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2011 Cultivar Trials

John M. Dole and Judy M. Laushman

This was the year of the annual aster. We had 19 large- flowered cultivars covering the range of colors. Once one of the most important cut flower species in the United States, it was loved for its long stems, large flowers, and broad range of colors, rivaling chrysanthemums and carnations. But alas, the aster fell on hard times and production has dropped quite a bit. Too bad, this is a great flower.

The catch—and there is always a catch—is that this species can be a bit hard to grow. In the central states aster yellows disease, spread by leafhoppers, causes problems, and continues to do so judging by the trialers’ comments. Growers everywhere must deal with the fact that it is a long-day plant, requiring

12- to 14-hour long days. In many areas it is best grown in greenhouses or high tunnels, but a number of folks were able to grow it well in the field. Annual asters reach perfection when grown in California, but other areas are able to grow them as well.

Those able to grow asters were rewarded with beautiful flowers. The Bonitas Series (Sakata/Gloeckner) scored the best with similarly rich colors as the Matsumotos, but with

tighter centers. ‘Bonitas Pink’ had the highest scores. ‘Rose Shanghai Rose-White’ from Gloeckner also did well with its beautiful two-tone flowers. With so many cultivars and colors in the trials there was a variety for just about everyone.

This was also a banner year for bicolor sunflowers— we had five. There was a nice assortment of excellent patterns and colors to choose from based on your market’s preference, ranging from relatively little contrast be- tween the colors to very strong patterns. At the lighter end of the spectrum, ‘ProCut Amber Glow’ (SeedSense) was definitely a project favorite with its angelic amber halo around its dark center. The picture doesn’t do it justice; you have to see if for yourself. Growing ‘Musicbox’ (Benary) was like tapping shuffle on your iPod—you get a little bit of everything. Petal colors ranged from a pale yellow to a vibrant orange that contrasted well with the dark center. Furthermore, some flowers were a solid color while others were bicolor. The inconsistency may bother some people, but it’s sure to excite others. ‘Ring of Fire’ (Benary) had a brown center, its petals stamped with a deep

red  ring  (of  fire) turning  to a rich yellow color. ‘Procut Bicolor Plus’ (SeedSense) was very similar to ‘Ring of Fire’, but had shorter petals and a larger disc and the color pattern was more defined. Finally, the pattern on the petals of ‘Procut Lemon Bicolor’ (SeedSense) was just like ‘Bicolor Plus’ (SeedSense), but a paler lemon color.

‘Giant Sungold’ (Benary), aptly named, had very tall (around 6 feet) and thick stems, and would probably benefit from pinching to produce multiple stems with smaller heads. It had that unique teddy bear face with many gold-orange colored petals and a green center.

Classic sunflower colors were  also  included  in  the trial. ‘ProCut Brilliance’ (SeedSense), with its ruffled orange-gold petals around a dark center, was an interesting new take on the typical sunflower.  The  flower  of

‘ProCut Gold’ (SeedSense) looked similar to ‘Brilliance’in the petals, but has a fun green center. ‘Valentine’ (Benary) had  highlighter  yellow petals around a  dark  center. As you read the comments about ‘Valentine’, you can understand the need for as many  trialers  as  possible  in

our evaluation programs. One contingent loved the small heads and many branches, making  it  a  great  cultivar for  bouquets.  Others  listed the small heads and profuse branches as a problem—these growers probably need large flowers for farmers’ markets.

Another heavy branching cultivar was ‘Gold Rush’, which would probably benefit from pinching, as without pinching the side shoots were often too short to be useful.

‘Gold Rush’ had orange petals and a dark center.

Cut ageratums are a sta- ple for summer bouquets. Ag- eratum ‘Everest’ (Ball/Kieft), with  its  classic ageratum blue flowers, produced about 8 stems per plant, averaging 17 inches, with some folks getting 20- to 22-inch stems. Trialers ranked ‘Everest’ high with four out of five across the board. Please take note of our rhetorical restraint in that we did not refer to ‘Everest’ as a monumental cultivar.

Basils have become in- creasingly popular as fragrant fillers   for   bouquets   and

‘Aromato’ (Genesis) adds an excellent choice to the list. Here at NCSU it was our most productive cultivar with 34 stems  per  plant,  averaging

14.5 inches long. The overall

averages were 9 stems and

21 inches. As you can see, getting longer stems requires sacrificing a few stems. Chris Wien noted that he harvested five 23-inch stems per plant in the field, and nine 26-inch stems in his high tunnels. One negative: the color was an inconsistent blend of purple and green, and some trialers preferred the all-dark foliage. And of course, the tomato/ tomahto issue: for some the fragrance was too little and others too much.

Celosias are quite a variable group of plants ranging from large crested types to those with small plumes, and the search continues for the perfect cultivar. ‘Orange Peach’ and

‘Tornado Red’ from Genesis were both small-crested types, and ‘Sunday Dark Pink’ and

‘Sunday Wine Red’ from

Ball/Kieft were plume types.

‘Orange Peach’ scored the highest with its great color and multitude of branches. The side shoots tended to produce small plumes rather than crests and this plant would probably do well with a pinch. The Sundays were also productive, with all three cultivars averaging around 7 to 8 stems per plant. ‘Sunday Wine Red’ had the added benefit of reddish foliage.

Several trialers commented that all four cultivars were too short and many folks reporting stem lengths of less than 16 inches. However, the celosias performed well for at least a few folks. ‘Orange Peach’ and ‘Sunday Dark Pink’ had the longest stems, averaging around 19 inches with at least one trialer getting stems up to 36 inches.

‘Tornado Red’ was the shortest by all accounts, with the tallest report of only 24 inches and the average of only 13 inches.

For a great fall crop, try pepper ‘Orange Globe’ (Genesis). Trialers commented on the large clusters of bright orange fruit. One person stated that “this is a premium cut pepper that commanded a great price – one of our favorites”. Apparently others agreed as the overall scores were quite high. As with many ornamental peppers the stems were on the short side.

In summary, we had 49 cultivars from 6 companies. Based on trial results, the top five performers are automatically nominated for the ASCFG Cut Flower of the Year. The rankings are based on the combined ratings score: market appreciation + repeat again + ease of cultivation. Thus, from the 2011 trials five sunflowers are nominated for the Cut Flowers of the Year and will join other nominations from ASCFG members: four Procut cultivars, ‘Bicolor Plus’, ‘Brilliance’, ‘Gold’ and ‘Red Lemon Bicolor’, and ‘Giant Sungold’. Looking beyond the sunflowers, the top-rated cultivar was pepper ‘Orange Globe’. Interpreting the trial results: The numbers reported are averages of all the respondents and many factors will affect the success of any plant species. Our participants are growing and harvesting the trial plants in a wide variety of ways. After looking at the average, check the range of responses listed below each number to see how the cultivar performed at its best and its worst.  If the range of responses in the ratings is narrow and high, i.e., 3-5 or 4-5, the plant was a winner for most of the respondents and is likely to do well for you. The ‘Repeat  Again Rating’ is particularly important because it indicate if the trialer would take the time, money, and space to actually grow the cultivar  again.  Review the trial results carefully. If a cultivar sounds interesting but did not appear  to  do  well,  try it anyway. The cultivar may work well for you.

Acknowledgments:

A hearty  thank  you  to all of the 18 evaluators who returned their trial reports and to the seed companies for providing such great cultivars. Congratulations to Don Lareau, Zephyros Farm and  Garden,  for  being the first trialer to return his evaluations. I would also like to thank Ingram McCall for  taking  care of the North Carolina State University portion of the trials and Brigitte Crawford and Diane Mays     for     assisting with  the  NCSU  trials. In preparing the report we have edited the participants’ comments for space and clarity; my apologies if we’ve altered the tone or content of anyone’s comments.

Summary of Comments

The number in a parenthesis refers to the number of respondents who made the comment. If  no  number  is  present,  only one person made the comment. Comments by each individual are separated with a semicolor (;). Note: many respondents did not make specific comments on each cultivar and in some cases, comments have been shortened because of limited space.

Summary of Comments

The number in a parenthesis refers to the number of respondents who made the comment. If no number is present, only one person made the comment. Comments by each individual are separated with a semicolor (;). Note: many respondents did not make specific comments on each cultivar and in some cases, comments have been shortened because of limited space.

Participating Seed Companies

Ball Horticultural/Kieft
West Chicago, Illinois
www.ballhort.com

Benary Seed
DeKalb, Illinois
www.benary.com

Fred C. Gloeckner Company
Harrison, New York
www.fredgloeckner.com

Genesis Seeds Ltd.
Ashalim, Israel
www.genesisseeds.com

Kieft-Pro-Seeds
Venhuizen, Netherlands
www.kieft-pro-seeds.com

Sakata Seed America, Inc
Morgan Hill, California
www.sakata.com

Cultivars

Ageratum Ageratum ‘Everest Blue’ (Ball/Kieft) Good Qualities: Wonderful uniform color (5); Strong stems (3); Bright, strong grower; Good height, bloom size and number of flowers, blooms for an extended period; Strong, sturdy stems; Lots of flowers, with strong stems; Continuous picking from early summer, sturdy stems, larger florets on side stems than ‘Florist Blue’; Long stems, nice size flower, germination was good, nice full flowers, good dark green leaves; Good for small bouquet.

Problems: Short; Centre flowers are quick to turn brown (if you cut the whole plant); Inconsistent stem length and flower head size. Similar Cultivars: ‘Blue Horizon’ (5);

‘Florists Blue’.

Postharvest Recommendations: Floralife in cool water; Make sure stems are stripped clean.

Comments: Side by side, ‘Everest Blue’ and

‘Blue Horizon’ had identical heights, blooms with the only readily identifiable difference being a rose-colored center in unopened blooms of ‘Everest Blue’; Hard to tell any difference between this and ‘Blue Horizon’; Great introduction!; Smaller flower than the

‘Blue Horizon’ and not as prolific a bloomer; Useful in bouquets.

Ammi

Ammi majus ‘Pink’ (Genesis)

Good Qualities: Large, nice color, tall; Easy to grow, tall plant; Good quality pink when the flowers were just opening.

Problems: Crashes easily, floppy stems; Too similar to wild Queen Anne’s lace, no real pink color when open, pink tint when tight, rabbits loved the transplants; Did not germinate well; Pink quickly fades to white as flowers mature; Uneven maturation – staggered harvest dates.

Postharvest Recommendations: Always remove secondary and tertiary buds. Comments: White when ready to cut, not pink; This was direct seeded before drought and came up sparsely, the plants were weak and got overcrowded by weeds, so we did not see any blooms, a comparison variety,

‘Snowflake’, produced well in the same row; Plants got about 3 inches tall in the field, but never matured to provide any stems for cutting.

Asters

Asters ‘Balloon Rose’ (Gloeckner)

Good Qualities: None listed.

Problems: Died from fusarium or rhizocto- nia; Too short to cut.

Asters ‘Balloon Silver-Blue’ (Gloeckner) Good Qualities: Beautiful large double flowers, great color combination.

Problems: Too short to cut; Plants survived a little longer than the rose color, but still died of fusarium or rhizoctonia before flowering.

Asters ‘Beautiful Day Rose’ (Gloeckner) Good Qualities: Long, strong stems (2); Might make a good potted aster; Nice color, good vase life; Nice size flower, good uniform color, germination was good, nice full flowers were well accepted on both colors; Very productive, showy plant: more suited as a bedding plant than a cut. Problems: Too short (3); Very bushy, difficult in bouquets; Got aster yellows – within a few weeks of transplanting – does not like Texas; Susceptible to leaf wilt. Similar Cultivars: None listed.

Postharvest Recommendations: Floralife in cool water.

Comments: Very dry July contributed to short stems; Never got aster seeds to germinate for transplants, tried both seed trays and field planting with no success, believe due to the early arrival of the drought plus water restrictions; Had no luck with the asters at all; Succumbed to aster yellows before reaching the marketable stage.

Asters ‘Beautiful Day Yellow’(Gloeckner) Good Qualities: Long stems, strong stems, nice size flower, good uniform color, germination was good, nice full flowers were well accepted on both colors; Productive, early.

Problems: Too short (3); Got aster yellows

– within a few weeks of transplanting – does not like Texas.

Similar Cultivars: None listed.

Postharvest Recommendations: Floralife in cool water.

Comments: Very dry July contributed to short stems; Never got aster seeds to germinate for transplants, tried both seed trays and field planting with no success, believe due to the early arrival of the drought plus water restrictions; Had no luck with the asters at all; Succumbed to aster yellows before reaching the marketable stage.

Asters ‘Bonita Blue’ (Sakata/Gloeckner) Good Qualities: Tall stems (2); Strong stems (2); Productive spray type; Can be cut as one huge stem or individually; ‘Bonita Blue’ is hardly a true blue, was still a nice later season color to contrast with all of the brighter colors of the moment, great contrast with the bold centers and mixed nicely with

our dahlias; Long stems, nice size flower, good uniform color, germination was good, nice full flowers, good dark green leaves. Problems: Unpinched, get a large cluster of small flowers that are hard to arrange; None; developed “rust” at end of season and then it spread from one variety to the other;

Participating Growers

Got aster yellows – within a few weeks of transplanting – does not like Texas.

Similar Cultivars: Similiar to Matsumoto series in size of flower and plant growth, without the open center of the Matsumotos. Postharvest Recommendations: Floralife in cool water.

Comments: Try pinching early next time; Succumbed to aster yellows before reaching the marketable stage; Color more purple than blue; Aster seeds/transplants did not survive field conditions, tried both seed trays and field planting with no success, contributing factor drought conditions in May through October plus water restrictions throughout the growing season; Colors were good and full flowers, the “Blue” was well accepted and a rich color; Had no luck with the asters at all.

Asters ‘Bonita Pink’ (Sakata/Gloeckner) Good Qualities: Long stems (2); Strong stems (2); Could be cut as one huge stem, or individually, nice hot pink color; Great color; Nice size flower, good uniform color, germination was good, nice full flowers, good dark green leaves; Erect spray type. Problems: Of all of the Bonita cultivars, this was our least favorite color, not really a problem, just an aesthetic perception; Got aster yellows – within a few weeks of transplanting – does not like Texas; None; Developed “rust” at end of season and then it spread from one variety to the other; Hard to use in arrangements unpinched.

Similar Cultivars: Similar to Matsumotos in flower size and plant growth.

Postharvest Recommendations: Floralife in cool water.

Comments: Pinch next time; Succumbed to aster yellows before reaching the marketable stage; Aster seeds/transplants did not survive field conditions, tried both seed trays and field planting with no success, contributing factor drought conditions in May through October plus water restrictions throughout the growing season; Colors were good and full flowers; Had no luck with the asters at all.

Asters ‘Bonita Rose’ (Sakata/Gloeckner) Good Qualities: Tall (2); Strong stems (2); Spray type; small, uniform flowers, no sign of tip burn; Plant could be cut as one huge

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