Container trial evaluations take place in Vineland as well as at the University of Guelph. Ground bed evaluations take place at the Landscape Ontario trial beds in Milton, the University of Guelph trial grounds, and to a limited extent at the trial grounds in Hendrie Park at the Royal Botanical Gardens.
Typically, the trial material arrives as rooted liners at the research greenhouse in Vineland and is transplanted into 11-cm standard pots during Weeks 14 and 15.
The trial plants are grown using standard greenhouse production practices, excluding PGRs and evaluated for ease of greenhouse production. Following a normal production cycle, the finished plants are either transplanted into 40-cm containers (normally three plants per container) and transferred to outdoor growing areas the first week of June or planted directly into ground beds at the appropriate trial sites. The evaluation process continues through until the trial is terminated in early October.
On the afternoon of Aug. 21, the container trial in Vineland was open for a two-hour public viewing. The 100 visitors, many of them members of local horticulture societies, were given three flags each with which to vote for their favourites in the container trial. This vote is simply a two-hour snapshot of what was looking good in the trials on that day or what caught the attention of a “mostly retired demographic” in the middle of a sunny, Friday afternoon in August after a heavy rain two days previously.
It was a popularity contest in which the showy, tall and unusual cultivars and plant types had a clear advantage! For example, despite having 99 calibrachoas and petunias in the trial – many of them excellent performers – only one cultivar made it to the top ten list.
Enough qualifiers, let’s talk about some of the public favourites on Aug. 21!
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‘Intenz Deep Purple’ (1) from Ball Ingenuity is a new colour for that series. This vegetatively propagated celosia series was first trialled in Vineland in 2013 when it first showed its potential as a new and unique plant type to be used in containers.
It has a bushy upright habit, ranging in height from 45-90 cm by summer’s end. Its branching habit after a hard pinch and earliness of bloom are evident on the greenhouse bench, enhancing its marketability in garden centres. Planted and pinched early enough in the spring season, the plants will flower for end of May sales without use of blackout for photoperiod control.
This selection also produces a striking appearance in mass plantings in ground beds. Bees and many other pollinators are attracted to the blooms.
The SunPatiens series from Sakata, gaining more consumer popularity every year, continues to add new colours to its range of offerings. Sakata has grouped the SunPatiens series into compact, spreading and vigorous forms to help greenhouse growers and gardeners anticipate the end growing space needed.
‘SunPatiens Spreading Tropical Orange’ (2) was the favourite in this series this year. The dark orange bloom emerging from bi-coloured green and cream foliage is striking in both the greenhouse and garden. Early flowering is the greatest challenge for growers, but it should have plenty of open flowers by the last week of May.
Mandevilla and dipladenia are starting to become standard fare for patios and front entryways in Ontario homes. Selections that are greenhouse bench friendly (have compact growth habits and not vining) and have unique blossom characteristics are in demand. Among the favourites on Aug. 21 were two dipladenias (breeding originated from Lannes of France), and one mandevilla, all from Ball Ingenuity’s Summer Romance series.
The mandevilla ‘Summer Romance Double Pink’ (3) has unique, light pink, double blooms. ‘Summer Romance Vining Yellow’ (4) has brilliant yellow single flowers. Both of these selections have a vining growth habit and require vine support in the greenhouse and the garden. From a grower perspective, the ‘Vining Yellow’ is not free-branching, and is slow to flower under lower temperatures. In contrast, dipladenia ‘Summer Romance Bush Red,’ (5) with its bright red blooms, has a compact growth habit, capable of growing without support in both the greenhouse and garden.
Verbena bonariensis is normally seen as a tall upright plant in the centre of garden beds where it mixes well with other tall plants and provides a source of food for pollinators.
‘Meteor Shower’ is a compact, vegetative form of this verbena. In this year’s trial, ‘Meteor Shower’ (6) was seen to grow to half the height of the seed propagated V.b. ‘Buenos Aires’. The compact nature of this cultivar, although quite vigorous when well fertilized, allows more ready usage in containers. This selection will bloom easily for spring sales. In the greenhouse plants will flower by late May but pinching is required to help manage height and encourage branching. Hummingbirds are strongly attracted to the flowers
New in 2014, the petunia ‘Sanguna Radiant Blue’ (7) from Syngenta was trialled again in 2015 to the same public approval rating. This petunia has good rain tolerance on moderately sized flowers. The bloom colour pattern is
purple/blue bleeding and fading into a white centre. It has a moderate trailing habit making it a great choice for containers and ground beds.
The salvia ‘Black and Bloom’ (8) is tall, with attractive green foliage and deep blue flowers and contrasting near-black calyx and stems.
This release from Ball FloraPlant is similar to ‘Black and Blue’ but is supposed to have thicker leaves, larger flowers and darker “black” stems. Since we did not have the two cultivars growing side by side we were unable to compare. The public appreciated this plant for its showy presentation. This plant also proved to be very hummingbird friendly; at all sites where this was grown, hummingbirds were seen to be frequent visitors extracting nectar from the funnel-shaped flower.
Greenhouse production will require one to two pinches to help fill out the pot and will likely require one to two applications of PGR to manage height.
In Syngenta’s collection of Kwik Kombos, ‘Mom’s Chosen One’ (9) caught the attention of the visiting public. This is a vegetative combination of petunia (‘Sanguna Patio Purple’), verbena (‘Lanai Bright Eye’) and bidens (‘Mexican Gold’). This combination blended or threaded well from the greenhouse phase right through to the end of the summer. With many multi-species combinations there is a tendency for the different plants in the mix to separate out into layers; this combination did not develop layers. This combination works effectively in containers and in ground beds.
Proven Winners ‘Luscious Pinkberry Blend’ (10) lantana has a vigorous growth habit that makes it an excellent choice for mass plantings in landscape applications and as filler in containers. It is slow to flower in the spring, but once it is established outside, it is a great performer, tolerating rain and cool temperatures in the fall better than any other summer plant. It becomes almost indestructible and is very popular for butterflies and bee pollinators. Flowers start as pink buds, opening to two-toned yellow flowers that again become pink as they age.
The results of our open house are skewed because avid gardeners are always looking for something new and different because they enjoy and are comfortable growing new plant types. As a result, many of the highlighted plants may not be big sellers until they become more widely tested by consumers.
Growers must remember that many of these are generally not early flowering or as “beautiful” in the greenhouse as many “bread and butter” bedding plants gardeners feel comfortable purchasing and as such are possibly best suited for retail oriented bedding plant growers.
Educating your customer on how to best use these great, somewhat unique garden performers is key to expanding your sales.
Wayne Brown is a recently retired greenhouse floriculture specialist with OMAFRA; Rodger Tschanz is a plant agriculture technician at the University of Guelph who also manages its trial garden.