Fall Crops: Making A Brighter Season

May 8, 2003 - 10:50

Spring is not the only season with color and variety; new fall crops hit the spot for the cooler season.

Fall is the time when the weather turns cooler, the leaves
start to fall from the trees and all of the summer flowers begin to die. There
goes the color until next year. Right? Wrong. In the past decade, fall has
become a time when growers have been adding new plants and a lot of color with
a fall feeling.

Growers are producing pansies, snapdragons, perennials,
cyclamen, dianthus and more -- not only in the spring, but in the fall as well.
In the past, selection was a very small part of the fall crop; however, as time
goes by, trends are changing and people are becoming more interested in color
and variety and focusing less on tradition.

Perennials

Perennials are typically known as a spring crop because many
need the fall and winter for vernalization to induce flowering. However, a
number of growers have decided that perennials can work in the fall as well as
the spring. "We sell perennials year-round in jumbo packs for consumers to
plant in their garden for the following spring -- delphiniums, campanulas. . .
we have about 20 varieties of campanulas and 10 different digitalis. We really
have a wide selection and a different game than most," said Dianna Davis
of Do Rights Plant Growers, Santa Paula, Calif. Due to the climate in
California, it is easier to grow perennials year-round; however the different
climates throughout the country do not allow for year-round perennials. So having
some perennial varieties in the fall lets people know that they are not just a
warm-weather plant -- they can work elsewhere as well.

Rick Brown, Riverview Flower Farm, Riverview, Fla., has a
program called Florida Friendly Plant that includes a number of perennials,
"We have tropical perennials that we have been doing for a long time, and
there is quite a demand, even through the winter, because we have a lot of
frost-free zones down here." According to Brown, many stores in Florida
that haven't seen the plants in the program are looking forward to getting the
fall-blooming natives and tropical perennials.

Welby Gardens in Welby, Colo., uses a fair amount of
perennials in its fall crop assortment. Usually, the plants are late-spring and
summer bloomers that are carried over to the next season. While Clackamas
Greenhouses Inc. in Aurora, Ore., offers fall-blooming perennials, this is also
mostly carry over from late-blooming spring/summer material.

Springing into Fall

With the cooler weather, growers have always assumed that
certain plants could not be produced; however, they are now finding out that
this may not be the case.

One trend popping up around the country is the increase of
snapdragons and dianthus. The popularity of dianthus has been rising, and some
breeding companies are following that wave. Selecta First Class has some fall
colors in its Super Trouper series, as does Twyford in its Garden Spice series.

Bob Barnitz from Bob's Market & Greenhouses, Mason, W.V.,
has noticed a large increase of snapdragons and dianthus in Southern states for
the fall. "We grow snapdragons and dianthus in the fall to satisfy
customers in South Carolina and Georgia," said Barnitz. And Oliver
Washington from Shore Acres Plant Farm, Theodore, Ala., says that one of his
best fall sellers is snapdragons.

Snapdragons are available in a variety of fall colors from
most seed companies. Some favorites are the 'Crown Terracotta Mix' from S&G
Flowers and 'Liberty Classic Bronze' and Yellow from Goldsmith Seeds.

Another typical spring crop  being talked about in the fall is bulb crops. "We do a
whole makeup of different bulbs -- anemone, crocus, freesia, hyacinth, iris,
narcissus, scylla and tulips," said Richard Wilson of Colorama Wholesale
Nursery, Azusa, Calif. "And if any of these bulbs require chilling, like
the tulips, we put them in a big cooling facility so we can cool inside. We're
basically guaranteeing to the consumer that we're doing all the work for them,
and if they plant they'll get a bloom."

Wilson explains that you can sprout a tulip with no
problems, but if you don't give it the proper cold treatment, the blooms will
not come up. The demand for fall bulbs has become so large that a number of
growers are looking to join the trend. The difference between fall bulbs and
this program is that they are being grown earlier, unlike other bulbs that are
grown for the fall. Wilson's bulb crop is grown in different containers
including a 4-inch and 1-gal. program that includes a 12-inch terracotta
plastic combination pot with specific crops such as a tulip a with a companion
color cover crop.

Containers

Mixed containers for the spring market have been growing in
popularity for the past few years, and it seems that popularity has overflowed
into the fall. Do Rights produces a lot of penstemon and rubrum with black
millet in combination planters for the fall look. They, along with other
growers, sell the Fall Magic program from Proven Winners and use it in their
combinations. There are a number of recommended combinations in the program
that growers find easy to work with.

Larry Boven from Boven's Quality Plants, Kalamazoo, Mich.,
produces 10-inch patio planters with argyranthemum, rudebeckia and zinnias;
10-inch combo planters with a Fall Magic combination; 12-inch oval planters
with rudebeckia and zinnias; and a 10-inch combo of Jack Frost color bowls.

"Over the past five years, we began to do ovals and
bowls, and first it was just with pansies, violas and straight colors,"
explains Boven. "Then we started doing combinations in bowls, ovals and
planters. I would say that my fall program has transitioned over the last five
years from flats of pansies to probably less than 20 percent of the products we
grow for the fall being flats and 80 percent in some other type of a container,
all the way from a 6-inch up to a 12-inch patio planter." For Boven's, the
combinations are  the most in
demand, they grow to order, and at the end of the season, Boven says the demand
is so high, they seldom have enough.

Cyclamen

Although some people think cyclamen is the replacement for
poinsettias, it seems that it may become a hot item in the fall as well. Dick
Bostdorff from Bostdorff Greenhouse Acres Ltd., in Bowling Green, Ohio, sells
some cyclamen in the fall because, according to him, "That little niche
seems to be growing fairly nicely." Though it may sound strange, more
growers are seeing cyclamen slowly moving from winter to fall without a hitch.
Cyclamen are typically red or pink, but Morel, a cyclamen breeder from France,
has a number of varieties in pastel pinks, purples and deep maroons, as does
Goldsmith Seed.

"Cyclamen can take down to 20° F, but any colder
than that, and they sometimes need to be covered, but it's not usually more
than one or two nights in the winter. So we are looking at the areas around
U.S. Highways 10 and 20 and down into places like Dallas, where it is more
marginal but can survive the winter with some protection," says Gerace.

Welby Gardens has a year-round program on cyclamen that do
well in the fall every year. According to Gerace, "We are constantly
looking for new items that we can flower in the fall. Normally, traditional
items like it cool and have enough durability to flower in the short days and
can take frost. It's a pretty narrow regiment." And they found that in
cyclamen. "We have a great climate; it cools off about mid-August, and
even in the summer, we are able to run houses quite cool." Gerace thinks
growing cyclamen is an expensive start, but if the skill can be mastered, you
have certain market advantages without making it a commodity.

Pansies

Pansies have been around for a long time, but according to
growers, they are the hottest things out there. Every year, growers try to find
ways to add a little more variety to the mix of pansies that the customer will
buy. The trend has been typical fall colors of yellow, orange and purple, as
well as the new black colors. Growers produce fewer pastels in the fall because
it is a different time of year; with Halloween and Thanksgiving, people want to
decorate for the season.

According to Joe Wojciechowski from Wojo Greenhouse,
Ortonville, Mich., "Orange sells better in the fall; we are selling more
of the 'Trick or Treat Mixture' (PanAmerican Seed) and Halloween varieties in
October than we used to." Growers are producing a number of fall mixes of
pansies that include varieties such as a Majestic Giants yellow and purple mix
(Sakata), the 'Delta Monet Mix' (S&G Flowers), 'Crown Mixed' (Sakata) and
the 'Atlas Jack-O-Lantern Mix' (Bodger Seed).

"Pansies are probably the number-one item for fall. We
start selling fairly early in our climate because we cool off about mid-August
so that market progresses," says Gerace. A number of growers have said
that their main and most profitable fall crop is pansies, and many of them are
hoping the trend will be around for a while.

Fall crops are more than just plants that can do well in the
cooler temperatures; they are about color and variety, and that is what people
will be looking for this fall. Spring is not the only time of year to see
color. In the past, fall had just been yellow and orange mums, but recent
additions have reinvented the fall market with a blend of old and new to make
fall a bright season.

About The Author

Catherine Evans is associate editor of GPN. She can be reached by phone at (847) 391-1050 or by E-mail at cevans@sgcmail.com.

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