The Power of Color: 2018 Introductions at the Costa Trial Garden By Vaughn Fletcher

Here is Part 2 of my overview of the trial performance at Costa Farms, the first trial of the season.

In last month’s column, I began my evaluation of plant performance in Florida. I visited the trial at Costa Farms in Miami during its early stages in week 4, and I followed up with a later visit week 12 when the varieties were mature and at their peak.

As discussed in earlier articles I look at these attributes in the selection process: uniformity, floriferousness, foliage quality, architecture, flower brightness and saturation.

These varieties were in the field trial. I will discuss the basket trial in a later article including additional summer trials.

Begonia ‘Megawatt Red Bronze Leaf’ (PanAmerican Seed)

I discussed the performance of the Megawatt series in an earlier article. This variety was a late addition to the series but will be available from many plug suppliers for 2018. It did not disappoint in the Costa trial. It demonstrated vigor, excellent branching, dark bronze foliage and floriferousness. The flower canopy was positioned well above the foliage for visual impact. The more controlled growth habit and timing with the other bronze leaf colors creates multiple production applications.

Coleus ‘Mainstreet Ruby Road’ (Dümmen Orange)

This is a great addition to the Mainstreet series for 2018, offering excellent multicolored striking and defined foliage. It was no flowering in full sun. Many coleus varieties were in the trial, but this was the eye catcher. Dümmen Orange is adding four new coleus introductions that were in the trial, but this was the standout.

Geranium ‘Marcada Magenta’ (Selecta)

Marcada is a new interspecific series for 2018. There are three colors in the series: Pink, Magenta and Dark Red. The flower retention and uniformity were excellent, and the foliage was extremely clean. The single flowers formed a dense canopy especially on Magenta. Geranium breeding is focused on the interspecifics and for good reason — summer performance resulting in consumer success and satisfaction. This will be available in URC form from Selecta and liner form from root and sell suppliers.

Impatiens ‘SunPatiens Compact Purple’ (Sakata)

Sakata continues to add new colors to this extraordinary series every year, and for 2018 we have Compact Purple, a very uniform color with highly saturated, stable purple flowers. The flower canopy, structure and flower power matched other varieties in the trial.

Lavandula angustifolia Aromatico Series (Syngenta Flowers)

The trial was comprised of eight assorted varieties from five different breeders, and these were the only varieties in bloom at the time I visited. This is a vegetative series comprised of Blue Improved and Blue Compact. The foliage was a vivid light blue, and well branched with strong vigor. Vernalization is not required and it is hardy to Zone 5. The series matures at 14-20 inches with a 10-12 inch spread, and recommended for quart or gallon production.

Lobelia ‘Techno heat Upright Delft Blue’ (Syngenta Flowers)

The Techno Heat Upright series has been successful for many years with five colors, and the new Delft Blue is an exceptional addition to the series. The eye-catching bicolor flowers were vibrant in the trial, and the plants were compact and well branched. The plants on display during Spring Trials in California in April were almost completely white with a touch of blue, but in the Costa field trial the blue and white bicolor flowers were layered and striking. Considering that the plants were exposed to more than eight weeks of heat, humidity and rain, the performance was impressive. There is no question that lobelia breeding is improving summer performance and the choices are many.

Penstemon Pristine Series (Dümmen Orange)

This is an improved Red Riding Hood series with matched vigor and self-branching, large tubular flowers on strong upright stems. There were five colors in the trial, including Blue, Deep Rose, Purple, Pink and Scarlet. The prodigious masses of flowers were truly eye catching, and Deep Rose was unlike any color in the trial and the most vigorous of all. The series is first year flowering, hardy to Zone 5, and will be available in unrooted form in week 40 and liner production in 2018.

Petunia ‘Headliner Lipstick’ (Selecta One)

This series was formerly known as Fame but was renamed the Headliner series in 2015. This is a mounded, early-blooming, uniform series with a total of 20 colors, including the addition of swirls and star patterns to the new varieties for 2018. Night Sky and Pink Sky have been added to the program as well, and I was impressed by the uniformity in the trial. The most impressive color was Lipstick, which was vibrant and floriferous. This will have application in quart and basket production.

Petunia Success! Pink Star and Purple (Benary)

This has been an outstanding seed series for a few years and has gained significant market for its earliness, uniformity and performance on the bench, and basket productions. The new colors for 2018 are Pink Star and Purple. They both performed exceptionally in the trial. Pink Star was more compact than Purple, but the star-shaped pattern was stable and bold. Purple was vigorous and large flowering with a colorful canopy. Both are excellent additions to the series, which is now comprised of 14 colors and two mixes.

Petunia ‘Suntunia Yellow’ (Dümmen Orange)

Dümmen Orange introduced this large-flowering interspecific series in 2017. It is a petunia x calibrachoa cross, and the breeding goal was heat and sun tolerance to create more adaptability in multiple applications. Yellow is the new introduction for 2018, and in the trial it was earlier and more compact than the other colors in the series. The flower color was vibrant and nonfading. All 10 colors in the trial were vigorous and floriferous.

Salvia ‘Bodacious Rhythm and Blues’ (Plant Haven)

This is a superior salvia with large flowers and stems, and an extended bloom period through the summer. The flowers are a rich deep blue and the calyx is deep black, which creates a beautiful inflorescence at all stages of maturity. The plants were vigorous in the trial and the inflorescence was well above the foliage, but the center was open, so obviously, a PGR or pinching program will be advisable. The plant is suitable for 1- or 2-gallon production only. It is hardy to Zone 7, so application will vary based on zone.

Verbena ‘Lanai Neon Rose’ (Syngenta Flowers)

New additions to the spreading Lanai series include Pink and Neon Rose. These colors were needed to complete the series and Neon Rose specifically was impressive with a non-fading vibrant inflorescence, excellent spreading habit and a flower canopy presentation that was well above the foliage. It is an excellent addition to the Lanai assortment with multiple production applications.

Vaughn Fletcher

Vaughn Fletcher is president of Fletcher Consulting. He has been in the horticulture industry since 1971, working in many areas including landscaping, garden center and greenhouse production, greenhouse and nursery sales and sales management. He can be reached at