Crop Culture Report: Celosia ‘Dragon’s Breath’ By Ken Harr

Sakata’s latest winner is hot, hot, hot!

It’s not that often a new variety comes along that captivates the industry with not only its stunning appearance, but also possesses the attributes of easy-to-grow, long-lasting shelf-life, great garden performance throughout the season, and the ability to sell-through at retail quickly. Celosia ‘Dragon’s Breath’ is one of those plants. With its excellent, bright red foliage and long-lasting plumes of flowers, as well as its ability to be sold in the prime bedding plant weeks and utilized as a season-extender, ‘Dragon’s Breath’ is poised to become one of the hottest new varieties on the market.

There are three primary cultural factors to consider when producing ‘Dragon’s Breath’ celosia: photoperiodic response, fertilizer formulations and environmental factors.

Photoperiodic Response

Celosia ‘Dragon’s Breath’ is an obligate short-day plant, meaning in order to flower, the plants require less than 11 hours of day-length. Celosia generally is able to initiate flowering at day 14-21 after sowing. In order for celosia plugs to bulk up enough prior to flower initiation, it may be necessary to extend the day-length greater than 12 hours. This will depend on the time of year and geographical location. Once plants have started flower development, a period of 14-21 days under short days should be sufficient to maintain continued development. Therefore, it is necessary to always be aware of the natural day-length during the growing period, and either extend the day-length to bulk up plants, or apply short-day conditions if necessary for flower initiation.

Fertilizer Formulations

One of ‘Dragon’s Breath’ celosia’s best attributes is its brilliant, deep red foliage. This is the result of the plant’s ability to grow and thrive without normal amounts of ammonium and phosphorous usually needed for adequate plant growth. After transplanting and the young plants have rooted out to the sides of the containers, decrease the amounts of ammonium and phosphorous by either feeding with fertilizer formulations with lower amounts of these two nutrients, or by decreasing the number of fertilizer applications throughout its growing period. A 15-3-20 or 14-2-14 formulation with a targeted soil EC of .75-1.0 are two good recommendations for growing on ‘Dragon’s Breath’. Remember to keep adequate potassium, magnesium and boron levels in the fertilizer applications to prevent any twisting, tip abortion, or discoloration of the crop’s foliage.

Environmental Factors

Because of its short-day requirement to initiate flowering, celosia ‘Dragon’s Breath’ can be grown for several different applications. Under normal spring bedding plant production plans, ‘Dragon’s Breath’ can be grown in 1-quart, 2.5-quart, 1-gallon containers and larger, as well as in mixed combinations where the striking red foliage will pose as an excellent backdrop of its other component plants. The plugs should be started under long-day conditions to be bulked-up, then placed under the natural short days of late winter for flower development.

For summer production specifically for landscape purposes, ‘Drag- on’s Breath’ can be grown under natural long days where they will produce larger plants with deep red foliage. Again, the plants will serve as an excellent background for brightly colored blooms such as Sakata’s new marigold ‘Proud Mari’, or Double Profusion zinnias. ‘Dragon’s Breath’ plants will then begin to produce blooms in the late summer and fall months, extending the bright land- scape color well into September, October and November depending on the local climate.
In the deep southern states or far western states where the danger of frost is minimal, ‘Dragon’s Breath’ can be grown for containers or in the landscape under natural short days, producing shorter plants but with larger and luxurious deep red to maroon plumes of color.

In all of these scenarios, it is necessary to schedule the crops accordingly to produce what is required for the growers’ customers. Will it be plants in bloom; vegetative plants for the landscape; or something in- between? The versatility of celosia ‘Dragon’s Breath’ can supply all of these needs.

Plant Growth Regulators

Because celosia ‘Dragon’s Breath’ is an obligate short-day plant, the finished height can be regulated by the amount of day-length it receives at specific points in its crop time. If plants are grown under short days early in plug production, flower initiation will occur and the finished crop will be short in height. Conversely, if the plants are grown under long days and kept in a vegetative stage, the finished height will be taller. If PGR applications are required, B-Nine (daminozide) at 1,000-2500 ppm can be sprayed in the plug stages, and during transplant-finish at 2,500-5,000 ppm. Bonzi sprays (paclobutrazol) at 5-10 ppm may also be utilized, however it is not recommended to drench PGRs. Moisture management may also be used to keep plants in check. Water up to level 3 (media appears dark brown) and dry down to level 2 (media is tan). Some foliage flagging is ok, but do not allow to wilt as celosia can be susceptible to high salt levels resulting in edge burn.

Industry Recognition

Celosia ‘Dragon’s Breath’ has received an enormous amount of attention since its introduction at California Spring Trials in April 2015. But even before that, those industry growers and buyers that viewed ‘Dragon’s Breath’ in trial gardens across the country could not help but stop and rave over the plant’s deep red foliage and large flower plumes that seemed to never stop blooming. It’s no wonder then that ‘Dragon’s Breath’ won the Industry Choice Award at Cultivate ’15 this summer. Whether ‘Dragon’s Breath’ is placed in containers, the landscape or on the consumer’s deck, that vibrant maroon, deep-red foliage, along with its out- standing flowers, will surprise, astound and delight everyone.

Ken Harr

Ken Harr is product technical manager with Sakata Seed America. He can be reached at [email protected]

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