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Sampling Some of the Star Performers in Ontario Trials

After a wetter/cooler-than-usual summer, some varieties handled the stress better than others

November 1, 2017  By Melhem Sawaya

A classic car was among the displays near the registration desk. Growers and retailers drove from many hours away to view this year’s trials.

November 2017 – Here in southwestern Ontario, we have just experienced a wetter than usual summer, with cooler than average temperatures especially at night. The continuously rainy days and nights and the cooler temperatures put the plants in the Sawaya Garden Trials through new Mother Nature stress or benefit tests, depending on the varieties.

Some varieties like the lantanas, angelonias, portulacas and scaevola were slow in the beginning of the season, but picked up the pace beginning in mid-July. They had much larger flower sizes due to the cooler temperatures.

The double flower impatiens, for example, were like miniature roses and there was no downy mildew in our trials; however this was a problem in other gardens.


Just like last year some genera, including nemesia, diascia and osteospermum, flowered through the whole season. The cooler summer night temperatures enhance the cool crops but at the same time do not hold back the heat-loving crops such as lantana, angelonia, portulaca and diplodenia.

The main purpose of the Sawaya Garden Trials is to see the varieties that perform best in our climate. For the past 16 years we have seen some genera perform well and others not quite so much.

Here are some of the same steps I have tried to press home with growers and retailers to increase sales. Let me know what you think; my email is at the end of this feature.

  1. Only grow varieties that have proven themselves in the garden.
  2. Sell plants in larger containers than you are used to growing,  i.e., grow the flats material in much larger cells or 4″ pots, and 4″ material in 6″ containers. Here’s the rule-of-thumb – if you have to apply growth regulators more than once to make the plant fit into the container, then it is quite likely the container is too small for the plant. Good examples where this is particularly an issue would be dahlia, Blue salvia, Profusion zinnias, African marigolds, Sunpatiens and gazania, to mention a few.
  3. Plant in a good potting media with no weird additives. Prolonging the plant 12 hours or more for watering creates a false expectation with consumers.
  4. Top-dressing containers with slow-release fertilizer could be a problem for varieties that cannot take a heavy dose of fertilizer all at once. That will happen when we get high temperatures since slow-release fertilizers are released based on temperature, and especially if the plants are not getting enough water on a timely basis.
  5. Provide liquid fertilizer free, as a bonus, to customers. Mix it in a 200L barrel, about a thousand times concentrated, so the consumer can dilute it to end up with a concentration of about 150 ppm.
  6. If we don’t do anything else, we must sell simplified drip kits so homeowners can water their plants effectively and regularly. I am confident that plant sales will increase three to four per cent every year rather than decrease by two to three per cent. I have first-hand experience with people who visit our trials and they ask about our drip system. I tell them where to buy it and the simple steps needed to put it together. Those who do install it make a point to come back and thank me. They also tell me they are going to buy many more plants because they know the plants are going to do very well and with much less work.
  7. Get involved in advertising plants and their benefits.
  8. In this industry, there is no sitting on the fence.  If we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem.
  9. If anyone has suggestions how to gain consumer confidence or help sales please share with me so I can include it with these suggestions. You will not lose sales by sharing your ideas; on the contrary your sales will increase because as an industry we are trying to keep successful consumers.

Remember if you have never grown any of these varieties before and you want to try them, just grow a low percentage of your production to evaluate their success of production and evaluate consumer appeal. You can then decide to increase production or drop this variety. If you decide to increase production of a new variety after trialing it for a season, make sure you take a good look at another variety you can drop.

With the popularity of calibrachoa, you can now choose the colour, size and habit. Breeders are doing a good job of classifying the series according to their habit, which helps in selecting the correct container size.

With calibrachoa taking a bigger share of the market, other varieties are on the decline. It is prudent to decrease production of cultivars that are not selling as well as they have in the past.

Here is a look at very tiny sample of the 3700 varieties in our trials.

Gomphrena Las Vegas White (1) is a bush-type plant that has a vigorous growing habit. It will cover a large landscape and will thrive in different climate conditions. No deadheading is required and the flowers last for a very long time. It’s good in landscapes, large containers and combinations.

Zinnia Profusion Coral Pink (2) is mainly an upright bush plant that is a great performer in the heat and excellent in the landscape. ‘Profusions’ are great for gallon sales for large landscapes.

Vinca F1 Valiant Punch (3) was the new impatiens in our trial. It was planted from 288-plugs straight into a 14″ pot. The vincas in general and the Valiant series in particular looked great throughout the summer. I have seen many landscape beds with vincas this year that were thriving, even with the wet summer we had.

Calibrachoa Chameleon Pink Passion (4): the Chameleon series is a winner with its unique flower colour changing with age and plant habit. One variety in a container hanging basket or patio pot will put on a great show.

Calibrachoa Bloomtastic Rose Quartz (5): the Bloomtastic series has a larger bloom size than a regular calibrachoa, which will be more noticeable from a distance. It has excellent garden performance where five to six stages of flower maturity are on the plant.

Petchoa Supercal Buttercream (6): This series is one of my favourite garden performers due to its vibrant colours and more importantly its ability to bounce back after a rain in only a few minutes without any signs of botrytis or need for deadheading. Supercal Buttercream is great for mixes, gallons and hanging baskets.

Kabloom White (7): This calibrachoa from seed is great in 4” pots, where it needs one pinch, and hanging baskets where it does not need pinching. It is a great finished product that’s more economical with less chance of viruses.

Multi-Plant Mixmaster Sundance (8): This is a mono species mix container where the plants are visible the whole summer and the colours complement each other. Three plants will be more than enough for a 10″ hanging basket.

Bermuda Skies (9) is one of the few mixed species displaying a true synergy. Everything works so well together. It has excellent performance and topped the entries in our hanging baskets contest. Grow in 12″ baskets or larger for the best economics and to give a great show – as I have said over and over again, mixes do not belong in 10″ baskets. Grow them in containers 12″ and larger. Don’t be shy!

Kwik Kombo Bombay Summer Sparkler Mix (10): This is a great scaveola mix for late-season performance. It loves the heat and gets better with age without deadheading or similar maintenance. It also does well in rainy seasons. Scaveola has by far the best garden performance, and in a variety of colours that add to its appeal.

Begonia Whopper Red Green Leaf Improved (11) is one of the top vigorous fibrous begonias. All we need is a white variety to join the family. ‘Whoppers’ have excellent garden performance with a perfect ratio of leaves to flowers. They flower the whole summer and into early frost. It’s good in the shade but excels in sunny areas. It should be grown in gallons without any growth regulators – just time it properly for shipping dates.

Begonia Fragrant Falls Lemon (12) is similar to Nonstop Joy begonia in habit. It has a fresh lemon fragrance, providing added value and a unique selling feature. Fragrant Falls have an excellent slow growing habit, with continuous flowering the whole summer.

Begonia Solenia Yellow (13) is one colour of the Solenia Rieger begonia family, seemingly on steroids. The Solenias have much better garden performance than the other Rieger series. Solenias are the better choice if you grow Riegers for the outdoors. They are good for landscapes and excellent in hanging baskets.

Petunia Supertunia Priscilla (14) is one of the best performing double petunias. It thrives in hot weather and takes the rain without setback. It is excellent in hanging baskets and the spent flowers are covered with masses of continuously emerging new flowers. Priscilla is an old variety that performs better than any new breeding of double petunia.

Petunia Color Works Pink Star (15) is the new addition to this series known for its unique flower design. Pink Star has a mounding habit with great garden performance, and excellent flowers and foliage. It is ideal in premium hanging baskets.

Petunia Blanket Violet (16) is one colour in the Blanket family. This series is very vigorous – one cutting will make a 10″ hanging basket. Blankets have lots of small flowers that the rain does not impact. ‘Blankets’ are great for hanging baskets or large landscapes.

Petunia Dekko Salmon (17) is a mounding habit petunia with a continuous show of small flowers that self-clean after it rains. The series is great for 4″ pots, gallons and hanging baskets. It has amazing garden performance.

Canna Canova Orange (18) is one colour in this series. The Canovas are the best introduction to floriculture since the impatiens boom! They have excellent garden performance in landscapes or containers or centrepieces in mixed containers. Canova is every landscaper’s dream-come-true star performer.

Pretty Crimson Red (19) is one colour in the explosion of mandevillas. They are becoming increasingly popular, especially in large containers – whether in large planters or hanging baskets. Mandevilla continues to flower nonstop the whole summer with a background of hardy foliage that invites the heat and the rain.

Sweet Memories Salmon (20) is one colour of the Gerbera Garvinea family and its garden performance gets better every year. The series is very resistant to powdery mildew.

Serenity Lemonade (21): Osteospermum is not just for early spring sales. For the last five to six years, most of the osteospermum I see flower the whole summer long – even in hot weather. Serenity Lemonade is a good example and showed extremely well in our trials. Serenity can be used equally well in landscapes or mixed containers.

Geranium Brocade Salmon Night (22) stands out from the multitude of other geraniums with its unique foliage colour and its flowering power that is botrytis resistant. It is excellent in landscapes, as a centre for mixed containers, or by itself in large containers.

Geranium Schone Von Rheinberg Wild Salmon (23) has a good ratio of flowers to leaves, and doesn’t seem to have a problem with botrytis after a rain. The Salmon flower has an orange centre. It is good for landscapes and containers.

Lantana Bandana Landscape Gold (24) is one colour of this landscape series that is very vigorous. The outdoor performance is exceptional and very floriferous from early spring until frost. No deadheading is needed, rain does not hinder it, and heat and full sun make it even better.

Coleus Premium Sun Mighty Mosaic (25) is from seed and does well in full sun. Premium Sun is very economical and comparable to the vegetative coleus. Mighty Mosaic is great in gallons and mix containers.

Pink Bicolor (26) is one colour of the Endurascape verbena lineup. This series has exceptional garden performance. The flowers last a long time and they are semi self-cleaning, powdery mildew resistant and vigorous.

Blue Eyes (27) is a medium vigour variety with loads of long-lasting flowers. Lanai verbena is one of the oldest series and still one of the top performers. The medium growth habit makes it suitable for hanging baskets and mixed containers.

Lavandula Vicenza Blue (28) is a popular variety with a soothing fragrance that performs well in landscapes or pots. It features first season flowering is from seed. Vicenza Blue is great in gallons or multiple liners in larger pots.

Echinacea Sombrero Adobe Orange (29) has first season flowering that needs no vernalization. It puts on a great show with sturdy flowers on a strong stem. The flowers last a long time allowing fourth and fifth flower generation before the first flower is spent.

Pretty In Pink (30) is a new colour, showing that bidens are not only yellow any more. Pretty In Pink was surprisingly very heat tolerant, and the flowers lasted a long time, though it needed deadheading. It could be great in combinations or large containers.

Phlox Gisele Light Violet (31) is more compact than other vegetative phloxes on the market. It has a better start in the greenhouse but especially excels when the days grow longer with high light levels. Gisele is great in large pots and landscapes.

Coreopsis UpTick Yellow & Red (32) is another first season flowering variety that flowers from early spring and past a light frost. It features loads of colourful flowers on sturdy stems. Uptick is powdery mildew resistant. Grow in gallons for landscapes and large patio pots, or for mixed containers with other perennials or annuals.

Melhem Sawaya of Focus Greenhouse Management is a consultant and research coordinator to the horticultural industry;

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