2003 Bedding Plant Trials

December 12, 2003 - 08:19

Four universities put varieties to the test to see which are best-suited for garden performance.

Last year we talked about the effects of the drought to the trials,
but this year that isn't as big an issue. While some universities recorded high
rainfall, others reported high temperatures and other factors. Here, in GPN's
third annual trial report, are the best trial performers for 2003.

Colorado State University

The Colorado State University trials were held at High
School Park and W.D. Holley Plant Environmental Research Center, both on the
campus at Fort Collins, Colo. May and June temperatures were cooler, and there
was adequate rainfall. Late June, July and August were quite warm with many
days in the high 90s with little or no rainfall. In early September, both sites
received considerable rainfall, amounting to close to 3 inches. No hail or
major storms were recorded in 2003. A new shade structure was built in winter
and early spring of 2003 with 5,000 sq.ft. of bed area.

'Tidal Wave Silver' petunia (Pan American Seed)

Good Qualities: White flowers with shades of dark lavender
were profuse and very showy. Plants measured 26 inches high and 42 inches wide by

Problems: It can begin to grow over neighboring plants if
not given a large amount of space and may need to be restrained. Due to its
exceptional vigor, it had a slightly non-uniform growth habit compared to some
of the other spreading petunias.

Additional Comments: This plant lived up to its name with a
very large mounding growth habit and exceptional vigor.

'Intensia Lavender Glow' phlox (Proven Winners)

Good Qualities: Flowers remained good looking even after a
freeze that was hard enough to ruin all of the geraniums. Lavender Glow
measured 15 inches high and 28 inches wide by mid-September.

Problems: The growth habit began to slightly open up in the
middle toward the end of the summer.

Additional Comments: The entire series produced plants that
were one large mound of flowers with exceptional uniformity.

'Fresh Look Red' celosia (Benary)

Good Qualities: Uniform plants produced flowers that held a
strong deep red color from early summer through mid-September, while other
varieties faded noticeably. Plants measured 181/2 inches high and 161/2 inches
wide by mid-September.

Problems: This plant had a small problem with lodging toward
the end of the season but it was not any worse than any of the other celosia in
the trial.

Additional Comments: Plants were well branched and did not
require special care.

'Vanilla Butterfly' argyranthemum (Proven Winners)

Good Qualities: Cream-colored flowers with yellow around the
eye covered the entire plant. Fine-textured foliage was attractive by itself,
and growth habit of the plant is very uniform. Plants measured 191/2 inches
high and 191/2 inches wide by mid-September.

Problems: Although the initial flush of color is brilliant
and long lasting, the flowers eventually fade and need to be removed which can
be labor intensive. They did produce a good amount of flowers again later in
the season.

'Toto Gold' rudbeckia (Benary)

Good Qualities: A favorite due to the unusually prolific
yellow flowers that lasted late into the season. Plants were very uniform and dwarf
-- near perfect in appearance and measured just over 15 inches high and 151/2
inches wide by mid-September.

Problems: This plant had no significant problems with
disease or insects.

Additional Comments: This would be an excellent choice for a
short plant near the front of a border.

'Rocky Mountain Dark Red' geranium (Fischer USA)

Good Qualities: Plants were dark green with an excellent
vigorous and uniform growth habit. Plants measured almost 20 inches high and
231/2 inches wide by mid-September.

Problems: Flower color faded slightly as the flowers matured
late in the season. Otherwise there were no significant problems.

Additional Comments: Large, red blooms were an exceptionally
rich color that were very showy.

'Dreamland Coral' zinnia (American Takii)

Good Qualities: The uniform, mounded plant of coral-colored
flowers was superior early in the summer and remained resistant to powdery
mildew through mid-September. Flowers were very prolific. Plants measured 231/2
inches high and 21 inches wide by mid-September.

Problems: Flower color faded slightly as the flowers
matured, but it made a good contrast with the newer flowers. Á

North Carolina State University

The NC State University trials are located at the JC Raulston
Arboretum under the auspices of the Department of Horticultural Science in
Raleigh, N.C. The summer trials are generally transplanted outdoors in
mid-April and evaluated on a weekly basis through the month of September. All
of our trial beds are amended with organic matter and fully mulched with
partially decomposed leaf matter after planting. The summer of 2003 was one of
the wettest on record, generally cooler than normal and more overcast.

'Prairie Sun' rudbeckia (Benary)

Good Qualities: Strong stems, large flowers and excellent
flower number per plant. Flower color presents a greenish center and golden
rays that fade to a pale yellow.

Problems: As is the case with most cultivars of this
species, this cultivar is susceptible to powdery mildew later in the season.

Additional Comments: Unique flower color presents
opportunities for landscape and cut flower designers. As with most Rudbeckia
hirta cultivars, sensitivity to long days precludes early season flowering, but
the short delay is not problematic, given the profusion of flowers that
eventually appears.

'Luna Red' hibiscus (PanAmerican Seed)

Good Qualities: Large flowers, strong growth habit, sturdy
stems and good flower visibility, this plant needs no pinching to establish a
well-branched garden specimen; a very uniform and dwarf habit increases its
landscape use versatility.

Problems: Japanese beetles can make quick work of the
foliage, causing unsightly "skeletonizing" in only a few days if left

Additional Comments: This cultivar is a fraction of the much
taller height found in the wild. Reaching an order of about 2 feet, Luna Red
has opened the door for incorporating this extremely showy species into a
larger variety of landscape situations, including containers.

'Explosive Ember' ornamental pepper (S&G Flowers)

Good Qualities: Fruits are bluntly tapered and exceptionally
colorful across the expected spectrum of yellow, orange and finally purple.
Long-lasting fruits are in full view against dark purple foliage that
intensifies as the nights cool down towards fall. Plants are compact and dense.

Additional Comments: Flowering is early in the season,
leading to ornamental fruit production quickly in the season. This cultivar is
a welcome addition to the standard ornamental pepper palette.

'Chilly Chili' ornamental pepper (PanAmerican Seed)

Good Qualities: Terrific long and tapered fruits in the
yellow, orange and red range positioned against solid green foliage. Fruits
have a mild taste, more like bell rather than hot pepper.

Additional Comments: Combines perfectly with other pepper
cultivars; short stature encourages use along garden edges and beneath short
commercial signs and banners.

Cissus discolor (Logee's Greenhouses)

Good Qualities: This tender perennial, typically used as a
houseplant or conservatory plant, adapted beautifully to the landscape. When
planted in protected areas rarely drenched by full sun, C. discolor weaved its
way in a controlled and deliberate way throughout a vine support. Large leaves,
eye-catching and distinctive foliage variegation, rich red stems and petioles,
and good self-branching.

Problems: Very few; waits until temperatures consistently
heat up to start its reliable vining growth. Availability may be limited until
recognition and appreciation increases.

'Sweet Caroline Bronze' ipomoea (Bodger Botanicals)

Good Qualities: Its unique foliage color is one of its
strongest traits, and it remains a solid "ground cover" tender
perennial. The coppery bronze display is a refreshing, novel and welcome
interruption to the familiar, historical palette for this species.

Problems: Deer love this plant, and growth starts in earnest
only when temperatures remain consistently warm.

Additional Comments: Compared to its peer cultivars, growth
is more controlled and tuber size is smaller.

'Fairy Tales Cinderella' portulaca (Ball FloraPlant)

Good Qualities: Flower color is hot, loud and striking;
ground cover spread is ideal, and flower form is uniquely different from the
typical moss roses of memory.

Problems: Flowers won't remain open all day, nor will they
look their best during prolonged periods of clouds or rain, but these were not
considered strong detractors from overall performance potential.

Additional Comments: Performed superbly in the drought of
2002 and surfaced as a top entry again in a wet 2003. Radiates brilliant color
in the heat of summer; flowering is profuse and saturated, especially when the
weather is hot and sunny. Equally suitable for container and landscape use.

Penn State University

This summer was unusually cool and wet at Penn State
University's annual vegetative flower trial located at the Southeast
Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Landisville, Pa. We had 718
vegetative entries, of which 36 percent were new introductions. Plants were
received as rooted cuttings in March and early April grown in 4-inch pots in
Scott's coir growing media and then transplanted outdoors into 12-inch
containers using the same medium on May 22 and 23. Cultivars were evaluated
four times during the growing season for flower production, foliage display,
uniformity of growth, pest tolerance, plant size and overall garden

'Acapulco Orange' agastache (Bodger Botanicals)

Good Qualities: Its attractive display of light orange
flower spikes showed good wind and rain tolerance and kept flowering all
summer, actually getting better as the season progressed.

Additional Comments: Its pleasing minty fragrance adds to
the garden display. Plants are easy to grow in the greenhouse.

'Golden Jubilee' agastache (Park Seed Company)

Good Qualities: Flowers were produced continuously all
summer and remained upright and flowering even after heavy rains.

Additional Comments: It's a 2003 All-America Selections

AngelMist angelonia (Ball FloraPlant)

Good Qualities: 'AngelMist Basket Purple' has a compact,
somewhat weeping habit that makes it ideal for hanging baskets. 'AngelMist
Light Pink', a slightly larger variety and more upright growing.

Additional Comments: AngelMist Basket Purple took top honors
rating "Best of Trial."

'Cindy Fringed' Hiemalis Begonia (Dummen USA)

Good Qualities: It produces many eye-catching flowers with
fringed petals that are held nicely above the foliage.

Problems: In full sun petals tended to brown prematurely. It
is a smaller cultivar than most and prefers partial shade to prevent petal

Additional Comments: We liked it in the greenhouse and found
it did well outdoors in moderate shade.

'Sunsatia Coconut' nemesia (Proven Winners)

Good Qualities: Produced a mass of cream-colored flowers
with a prominent yellow center. Tolerated 40-mph winds and hard rains without
becoming windblown or separating into segments. It kept flowering without a
lull through August.

Problems: It did develop root rot symptoms in late summer,
indicating that it would benefit from an application of preventive fungicide.

'Aromatica True Blue' nemesia (Ball FloraPlant)

Good Qualities: It has good flower production, dark green
foliage on a compact plant with an upright habit. We like the crisp blue flower
color and compact habit.

Problems: It can suffer segmentation under strong winds.

'Abunda Giant White' bacopa (Ball FloraPlant)

Good Qualities: Produced the largest flowers of any in our
trial, a trailing habit and a consistent flower display all summer.

Problems: It started to flower a little later than others in
the trial it continued to flower all summer even when the other varieties
pooped out.

Additional Comments: 'Abunda Blue' showed just as good.

'Caliente Coral' geranium (Goldsmith Plants)

Good Qualities: This ivy-zonal cross had a delightful
display even during wet weather and appears to be tolerant of Botrytis and leaf
blight, has a large spreading habit.

Additional Comments: Produces a multitude of attractive
single flowers.

'Intensia Lavender Glow' phlox (Proven Winners)

Good Qualities: Be prepared for its vigorous outdoor growth
as it can get large, in our container trial it grew 30 x 36 inches, and its
mounded form was covered with showy lavender flowers all summer.

Problems: This phlox was not very showy in the greenhouse,
but once outdoors, it grew into one of the most spectacular plants in the

Additional Comments: Rated "One of the Best" in
this trial. Two other introductions, 'Intensia Neon Pink' and 'Intensia Lilac
Rose' and are also showy.

Texas A&M University

The trials are located at the Texas A&M University
Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Overton, Texas. More than 400
entries were grown from either seed or rooted cuttings and planted in replicated
plots in late April and May. The field trial season started out dry during
April and early May. Weather was then seasonably cool and moist with some heavy
rains in June. July brought good rainfall, but August was typically hot and
humid with little rain. Fall arrived early this year, with cool, moist
conditions returning by late September. Overall, the season was moderate, but
the steamy days of August never fail to separate the exceptional entries from
the merely acceptable. Many varieties continued to flower well through the
summer, though many more looked good again in the fall as the weather cooled.

'Stara Pink' and White begonia (Floranova)

Good Qualities: They were still standing by the end of
summer in full sun beds, while others around them had melted into the ground.
Other good qualities include constant flowering and vigorous growth in full

Problems: Flowers are somewhat small. Plants get large and
don't flower as well in shade.

Additional Comments: Hard to finish in packs, Stara would be
good in larger containers.

Amora coleus (Proven Winners)

Good Qualities: Strong performance in shade and sun without

Problems: Occasionally sports to a less desirable type.

Additional Comments: Unusual color opens up many
possibilities for color combinations.

'Super Sonic Pastel Pink' New Guinea impatien (Fischer

Good Qualities: Excellent shade performance with good
flowering all summer. Also, maintains flower size despite the heat of summer.

Problems: Slight cycling of bloom.

Additional Comments: Super Sonic Pastel Pink makes a large
plant with a flower color that is very cool and refreshing.

'Galaxy Polaris' penta (D.S. Cole Growers)

Good Qualities: These pentas have full, bushy growth with
good flowering and heat tolerant. Very clear white flower color.

Problems: Slight cycling of bloom.

Additional Comments: Plants fill out quickly in early

'Wave Pink Improved' petunia (PanAmerican Seed)

Good Qualities: Good pink color and nice low-growing growth
habit, which reduces the need for shearing. Good flowering all summer.

Problems: Some cycling of bloom. Some loss of foliage in
late summer.

Additional Comments: Wave Pink offers greatly improved
genetics over previous offerings.

Intensia phlox (Proven Winners)

Good Qualities: Intensia provided outstanding flower
production all summer long with no cycling of bloom. Growth was compact and
colors did not fade in the heat.

Problems: Plants opened in the center somewhat by late

Additional Comments: I was very impressed with the all-summer
performance. Seed strains usually quit flowering by early summer.

About The Author

Jim Klett is professor and extension landscape horticulturist at Colorado State University. Robert Lyons is professor and director in the Department of Horticultural Science at North Carolina State University. Alan Michael is trial director and extension educator at Penn State University. Brent Pemberton is professor at the Texas A&M University Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

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