2008 ASCFG Seed Cut Flower Cultivar Trials
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John Dole, North Carolina State University
Judy Laushman, ASCFG
Each year we get numerous new cultivars of various species but rarely are we able to directly compare them with the standard, established cultivars or with cultivars from other companies. To address that issue, this year we conducted a comparison trial with seven zinnia varieties. The winner for growers was ‘Uproar Rose’, which garnered the highest ratings of all the cultivars and had the longest stems. ‘Uproar Rose’ yielded 9.6 stems/plant, fewer than the Oklahoma series but higher than the ‘Benary’s Giants’. Trialers commented on the consistent flower color, high degree of doubleness, and large flower size. The main limitation of ‘Uproar Rose’ is that it is currently a single cultivar. A couple trialers requested (begged) for more colors. It should be noted that ‘Uproar Rose’ was the Fresh Cut Flower of the Year for 2009. However, the Benary’s Giant cultivars also performed quite well, with yield and ratings only slightly below that of ‘Uproar Rose’. Of course, the broad range of colors makes them an industry favorite. The Oklahoma cultivars had the highest yield but ratings were lower due to their smaller flowers. This series does particularly well as a bouquet flower. ‘Zowie Yellow Flame’ had moderately high yield and many trialers adore the gorgeous bicolored flowers, but the small flower size and shorter stems reduced its appeal.
Zinnias are primarily a local flower, which is reflected in the low ratings for wholesale sales. Southern growers may wonder why the yield for all the zinnias was so low; this was due to the averaging of the results with the North, which has a shorter growing season. There was little difference in the reported vase life, with a high of 7.9 days for ‘Benary’s Giant Scarlet’ and a low of 6.7 days for ‘Zowie Yellow Flame’, only a little over one day’s difference.
Finally, we wanted to highlight the comments of one trialer that might be helpful to new growers of zinnias: “We have grown zinnias as part of our standard offering for several years. Nevertheless, we have learned something new about this crop. The test zinnias were planted where the compost heap had been for a couple of years and the soil was very rich, loose, and moist. The other zinnias were planted partially in this really rich soil and partly in our ordinary soil. Some of the compost zinnias were eventually over five feet tall and all were very productive. The ordinary soil zinnias never took off and eventually the weeds took over. Zinnias really prefer soil with lots of organic matter. Also from now on we will be planting plugs and hopefully avoid a lot of weeding hassles. The cost of the plugs would be nothing compared to the cost of hand weeding direct sown zinnias”.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”, “Silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”, “One man’s treasure is another man’s trash.”, “Either you loved ‘em or hated ‘em.” – believe it or not, I can’t come up with any more clichés to apply to Panicum elegans ‘Frosted Explosion’. The grass garnered comments such as “the most popular flower in our ASCFG cut flower trials.” and “One of the most productive, in-demand crops I grew”. On the other hand, one trialer stated they had “crop failure” because it “was weeded out, this is a weedy annual grass here in Wisconsin”. Those who loved it enjoyed the 13+ stems per plant which averaged 18 inches and had a vase life of over 10 days. Certainly, the key to this cultivar will be the market. If you can sell grasses or the more unusual cuts, you definitely should try this one.
Sunflowers continue to be one of our most important field cuts and the number of available cultivars is increasing. This year eight sunflowers were included in the trials and they illustrate that the bar is higher now for a cut sunflower to be successful than it used to be ten years ago. Several of the trialers made comments along the lines of “another good sunflower” for one or more of the cultivars. With so many varieties on the market now, a new one can be quite good but still not get noticed. The most commonly grown cut sunflowers appear to be ‘Sunrich Orange’ (Takii), ‘Sunbright’ (Sakata) and ‘Pro Cut Orange’ (Seed Sense), all with orange petals and a dark brown disk. A new introduction must be better in some way than these standards to get growers to switch to them. Five of the entries had the standard orange petals and dark centers;‘Tavor Joy’ (Gloeckner) stood out by being one of the earliest to flower. ‘Tavor Joy’ is pollenless. A couple trialers also commented that it produced harvestable side flowers, which were great for bouquets. Chris Wien noted in his trials at Cornell that ‘Tavor Joy’ is a facultative short day cultivar, for those looking for greenhouse or high tunnel cultivars.
The two bicolored cultivars, ‘#565’ (Gloeckner) and ‘Sun4U Bicolor’ (Kieft), garnered high praise for consistency of pattern and holding petals better than other bicolor sunflowers. Stems were long, with a medium-sized pollenless flower and relatively fast crop time. Some trialers mentioned good return flowering after the main stem was harvested. We noticed that the brown ring is well defined when the flower opens and appeared to fade as the flower ages – we wonder if this trait is climate related as growers in cooler climates did not mention the problem. We had difficulty telling apart ‘#565’ and ‘Sun4U Bicolor’ in our fields, and many of the trialers also mentioned the similarity.
It was interesting to us to read how different some of the cultivars perform among the trialers. For example, the color of ‘Arbel’ (Gloeckner) was described as “clear yellow petals against dark disc”, “standard orange sunflower” and “nice yellow orange, inner petals darker orange.” Head size and stem thickness also varied greatly. With ‘Arbel’ three trialers stated that the flowers and stems were too large while one said that the flowers were too small and stems not strong enough. When the spacing each person used was checked, all of those reporting large flowers gave their plants more space per plant than the one reporting small flowers. This illustrates nicely how responsive sunflowers are to spacing. If you want small flowers, space them more closely, and vice versa. So, how are you as the reader able to sort out the various responses? Look for the overall tone of the responses, but be aware that the performance at your farm might be a bit different (sounds like a disclaimer on a grocery item: “Variations in color are normal and the contents may have settled during shipping…”). For ‘Arbel’, most considered it an orange sunflower with large heads when given plenty of space in the field.
As mentioned in previous year’s reports, lisianthus and snapdragons both perform their best under cover in high tunnels or hoophouses. The stems are long and the flower heads larger. Having said that, however, several cultivars of both species performed very well in the field trials. The entire Arena lisianthus series (Takii) got high marks for large, fully double flowers and long stems. The rankings were high enough to earn the series a nomination for ASCFG Fresh Cut Flower of the Year. Stem length of all three cultivars was close to 19 inches and trialers harvested an average of two to three stems per plant.
‘Rocket’ snapdragons are the classic series used by field cut growers. The durable series is beloved for its reliable, durable nature and fragrant flowers. Greenhouse snapdragon growers have long had the luxury of being able to select single cultivars from a broad array of colors. In the greenhouse these cultivars produce very long stems with large, sometimes too large, flower heads. Over the years we have started to test some of the greenhouse cultivars in the field and have obtained surprisingly good results. Certainly the stem length is shorter and the flower heads smaller on field-grown snaps than on greenhouse grown cuts, but the stems are wonderful for farmers’ markets and many florists. Most growers also keep field snapdragons after the main stem is cut, allowing the side shoots to be harvested later. This year, all four snapdragon cultivars in the trials performed quite well. In fact, ‘Opus Bright Red’ (Goldsmith), ‘Opus Fresh White’ (Goldsmith), and ‘Calima Deep Rose’ (Sakata) scored high enough to be nominated for the ASCFG Fresh Cut Flowers of the Year. ‘Opus Bright Red’ produced more than 6 stems/plant, with an average of 23 inches in length. Trialers also loved its bright vibrant red color. ‘Opus Fresh White’ produced 5.3 stems per plant and a stem length of 22 inches. Stem yield was lower and length shorter for ‘Calima Deep Rose’ and ‘Calima Pure White’ (Sakata). All four snapdragon cultivars showed unexpected durability in the field: here at NCSU, the snaps kept producing all summer long with a slight resurgence in the fall. Granted, the flower heads were quite small during the summer but considering the heat of a Raleigh summer, the durability of the cultivars was quite striking.
Overall, we had 41 varieties from seven companies, up a bit in number from the previous year. 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 (average of wholesale, florist, and consumer) + repeat again + ease of cultivation. Thus, from the 2008 trials lisianthus Arena series (all the colors scored very high and we decided to nominate the entire series), snapdragon ‘Opus Bright Red’, ‘Opus Fresh White’, and ‘Calima Deep Rose’, and zinnia ‘Uproar Rose’ are nominated as Cut Flowers of the Year and will join other nominations from ASCFG members.
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 indicates 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.
A hearty thank you to all of the evaluators who returned their trial reports and to the seed companies for providing such great cultivars. Congratulations to Laurie Hodges and Chazz Hesselein for being the first trialers to return their evaluations. I would also like to thank Ingram McCall for taking care of the North Carolina State University portion of the trials, Emma Locke, Erin Possiel, Erin Regan, Diane Mays, Brad Holland, and Tim Ketchie for assisting with the NCSU trials, and Ingram McCall for laboriously typing in the comments of several trialers. In preparing the report participants’ comments have been edited for space and clarity; apologies if the tone or content of anyone’s comments was altered. Also, in a few cases we could not determine what was written.
- Antirrhinum (Snapdragon)
- Consolida (Larkspur)
- Stiletta Indigo Blue
- Eustoma (Lisianthus)
- Helianthus (Sunflower)
- Lathyrus (Sweet Pea)
- Winter Sunshine Rose
- Matthiola (Stock)
- Panicum elegans
- Frosted Explosion
- Tiger Eye
Participating Seed Companies – Annual Trials, 2008
Agridera Seeds & Agriculture Ltd.
301 Natividad Rd.
Salinas, CA 93906
1444 Larson St.
Sycamore, IL 60178
Fred C. Gloeckner & Co.
600 Mamaroneck Ave.
Harrison, NY 10528-1613
P.O. Box 1349
Gilroy CA 95021
P.O. Box 618
Conway, WA 98238
P.O. Box 438
West Chicago, IL 60186
Sakata Seed America
18095 Serene Drive
Morgan Hill, CA 95037
Participating Growers – Annual Trials, 2008
Mount Vernon, WA
UCSC Farm & Garden
Santa Cruz, CA
Harvest Moon Farm
High Meadow Flower Farm
William Dam Seed, Ltd.
Everett’s Flower Farm
New Germany, Nova Scotia
Foll’s Flower Farm
Chas and Linda Gill
Kennebec Flower Farm and Nursery
Ball Horticultural Company
Santa Paula, CA
Brian Gjevre and Harold Wilkins
Alabama Cooperative Extension System
UNL Dept. Agronomy and Horticulture
Robin Hollow Farm
Chapel Hill, NC
Ingram McCall, John Dole
North Carolina State University
Jim and Linda Mercer
Sheepscot Flower Farm
University of Wyoming
University of Maine Cooperative Extension
South Paris, ME
West Madison Ag. Research Station
Smith & Smith Farms
Kate Van Ummersen
Dept. of Horticulture