget White

After a few days, not to mention how one feels at the end ofa week or more, at the California Pack Trials, it’s easy to become jaded aboutperfection. There are approximately 30 breeder/marketing companies holding openhouses during the two-week period, and each one has a grand display full of newvarieties and old favorites — perfect specimens that you would expect to seegracing the cover of Better Homes and Gardens.

Everywhere you go, you are surrounded by beautiful plants ofevery shape, color, size, texture and fragrance. After all, this is the eventwhere breeders and marketers show off their best. And the 2003 Pack Trials wereno exception. In fact, several companies had more elaborate displays than everbefore.

Over the next few months, GPN and sister publication Lawn& Garden Retailer will be highlighting some of the best new introductionsfrom this year’s Pack Trials, but for now, with my head still spinning fromcolor overload and while I am still trying to decide which of the newintroductions are truly new and news-worthy, my thoughts keep wandering back tothose companies that really stood out. I don’t mean the ones with the fancydisplays or gift bags. I mean the ones with the best-looking plant material ondisplay.

The wheat from the chaff

Allow me an analogy. You know how the smallesthole-in-the-wall restaurant can either serve the best food or cause the worstcase of food poisoning? It’s almost impossible to tell from the outside whichyou’ll get because the things that make a restaurant really good are back inthe kitchen: quality ingredients and skilled cooks. The same is true infloriculture, only our distinguishing characteristics are genetics andproduction.

Pack Trials is a great place to measure differences in theformer. If there are significant genetic differences, this one mounds that oneis prostrate, those become very clear. Perhaps not in the side-by-sidecomparisons at a single stop, but certainly a composite of impressions fromseveral stops will yield some good information. The difficulty lately is thatthe lowest acceptable level of genetics is very high, making the differencesbetween companies less visible, but I guess that’s a good problem to have.

The complicating factor when comparing varieties isproduction. Over and over, at almost every stop, I saw plants that had beenmistimed, roughly handled and produced poorly. Again, I’m not talking about badgenetics (after all, with competition so tight, who can really afford to havebad genetics); I’m talking about the plants that didn’t look good. Maybe thegrower wasn’t familiar with the genetics, maybe the plants had to be shippedlong distances, maybe the timing was off. Whatever the reason, the plants justdidn’t show well. I saw everything from aphid casings to minor and majornutrient imbalances to over growth regulation. How could this be? Isn’t thisthe most important green goods event of the year? What’s going on?

Experience is Key

When I saw bad plant material last week, I tried to politelyask what had happened. In one case, the plants had been shipped down fromCanada. In another, back-up plants had to take an unexpected trip up the coast,neither transporter or transported were well prepared for the trip. In a coupleof cases, plants had been grown in less than ideal conditions; old greenhousecoverings with poor light transmission had the anticipated effect onlight-sensitive plants. These two problems can easily be fixed with localgrowers and quality production environments (for the latest in greenhousetrends, turn to page 40). The more prevalent problem is a little more troublingand a lot more difficult to address.

In most cases of poor plant performance, the varieties werenew, either to the market or to the grower, and the grower was simply notfamiliar enough with the variety to produce an exceptional-looking plant.Sounds easy enough to fix, right? Not with breeder companies introducingapproximately 1,000 new plants each year.

Growers have known for a long time that they can’t just pickup something new to the market and grow it in large quantities. They don’t knowhow to grow the plant, there is often not enough detailed culture informationon the newest introductions, and often times, new introductions are still undergoinguniversity trials when they are introduced.

Breeders are recognizing this and have started conductingtrials and making available fairly detailed culture information withintroductions. Still, you will need a trial period, so the sooner you can get someof these varieties into your operation to try them out, the better you will be.Not wanting to give too much away, I’ll simply say that I saw some really neatplants last week, so don’t wait too long.

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Bridget White

Bridget White is Editorial Director of GPN. She can be reached at (847) 391-1004;*

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