Culture Report: Echinacea Sombrero Poco Series
Echinacea continues to be one of the largest classes of perennials by sales and pure recognition. Personally, they are my favorite class, not only because of the sheer diversity in breeding and colors, as well as being available as seed and vegetative options, but also because they are so versatile. Echinacea are suitable or many applications.
One of the best aspects from a production and marketing standpoint is that echinacea can be easily marketed and sold in color in all seasons. We have a Mother’s Day schedule, a mid-summer cart program and a fall-blooming
complement for the garden mums market. The possibilities are numerous!
Breeding in echinacea continues to be strong. We, however, are becoming more purpose-oriented in our breeding goals versus just coming up with new colors.
One of the targets we have identified is the need for a compact series — not only to be able to fit more plants per cart per shipment, but also to accommodate the changing demographics to smaller gardens and container gardening/decorating.
This was the inspiration behind Darwin Perennials developing the echinacea Sombrero Poco series. This well-matched series of five colors reaches a maximum height of 16 inches and has all the best attributes of the original echinacea Sombrero name. They are heavily branched with high flower count, they mature gracefully (not going right to brown) and, maybe best of all, they are first-year flowering.
Echinacea Poco are tissue culture raised plants. This means they are grown in a controlled growth room in petri dishes. When the plantlets are suitably rooted, they are shipped mostly to liner producers, who follow some rather specialized protocols to establish them as plugs and prepare them to ship to the finished growers.
Sombrero Poco are best grown in 1 quart to 2.5 quart containers. If larger than this, you will need three plants per pot to fill the container. Another option where Poco are well suited is as a filler in mixed containers. In this case, I would recommend transplanting liners into quarts before going into the final mix.
Scheduling the echinacea Sombrero Poco series is easy using www.firstyearfloweringtool.com. By entering the week you want these to finish, the tool will tell you what week to transplant liners into finished containers. Also included in the tool are complete propagation and cultural guidelines for what I like to call pitfall management — basically, how to avoid issues I have seen or experienced myself.
As with all echinacea, I prefer to grow these in a slightly higher pH media around 6.2. If growing early in the season for spring sales, be sure to start them off right with a warm media temperature of +60°F and long day/night interruption lighting. For early summer to fall sales (Poco naturally flower around the end of June), grow them under natural photoperiod and full sun. Outdoors is the best in most regions, but be aware of heavy rains that can leach nutrients.
A question I often get is regarding the use of Configure. This is a PGR that is used to increase the basal branching in some plants. Though Sombrero Poco do not need Configure, it can add more bulk to the finished plants and potentially more flowers. I, however, recommend using it in the liner stage, not less than two weeks before transplant. If applied after transplant, I have seen it cause much inconsistency in growth and finishing.
TRANSPLANT TO FINISH
At transplant, it is important to pinch any premature buds. Liners that have already initiated flowering will continue to push their energy into the flowers and not as much into bulking, leading to a finished plant with flowers but not much body. Ideally, if possible and labor allows, continue to pinch any buds for two weeks after transplant.
As previously mentioned, for finishing before week 24 long day lighting is required. Don’t let this deter you from growing a spring flowering crop of Poco. It is very easy to do. (For more information, look for “Forcing Echinacea Sombrero for Mother’s Day” on Darwin Perennials’ YouTube channel.) Forced, spring-flowering echinacea is a huge miss in many garden centers I visit. One argument I get from growers is that it is not natural for echinacea to flower in the spring; this is true. However, once Poco are in flower they will continue to flower. If they begin to look tired in early to mid-July, they can be cut back for another complete flush of flowers.
After transplant and active rooting out, provide ample nutrition for large, deep green foliage. When using controlled release fertilizer, I prefer the high rate with echinacea. Even then, sometimes supplemental liquid feed is beneficial, especially if grown outdoors and leached by heavy rains.
If relying on liquid feed, I prefer Cal/Mag type fertilizers at a moderate to high rate of 150 to 200 ppm every irrigation (or 2 times/week), being sure to have good wet/dry cycles. As Poco begins to come into flower, they tend to draw more nutrients and have higher fertility requirements. This may show as purpling in the older leaves. If this deficiency is seen, I recommend applying 20-10-20 fertilizer at 250 ppm as needed.
As for PGRs, Poco is naturally compact and I have never seen these require PGRs, even with the use of 20-10-20 and grown under cover. However, if you feel the need to apply a PGR to control the growth, please avoid the use of products such as Bonzi or Sumagic. These are a bit too strong for Poco and can cause some very hard, crinkled leaves. I prefer a gentler and forgiving product such as B9 at 3,750 to 5,000 ppm. Plus, you can mix this with 500 ppm Cycocel for a little added control if desired.
Echinacea Sombrero Poco are on my “No-Brainer List” for ease of production. Key points for success:
• Pinch premature buds at transplant
• Long day photoperiod
• Heavy feed
• No PGRs
• High light
Following these protocols you can have a beautiful echinacea Sombrero Poco ready for sale in 10 to 12 weeks.