Trialing The New Varieties By Alan Michael

I remember as a child going to variety trials with my mother and father, as bedding plants were the backbone of our small family greenhouse business. It was an adventure to travel the four hours from Pittsburgh to State College. Mother would pack a picnic, and my parents would spend hours looking, writing and discussing (sometime arguing) about next year's plans. I soon became bored and fought with my sisters; one flower looked just like every other to a rambunctious kid. But even then, I realized the discussion rested on the fact that they wanted different things from the same plants.

Now I am the trial director and extension educator at the Penn State University vegetative trials at the SE Research and Extension Center at Landisville Pa., and hundreds of folks now visit the trial every year. I was reminded of those parental debates this summer when a greenhouse manager from Long Island, N.Y., visited our trial gardens, and we discussed what he was looking for.

I described the evaluation system I use to rate flowering, foliage, uniformity and general garden performance on a scale (1 is unacceptable and 5 is outstanding), and told him about my Web site that has data and about 8,000 pictures on it. The grower, responding to my explanation, graciously paused and thoughtfully said, "I am looking for plants that will hold up in the mass market." Upon further interrogation I discovered what he was really looking for as he explained, "We sell to mass markets, and everything is sold off carts. Our problem is when the customer pulls a plant off the cart, branches break on either side, so in the worst case we sell one and lose two. We have to cut our losses! I am looking for plants that look good but are also compact and flexible so they won't break in shipping or during sales." What he carefully avoided mentioning is that my rating system is nice, but it does not address his needs.A few days later two black vans full of 12 women and young girls in calico dresses pulled up and asked to be given a tour, which I did. They thanked me and asked if they could pick a blossom here and there. "Of course," I replied. Soon the women were taking off their shoes and picking blossoms from one plant, comparing them to another and talking excitedly in Pennsylvania Dutch (German). So I asked what they were looking for; the owner explained that a couple of the women were her daughters, but most were her employees. She had asked them to think about the combinations they would like to put together for next year, then she made notes to be sure to order the proper varieties for 2006.

If there is a moral to these anecdotes, it's a visit to the variety trial can give a lot more information than just a report from an extension educator. Hence, I remind the reader to please take my opinion cautiously as it is just that, one man's opinion.

Trial Conditions

It was a blistering hot summer in Southeastern Pennsylvania with day temperatures pushing 95¡ F and night temperatures hovering around 80¡ F with little rain. Plants that had performed well in previous years, such as argyranthemum, bacopa, diascia, double impatiens, lobelia, osteospermum, trailing snapdragon and even verbena went out of flower in the heat of 2005. Yet, others loved the heat: angelonia, begonia, coleus, calibrachoa, ivy geranium, lantana, petunia, phlox, portulaca, New Guinea impatiens, scaevola and vinca all did well.

One unexpected pest attacked all of the petunia, osteospermum and calibrachoa and many of the geraniums, resulting in poor flower production in September. This meant 100 percent of all buds were infested with budworm. In late March and early April, 1,289 cultivar entries were received as rooted cuttings, planted into 4-inch pots containing a softwood bark-coir-peat soilless mix provided by Frey Bros, Quarryville, Pa., and amended with RootShield (Bioworks). All plants were maintained at the Penn State greenhouse at Landisville, Pa., then planted outdoors with the help of more than 90 volunteers in four days during the last two weeks of May. Nine plants were placed into three 12-inch pots using the same growing mix and top-dressed with 6-month Osmocote (15-9-12) (The Scotts Company LLC) and fertilized with Miracle-Gro as determined by soil testing.

The trial was sprayed for Japanese beetle and Botrytis as needed to prevent defoliation. Mites, snapdragon rust and powdery mildew did occur and were noted on susceptible cultivars during four ratings taken early July to late August. A scale (5 = excellent, 4 = good, 3 = fair, 2 = poor, 1 = unacceptable) was used for flower display, foliage, uniformity and landscape growth. Scores were then averaged to determine the highest-ranking cultivars.


We had 1,289 entries at the 2005 Penn State trial, and of those, 22 percent (281) were listed as "new" by the breeder/supplier. In this article, I am focusing only on the better performing new varieties. But remember, it was a dreadfully hot, dry year in Southeast Pennsylvania, and these new introductions may not do as well in a wet or cooler summer.

Angelonia. The new varieties are compact and bloomed well all summer long. Ball FloraPlant's best are 'AngelMist Lavender', 'AngelMist Dark Lavender' and 'AngelMist Dark Rose'. I was pleased to see the new seed introductions from PanAmerican Seed; 'Serena Mix' and 'Serena White' competed just as well as vegetative angelonia. I also had both AngelMist and Serena at home, and they flowered very well in my garden beds.

Asteriscus. 'Aurelia Gold' is an excellent low-growing mounded plant with outstanding golden daisy-like flowers. This Proven Selection ranked in the top 1 percent of all entries and thrived in this summer's heat, reminding us of its Mediterranean heritage.

Calibrachoa. Just a few years ago, root rot was the terrible scourge on this genus, yet on the new varieties it was almost nonexistent in 2005. The best were covered in flowers, whether compact mounds or dense trailing types. Selecta First Class's outstanding new introductions 'MiniFamous Lemon', 'MiniFamous Pink', 'MiniFamous Perfect Red', 'MiniFamous Compact Red' and 'MiniFamous Compact Burgundy' all complement the existing series.

Jackson & Perkins Wholesale's new 'Million Bells Flamingo' was one of the best. Fischer USA's 'Callie Deep Yellow' is an attractive eye-catching gold with high vigor, and 'Callie Rose 06' is an excellent low spreading plant. Ecke Ranch's 'Colorburst Pro Blue' was a moderately vigorous cultivar producing a dense mound covered in blue flowers.

The new Cabaret series — 'Cabaret Pink', 'Cabaret Apricot', 'Cabaret White' and 'Cabaret Purple' — from Ball FloraPlant tends to be dense, low and spreading with excellent flowering.

Coleus. Vegetative coleus is often selected as plants our visitors want to purchase next year. If there is a problem, however, it is coleus' large size and high vigor. This year, we had an attractive exception with 'Stained Glassworks Burgundy Wedding Train' from Ecke Ranch. A great plant for containers, it does well in sun or shade, is short and compact with small leaves and never produced unattractive flowers. Two other vigorous coleus from Ecke that did very well are 'Daffy' with its ç upright mounded habit and bright red foliage and 'Stained Glassworks Big Blond' a tall plant with light green leaves with red veins.Gaura. This plant works well in native gardens from New York to Texas, blooming for long periods during the summer and fall. Proven Winner's 'Stratosphere White' produces attractive white flowers on airy, graceful stems.

Geranium. There were three very good new ivy geranium introductions. From Fischer USA, 'Holiday Purple Blizzard' was large and spreading with single flowers. Oglevee's new 'Global Red' proved to be vigorous. 'Royal Purple Red' from Selecta First Class was upright and spreading with dark green foliage and dark red flowers.

The best new zonal geranium this year was Oglevee's 'Maestro Lavender Blue', a large plant with an excellent display of flowers.

Lantana. This was a great year for lantana, as all 16 entries did well. Ball FloraPlant had the best new entry with 'Lucky Yellow Improved', a vigorous, spreading plant covered in bright golden flowers.

New Guinea impatiens. This group continues to be outstanding at the Penn State trials. We had 157 entries tested in both sun and shade, and there is not a bad cultivar in the bunch. However, when it comes to new cultivars S&G Flowers rated the highest with 'Kokomo Light Salmon', 'Kokomo Carmine', 'Kokomo Rose' and 'Kokomo Salmon Ice'.

Petunia (double). Park Avenue Farms had the highest rated variety with its 'Double Vision Silver Vein', a low, spreading, vigorous plant that flowered early and continuously all summer. DŸmmen's new introduction 'Double Surprise Purple Vein Improved', a uniform spreading mound covered in double flowers, performed well. 'Charming White Blue Vein' is a new introduction from Selecta First Class; it starts as a dense mound with an excellent flower display, becoming more open and upright by summer's end.

Petunia (single). The larger-flowered petunias are as popular as ever, with 92 entries, 22 of which were new. It is noteworthy that many of the best have dark veined flowers. Fischer USA's 'Jamboree Blue Vein '06', a new dense, trailing mounded variety with excellent flowering, rated high. Jackson & Perkins Wholesale's new 'Surfinia Lavender Lace' grew very large and was covered in showy flowers. Proven Winners' new 'Supertunia Vista Bubblegum', a large, upright, spreading plant blanketed in salmon pink flowers, also performed well. S&G Flowers' 'Sanguna Midnight Blue' had deep purple blooms on dark green, mounded foliage, and 'Sanguna Pink Vein' had light pink flowers. Selecta First Class's new introductions — 'Charmed White Blue Vein', with very light lavender flowers, and 'Charmed Lavender', with true lavender flowers — performed well. Petunias (small single). The smaller flowered petunia is a fast-growing category and has some of the more distinctive new introductions for 2005. 'Tiny Tunia Rose' and 'Tiny Tunia Silver' marketed by Henry F. Michell produced a striking display of petite flowers on low, dense mounds. 'Surfinia Blue Veined Improved' from Jackson & Perkins Wholesale was one of the better new petunia introductions in this year's trial and was rated Best of Species. Proven Winners' 'Supertunia Mini Purple', 'Supertunia Mini Pastel Pink', 'Supertunia Mini Apple-blossom' and 'Supertunia Vista Fuchsia' all fared well in the trials.

Phlox. 'Intensia Lavender Glow' and 'Intensia Lilac Rose' from Proven Winners are two fine new introductions that help round out the Intensia series. The plants are dense and produce a multitude of flowers under high heat.Portulaca (purslane). All portulaca thrives in hot weather, and the new Rio series introduced by Ball FloraPlant was exceptional. Unlike many portulaca that produce flowers mainly at the plant edge, this series is uniformly covered in showy displays most of the year. We rated 'Rio Rose', 'Rio Apricot' and 'Rio White' as very good.

Sanvitalia. Golden yellow flowers on a trailing plant describes Ecke Ranch's new introduction 'Solaris'. 'Sunbini' has similar flowers and is from Proven Winners. It is more compact, producing a dense mound, and rated one of the best new introduction in 2005.

Scoparia. 'Ilumina Lemon Mist' from Jackson & Perkins Wholesale has dainty foliage and a multitude of miniature yellow flowers that belie its toughness; it bloomed continuously from first planting in June through summer's heat and on to September.

Verbena. Most of the 34 new verbena introductions (out of 118) are rounding out existing series. Regrettably, many new entries had only average outdoor performance; the exception is Ecke Ranch's 'Tropical Breeze Lilac'. It has an attractive lavender-rose flower that was outstanding early and late and still held up nicely in the heat.

Vinca. The new Fischer USA vegetative vinca Nirvana series is exceptional with its upright habit covered with showy flowers displayed on dark glossy foliage. Nirvana Cascade varieties performed nicely; their trailing habit is unique, but all of the cascading varieties exhibited more interior leaf loss near season-end than the upright forms. You can read more about Nirvana culture on page 82.Viola. The variety's breeder introduced this new summer blooming viola as experimental, because there was concern that it would not take the high summer heat. Rooted cuttings planted in June flowered all summer with no let up. Look forward to this summer blooming, fragrant viola to be introduced next year.

Alan Michael

Alan Michael is extension educator at Penn State University Ñ Dauphin County, Dauphin, Pa., and trial director of vegetative trials at the SE Research and Extension Center, Landisville Pa. He can be reached by phone at (717) 921-8803 or E-mail at [email protected]

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