Comparing Gaillardia By April Herring-Murray

The comparison trials at Pacific Plug & Liner is a must-see stop along the California Spring Trials tour.

Pacific Plug & Liner is a must-see stop along the Spring Trials tour to find a wide selection of new introductions from many different vendors. And with Cultivaris added to the mix, you will not find any stop with more variety. In keeping with tradition and the reason Spring Trials, or what used to be called Pack Trials, was started, PP&L each year grows and displays a true comparison trial. The trial focuses on genera or a group of plants with new breeding developments and an overabundance of choices for the grower. Ipomoea, lobelia, lavender, dianthus and heuchera have been trialed in the past.

We chose gaillardia this year because we are seeing more and more varieties hit the market, so we wanted to see for ourselves what the real differences were. The gaillardia in this year’s comparison trial come from multiple breeders and were propagated from both seed and cuttings. All plants in this year’s comparison trial — like all other comparison trials in the past — were grown side by side in exactly the same way. If we needed to move the plants to get more foliage development, we moved the whole group; if we sprayed, we sprayed them all. No one plant got special treatment, so what was seen is how each variety grew in comparison to the others in the trial with the conditions we gave them.

With over 40 varieties in the trial, it is impossible to list them all here so I have only listed the series that were shown. For a complete listing of the trial, including royalty information, go to:

Varieties from Seed

Benary: Arizona Series

PanAmerican Seed: Mesa Series

Varieties from Cutting

Danziger: Gayla Series

Florensis: Gallo Series

Greenfuse: Lunar Series

PlantHaven: Fanfare Series, Sunset Series

Syngenta Flowers: Sunrita Series

The Setup

In 2013, we sourced all the varieties and started propagation between weeks 38 and 43 depending on availability. The rooted liners were planted weeks 44 through 52 in a non-heated, covered hoop in Watsonville, California. In week 1 of 2014, the trial was moved inside to a heated greenhouse, giving each variety at least 10 weeks of chill for better bloom performance. Two and a half weeks before the event, the trial was moved back outside to an uncovered hoop structure to harden the foliage.

Culture. Cold grown and bulked for 10 to 15 weeks, plants were later moved inside under lights and grown warm to force foliage and flowers for Spring Trials. Incandescent lights were used to provide day length extension for a total of 14+ hours per day. Higher growing temperatures did cause stretch and floppiness on some, but not all, varieties. This was especially prominent on taller varieties such as ‘Oranges and Lemons’ and the Gayla Spark series.

Transplant. Liners were propagated from seed and cuttings between weeks 38 and 43 and were transplanted in weeks 43 through 52 of 2013.

Environment. Plants were potted and grown outside in Watsonville, California, to allow for bulking and chilling. Watsonville averaged in the low 60s as a high and in the upper 30s to low 40s as a low during the months the trial was outside. In week 1, the trial was moved inside the greenhouse to encourage faster growth. In week 12, the trial was moved again to an outside location to promote hardening off.

Pinching. Many of the varieties produced from cuttings did not exhibit good branching, so foliage and flowers were pinched in week 2 of 2014, after plants were moved to warmer temperatures. After this, only spent flowers were removed to encourage further flower development for the week of the show. Again, since this was a comparison trial, all varieties were treated the same, meaning they were all pinched whether they needed it or not.

Growth regulators. Growth regulator was applied as a B-Nine spray at 2,500 ppm both weeks 9 and 11. This was done to maintain height while allowing bulk to continue of plants since they were being grown warm and under lights. Since this was a comparison trial, all plants were treated the same even if plant height was not a concern. This is the reason light rates were used. Varieties that were naturally taller required growth regulator application, while others such as the Gallo series could have done fine without.

The Results

When we start a comparative trial, we hope to see some distinctive winners and losers. Our gaillardia trial could make your eyes crossed because from afar many varieties looked the same, especially since most flower colors are in the range of oranges, reds and yellows. When viewed more closely differences became more apparent, mostly in plant habits, flower forms and flower colors. Because of the many similarities of the varieties and because the plants were still somewhat small at show time we decided after the show to keep the trial for further observation. All plants were pinched back and moved to an outside growing area for the remainder of the trial, which ended in late July.

Favorites. Of course everyone wants to hear what the favorites were; this is a hard call to make with so many different yet great cultivars out there. Judge for yourself by looking through our photo album of the trial here:

After Spring Trials ended in April 2014, all varieties were trimmed back, organized by series and then moved to a location outside that receives full sun. In July 2014, I went through the trials again for one last assessment before we ended the trial. My selections are based on overall appearance and growth habit.

Series. A series should be a well-matched group of plants in a range of colors but with similar habits and growth characteristics. One thing I have noticed when working with many plant series is the lack of uniformity, whether it be growth habit, size or bloom time — the gaillardia series trialed were no exception; some were well matched while others needed more work. Even with some inconsistencies in the series we trialed, they were mostly well-matched so it was hard to choose but I did have my favorite. This was the Sunrita series, for the nice range of colors, from yellow all the way to deep burgundy, excellent basal branching and overall vigor.

Best fluted variety. ‘Fanfare Amarillo’ (now renamed to ‘Fanfare Citronella’) from PlantHaven. This variety brings a new color palette to the fluted types. The butter-yellow petals and red-orange centers are not the only reason this one is a standout. The habit is very upright and stiff, meaning less floppiness and breakage.

Most interesting flowers. Gayla Spark series from Danziger. These doubles are very interesting in their form. One must be cautious with maintaining the plant habit though. These are taller and tend to get a bit floppy, so they should be grown with more PGR applications than a more compact variety.

Best up and comer. Sunset Series from Plant
Haven. There are some really interesting colors in this series that you do not see in any other series, like cream-yellow for instance and red-pink all on nice, compact, well-branched habits. I call this one best up and comer because the series was still in development at time of trial. In fact, since we trialed the series there are already new colors available that we did not get to trial and Plant
Haven has divided the series into two groups of dwarf and medium to help growers.

Best of show. With more than 40 varieties trialed, one might think, “How can you pick just one for best of show?” This is not an easy task because having a trial for so long you start to love them all, but there was one variety that kept catching my eye throughout the entire trial process and this was ‘Gayla Red Head’. The plant was very well branched and compact, but really the flower is what caught my eye. Maybe it is my recent change of hair color that swayed me, but there was something about the flower color that really made me want to take all the plants home, which I did by the way! I think the appeal is its light-colored flower with a dark center; most of the other light-colored flowers on trial had a light-color center.

Opportunities Going Forward

While there are many gaillardias already on the market, there is still room for improvement. I believe the greatest improvements can be made in the following areas:

• Continue working on providing more gaillardia as a seed input versus a cutting input, for several reasons. One of those is so the price for growers becomes more affordable. Also, we saw that seed-grown gaillardia were more consistent in growth, remaining mostly rosette during the bulking phase. The cutting-grown gaillardia in general were not as well branched and needed a lot of help through manual pinching to help get plants to break. Lastly, seed-propagated varieties would carry less risk of Agrobacterium infection or crown gall, which gaillardia are very susceptible to.

• Continue to work on breeding for uniformity within a series. While some are close, there was no series that was perfect (again see the pictures of the trial and judge yourself).

• Longer bloom times and self-cleaning flowers.

Pacific Plug & Liner is always interested in feedback on its trials, and we are eager to hear what you would like to see in future comparison trials. For the 2015 Comparison Trials, we will be featuring coreopsis. If you are interested in having your varieties represented please contact us.

April Herring-Murray

April Herring-Murray is new product development and marketing manager for Pacific Plug & Liner. She can be reached at