2011 Spring Trials: Mixing It Up

September 21, 2011 - 09:49

As mixed combos continue to grow in popularity, breeders are adding new mixes to their collections. Find out which mixes stood out in trials.

Mixed containers and baskets have been a staple component of color programs for years. The industry has come a long way since basic color bowls built on seeded bedding plant varieties. The boom in vegetative annual breeding has helped the industry upgrade their mixed containers and add unique new plant varieties. Vegetative varieties not only added a new range of genera to work with but also improved performance and uniformity in containers. Growers now were able to ship beautifully designed mixed containers to retail, giving their customers months of enjoyment with little to no maintenance. These vegetative annuals gave rise to such bread and butter genera such as calibrachoa and bacopa. Many horticultural companies and brands were also built on the proven performance of this new class of color.

Mixed containers are only limited to the imagination; growers can be as basic or sophisticated as they like. For large growers and small growers alike, efficiency is key. Replicating a tried and true recipe and delivering that recipe with the same quality each week in spring is a must for any business. Moving from seed-based containers to vegetative containers had its benefits; however, it also created some new challenges.

Any grower or propagator that has relied on unrooted cuttings for their program knows the challenges of not being able to get a variety when you need it. Unrooted cutting companies have come a long way and are now very sophisticated in projecting their availabilities; however there is always the case when variety Z out of your X, Y, Z mix is not available. One variety missing can throw your whole plan off and you need to go back to the drawing board and evaluate subs or entirely new recipes.

Breeders rose to this challenge and started to group their best breeding so it nicely matched in combinations. The first grower to commercialize this concept was Westflowers of Germany, offering their calibrachoa Celebration line in three nicely matched recipes: Karneval, Orient and Capri mixes. These combinations of 100 percent calibrachoa worked nicely in large and small containers alike. Other breeders started following suit, and soon after a number of commercial brands were established with catchy names like Confetti, Trixi and Kwik Kombos. Breeders started combining multiple genera in combinations and packaging the unrooted cuttings in way easy for the end receiver to receive and stick into plug trays. This organization and packaging helped to greatly reduce the frustrations of missing components when building one’s own combinations. Dümmen took this concept one step further and was able to secure a utility patent on sticking three varieties in a single cell.

With a range of new multi-cutting combinations being marketed by breeding companies, and the debate around patents and other logistical issues with this new product form, Pacific Plug & Liner thought it to be an ideal time to compare these combos and see how they stack up performance wise. At the 2011 California Spring Trials, we grew out close to 100 recipes to see how they performed.

With this trial we wanted it to be available to both rooted and unrooted companies. Many rooted linerpropagators have added their own twist and have designed their own combinations grouping some of the best genetics from different breeders. Pacific Plug & Liner received unrooted cuttings week 50 and rooted liners week 3; factoring a crop time of 10 weeks for a 12-inch container. Combinations were grown in 12-inch containers under glass with night temperatures set at 52° F. All combos were treated the same, receiving one application of Bonzi (paclobutrazol) at 2 ppm as a drench; as well as one shear to the edge of the pot.

Breeders Compared

Ball FloraPlant: Mix Masters
Danziger: Mixis
Four Star Greenhouse: StreamLiner
Mast Young Plants: Designer Liner
Oro Farms: Smoothies
Pleasant View Gardens: Multi-Liner
Selecta First Class: Trixi
Syngenta Flowers: KwikKombos

Overall Impressions

Overall the majority of the combinations performed well and had a nice balance of color across the varieties in the combos. Occasionally two or three varieties would dominate the mix and one variety would get lost or never grow large enough to compete with the more vigorous components. We did see some significant variation in vigor within series of mixes. One clear opportunity for breeders is to divide their combos in two categories of less and more vigorous habits. This would allow growers to pair the appropriate combo to the desired container. We also observed that single-species mixes have the best overall performance and timing. Mixes of 100 percent calibrachoa, petunia and verbena, regardless of the breeder generally looked good in the trial. Some of our favorite single-species mixes were:

Mix Masters Tropical Punch (calibrachoa)
KwikKombos Callie Citrus Fire (calibrachoa)
KwikKombos Saguna Moody Blue (petunia)
Designer Liner American Pie (calibrachoa)
Mixis Azura (bacopa)
Mixis Tunder (verbena)
Blossom Blends Paradise (calibrachoa)

Multi-species mixes also showed well but seemed to either work really well or not at all. Timing is critical with multi-species mixes, and breeders still need to improve on pairing their genetics better with comparable vigor and flower timing. Some newcomers to the group like Ball’s Mix Masters capitalized on their black petunia, and it really stood out as a favorite combo component in the trial. These are some of our favorite combos with multiple genera being used:

KwikKombos Fire & Ice (bidens, petunia, lobelia)
KwikKombos Shady Lady (impatiens, diascia, lobelia)
Mix Masters Bubble Bath (double impatiens, euphorbia)
Mix Masters Evening Glow (petunia, euphorbia)
Mix Masters Orange Blush (coleus, euphorbia, calibrachoa)

Opportunities Going Forward

Overall breeders have done the industry a great service by putting the work of pairing good genetics back on themselves and combining that with an effective supply chain. There is still opportunity for breeders to improve combinations and differentiate combinations that are more and less vigorous.

Another critical area that breeders and unrooted companies need to focus on just as importantly as their genetics is the packing and organization of cuttings for these combos. The receiving and sticking of these products must be simple and easy to execute for greenhouse staff. The industry has a new tool in its belt with the invention of multi-cutting liners; it will be interesting to see how these combinations become more sophisticated, better matched and how growers get creative in response to Dümmen’s utility patent. We look forward to a follow up comparison trials of multi-cutting liners in years to come.

About The Author

Ryan Hall is new product development and marketing manager for Pacific Plug & Liner. He can be reached at ryanh@ppandl.net or 831.722.5396.

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