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Growing in the Green: What’s new or improved

June 20, 2011  By Melhem Sawaya

The California Pack Trials is now known as the California Spring Trials
but, in reality, there are no “trials.” It is a showcase for the
breeders, and that is why I like calling it exactly what it is – The
California Showcase.

The California Pack Trials is now known as the California Spring Trials but, in reality, there are no “trials.” It is a showcase for the breeders, and that is why I like calling it exactly what it is – The California Showcase.

For me, the 2011 California Showcase is running out of ideas to attract the same visitors each year. If you are visiting the trials for the first year, or for the last two years, then yes, you will still learn something new.


It’s been my experience that less than 15 per cent of the California Showcase participants are growers. The event is geared to buyers and, more specifically, brokers or chain buyers. Perhaps that is why the trial aspect disappeared, or perhaps the growers cannot find anything new, other than new colours and new cultivars that have not yet been tested.


And taking a whole week to visit the trials with expenses of around $3,000 to $4,000 per person means many growers are unable to visit the show.

I heard a rumour some time ago that some breeders considered having the California Showcase held in one large location to attract more visitors and save themselves thousands of dollars.

Most probably it is just a rumour, because this will require a lot of co-operation and a change from the way we have done it all these years, and, heaven forbid, any change is considered unthinkable.

In many cases when a new cultivar is introduced by a breeder, a chain will take that cultivar exclusively. In my experience, that process is the number 1 factor of shrinkage in profit for the grower and the chain because:

  •  It didn’t go through a garden performance trial.
  • No customer appeal study has been done.
  • The know-how to produce a top-quality product for a specific date has not been established.

Normally, these exclusive products cost more for the grower, then the chain puts the product front and centre in its promotional material – the most expensive section – and the store has to place the product in the most prominent display area.

The breeder sold the product to the chain, which then spent a lot of money advertising a product the consumer will no longer buy. The chain’s credibility is diminished in the eyes of the consumer and, worst of all, the grower is left with a product that costs a great deal to produce and they must now incur even more costs to dump it. (But not to worry, it’s a recyclable green product!)

Consumers can be deceived only once and then we have lost them.

Increasing the consumption of horticultural products can only be done by helping consumers be successful and satisfied with their purchase … not setting them up to fail.

■  This is the reason I share these varieties with you. They are meant to be trialled at your facility so you know how to grow them, enable you to track consumer appeal and, last but not least, monitor their garden performance.

The California Showcase will be sampled in this issue and next month so we can cover more varieties. By no means are all varieties covered.

Some varieties are new introductions for 2011, others are older varieties that have undergone improvements or changes over the years but still carry the same name. Others have been around for many years but new trends make them an important variety to share with you.

The days of the 12-0-4 pack pansy are almost gone in the northern parts of the U.S. and Canada, largely replaced by the larger container sizes of 10” to 20” bowl hanging baskets. This goes for the spring or fall crop of pansies. That is why breeders are working on varieties that give a better show in large containers.

‘Plentifall Frost’ (1) pansy is one colour in the Plentifall series. This group is semi-cascading in habit with excellent garden performance, especially in hanging baskets. This series was grown in many greenhouses this past season, and production was great and the consumer appeal very good even in a less-than-favourable pansy season.

Looking for a foolproof mixed container with excellent customer appeal? Try a coleus mixed container with other foliage cultivars. No worries about flowering on time or deadheading old flowers!

Coleus ‘Wasabi’ (2) is a new variety with a bright lime green colour that can be mixed with other coleus varieties in a combination, or sold separately in 4” or 6” pots. Consumers can decide if they want to make their own combinations or use them in mass landscapes.

Many growers look for yellow petunias to include in their mixes. ‘Suncatcher Pink Lemonade’ (3) could fill that need, especially if it proves to be a good performing variety. Normally any yellow varieties I have seen are poor performers. Try ‘Pink Lemonade’ in mixes or separate pots. I will know how well it and other varieties perform in garden trials by the end of this summer.

■  Osteospermum is a relatively new genus. It is promoted as a cold crop for early spring sales, which tickles the ears of every grower. However, every year growers are pumping the heat to make it finish at the targeted early spring date, and the savings in growing it cold are out the window! Osteospermum is a crop to be grown cool but not cold, at a temperature of 12 to 13ºC after it is established. Then it will coast on time for sale and the quality is much better.

Excellent varieties are introduced every year, and the 3D Series (4) is a breakthrough in osteospermum breeding. It comes in three colours – pink, silver and purple. The flowers don’t close at night and put on an excellent show. Try them in 4” pots or in a large container of 12” or larger. Remember, nobody takes the 4” pots to plant in their gardens in April, but they will display it on their patios. Try some and let me know how well it sells!

For bedding plant growers who like to venture into perennials, here is a genus that might fit in your production. Echinacea ‘Pow Wow Wild Berry’ (5) and ‘White’ (6) are two colours that look good for late spring or June sales. Plant in large containers, rather 6” pots, and then you don’t have to fight height control or try to poison a vigorous showy variety with growth regulators to fit your pot size or shipping cart. In my opinion, any variety that needs to be chemically treated with growth regulators more than once is too big for the pot size or the timing and/or culture is wrong.

Next fall, I will be writing an article about detoxification growing plants.

Salvia ‘Mystic Spires Blue’ (7) is not a new variety but I mention it again because it is an excellent landscape variety, and more importantly, it is a good centre in mixed containers. It will give a good show the whole season, not like some geraniums that might look good at sales time and then will disappear the rest of the season, especially when mixed with vigorous varieties.

The Fusion impatiens series (8) is an excellent garden performer that can be grown in containers or for landscapes. Everything does not have to be a mixed container and Fusion, with its colourful blooms, does not need to be mixed to enhance its looks. It is easy to produce with no need for pinching, lighting or cooling. Yes, these crops still exist.

Scopia Mixis bacopa (9) ‘Pink,’ ‘Purple’ and ‘Blue’ are excellent performers. This is a genus mix that is much easier to grow because everything requires the same culture. Scopia is a great series. Mix them and they put on a great show. Keep things moist and they will perform well the whole summer. Bacopa likes to be grown cool but not cold.

■  Calibrachoa Mix Cybeline (10) looks good in plant shows. We will see how well it performs in our garden trials. Calibrachoa is the most popular genus in hanging basket sales. It has surpassed geranium and New Guinea impatiens. With many growers adding calibrachoa mixes, sales of this genus are on the increase and this is due to its great show at sales time and its performance the whole summer.
‘Pink Spirit’ and ‘Banana Punch’ (11) are two nemesias that will enhance most combinations. They add early colour to mixes that flower later.

‘Benito’ (12) is one colour in the new Dahlia XXL series, and it looks promising. Dahlia is gaining popularity thanks to breeding and cultivation done vegeta-tively instead of by tubers. Very large dahlia are still produced by tubers, but soon we will see them produced vegetatively.

Fuchsia is regaining popularity with growers and consumers, largely because of excellent work by breeders. Fuchsia ‘Arâtes Jollies Nantes’ (13) is one of these breeding success stories. It is easier to produce, tolerates higher temperatures, and enhances any combination.

‘Bidy Gonzales Big’ (14) is a moderately vigorous bidens that I prefer to the very compact varieties that start to grow but go backwards with the smell of a growth regulator. Most of the time they are poor garden performers. ‘Bidy Gonzales Big’ grows nicely alone or in combinations and has excellent garden performance.

■  Rieger begonia is going to trail only calibrachoa in sales volume very shortly (if it has not already done so). This is due to new breeding and its use as a garden variety and not just as indoor potted plant. ‘Dragone Sunset’ (16) is one of the many new varieties introduced this year. Rieger begonias can be grown in hanging baskets or in smaller pots for landscapes.

The exceptional gazania Sunbathers lineup added a new cultivar – ‘Malibu’ (17) – to its series. The Sunbathers series is in a class by itself compared to many of the other varieties from seed. It has exceptional garden performance and is impressive throughout the summer until frost.

Vegetative and seed petunias gained popularity because of their vigorous growing characteristics. Some of the new cultivars are bred for their compactness, which is good for density growing, but they have a narrow window for shipping and inferior garden performance. How long do you think we can keep a consumer if they buy inferior products? Many breeders still take garden performance seriously with their selections.

Here are some new cultivars that look good in the show; again, we will see how they perform in the trials.
Cascadia ‘Marshmallow Pink’ (18), ‘Violet Skirt’ (19) and ‘Ann Wood’ (20) are new introductions with a spreading habit that will take the rain better and look nicer in mixed combinations.

There is another player in North America with garden mums. Fides, a large garden mum breeder, is now in North America. Here is only one cultivar of many (21). I am sure we will be seeing many of their cultivars trialled and compared to other series, and may the best one win.

The California Spring Trials remain a popular tradition for many Canadian growers (22).

 Next issue, we will continue sampling more California Showcase 2011 varieties.

Melhem Sawaya of Focus Greenhouse Management is a consultant and research coordinator to the horticultural industry. Comments on this or any other article are always welcome, e-mail:, or visit or www.

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