New Cut Flower Introductions

April 18, 2003 - 12:07

Take a look at the top picks.

Cut flower growers are always searching for the latest in
new cuts to jazz up their product line. To provide that information, the
Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers (ASCFG) conducts an annual National
Seed and Perennial Trial Program. Last year was a banner year for the ASCFG
National Cut Flower Seed Trials, with 76 cultivar submissions for the seed
trial, 18 for the perennial trial, 10 participating breeders and suppliers and
44 trialers returning evaluations from 23 states and Canada. Most of the
trialers are commercial cut flower growers, along with a few universities, seed
suppliers and others interested in supporting field cut production. We had a
number of great selections in the trials this year. The top performers in the
trials are entered in the ASCFG Cut Flower of the Year contest.

Annual Trial

Dianthus.
Just in case there are any cut flower growers who have not yet heard about
'Amazon Neon Duo' from PanAmerican Seed, let me be the first to tell you: This
cultivar has made one of the grandest entries into the cut flower market in
years. It is one of the few seed-propagated, sweet william-type dianthus to
produce a highly marketable flower the first year from seed. Add a strong,
thick stem and vivid pink and cherry colors, and we have a real winner. Amazon
Neon Duo also handles the heat of southern summers quite well, producing all
season long in Raleigh, N.C. Amazon Neon Duo received the highest scores in the
seed trial this year and will be available next year in two colors, Cherry and
Pink. Always wanting more, we hope other colors will be available in the
future.

Sunflowers font-style:normal'>. Several years ago, I wrote about all of the wonderful
sunflowers being produced by plant breeders and declared 1998 the year of the
sunflower. This year we had 18 sunflower cultivars in the trial from three
companies. Is it too soon to declare another "Year of the Sunflower"?
Certainly the many cultivars bred by Tom Heaton and introduced by SeedSense
have generated much discussion. The new colors and forms include 'Jade', the first
green sunflower (actually pale greenish white), an interesting pale
peach/orange sunflower called 'Apricot Twist' and a dark-center sunflower with
long twisted petals called 'Stella Gold'. While the novel colors of Jade and
Apricot Twist were welcome, both were too short and had too many branches for
some trialers. With these cultivars, try pinching a few seedlings when they
have 2-4 pairs of leaves to see if you can get fewer but longer side shoots.
Stella Gold was a non-branching type with excellent stem length, but the
twisted petals were too much for many customers. Certainly, all three cultivars
will find a niche in the market due to their novelty.

Several more mainstream SeedSense cultivars were among the
top performers in the trial including 'Chianti', a beautiful, single dark
Á bronze; 'Starburst Lemon Aura', a yellow double; and 'Terracotta', a
rich light bronze. All three are pollen-free, nonbranching types. Chianti was
particularly notable because several trialers thought it was better than the
other bronze-reds already on the market. Two traditional types --
dark-centered, single oranges and yellows on unbranched plans -- that performed
well were 'Summertime' and 'Sunny'. Benary and American Takii also included two
sunflowers in the trial, 'Florenza' (Benary), a striking bicolor, and 'Premier
Light Yellow' (Takii), a pale yellow. The latter was exceptionally early,
flowering 3-4 weeks after we put out transplants. While the pale yellow color
and relatively short height will limit sales, this cultivar may be useful for
starting the season off in a hurry.

Greens? In addition to the new green sunflower, a new green
zinnia 'Benary's Giant Lime' from Benary was introduced this year. The cultivar
is part of the popular Giant series but has a smaller flower and slightly
weaker plant than other cultivars in the series. However, most participants
reported that Giant Lime was a significant improvement over the cultivar
'Envy', which generally produced unattractive single flowers and was not
productive. Giant Lime was more productive and produced more doubles.

Another green flower in the trials, Amaranthus cruentus
'Tower Green', produced mixed results. For some growers, including us, only
short plants were produced, but for others, impressive 3- to 4-foot-long stems
were obtained. The difference may be due to daylength and starting time, as
many amaranthus species are short-day plants. Those trialers that had the best
results put out transplants in June when the days were long. We started our
transplants in March, which may have induced flowering too early, resulting in
stunted plants. Regardless, amaranthus is easy to grow and the striking flower
spikes always garner comments. Á

On a personal note, I was initially unimpressed by the green
flowers of Jade and Giant Lime; the individual flowers were attractive, but a
bunch of each was not particularly striking. My attitude changed when Frankie
Fanelli, one of our NC State graduate students, made a spectacular arrangement
with Giant Lime, Amazon Neon Duo and Scabiosa 'Qis Deep Red' (Kieft). The green
zinnias did a great job of setting off the other strongly colored flowers.
Subsequently, I have used Jade and Giant Lime in other arrangements with great
results. (Word of warning: I don't claim to be talented in this area.) The
green flowers are the perfect companion flower, mixing with any other flower.

Scabiosa font-style:normal'>. They have always been known for their beautiful colors,
and Qis Deep Red was no different, scoring well in the trial. The rich, dark red
or burgundy flowers are carried atop long, strong stems. As with other annual
scabiosas, it can take a while to harvest of bunch of these flowers.

Zinnia font-style:normal'>. It has been several years since we have had cultivars of
the popular zinnia submitted in the trial, so it was great to evaluate 'Sun
Cherry' and 'Sun Yellow' (Takii). Trialers noted that both had a high
proportion of large, heavily double flowers on productive plants. As with other
large flowered zinnia cultivars, powdery mildew was still a problem.

Lisianthus font-style:normal'>. A number of the 18 cultivars in the trial struck a cord
with the participants, including several unnamed experimental cultivars. The
richly colored 'Twinkle Deep Blue' from Goldsmith and the charming spray type
'Alice White' from American Takii performed well in the trials.

Perennial Trial

Helenium font-style:normal'>. 'Helena Gold' and 'Helena Red Shades' performed
exceptionally well in the first year, producing large numbers of stems
averaging 27 inches long. The durable plants survived the summer well and were
scored very high by the participants. Helena Gold produced sprays of bright
gold, and Helena Red Shades had bronze/yellow bicolored flowers. Trialers noted
that the number of flowers per spray varied, complicating harvest and bunching.

Eupatorium font-style:normal'>. In the second year, Eupatorium candidum continued to
perform well, producing Á stems up to 3 feet that were topped with
beautiful silvery pink flower clusters. Unlike other eupatoriums, E. candidum
stayed a manageable size in year two, yielding more than six stems per plant.
We noted a problem, however, with aster yellows disease in our plantings. The
postharvest life was phenomenal, however, with cut stems lasting 19 or more
days.

Physostegia font-style:normal'>. 'Summer Spires' was also impressive in the second year. It
produced large numbers of bright pink flowers on multibranched 28-inch stems.
Both plants were quite hardy, as 100 percent survived the winter for our trial
participants.

Cut Flowers of the Year

For tried and true field cuts, consider the ASCFG Cut
Flowers of the Year. Each year, the ASCFG membership selects one cultivar to
recognize as the "Fresh Cut Flower of the Year" and another as
"Dried Cut Flower of the Year." Plant materials are selected on the
basis of reliability, adaptability, overall quality and suitability as a cut
flower.

Fresh Cut Flower of the Year style='font-weight:normal;font-style:normal'>. Blue has always been an uncommon
and cool color in the cut flower industry, and ageratum 'Blue Horizon' delivers
it. The very uniform, 30-inch tall plants produce many long-lasting, 3-inch,
medium-blue flower Á

clusters on long, strong stems. This cultivar grows well in
any fertile, well-drained soil in full sun. For season-long production, put in
a new planting every 3-4 weeks, as the head size and stem diameter of older
plantings will decrease with plant age, especially in the South. Blue Horizon
can also be grown in the greenhouse; a layer of netting may be helpful.

Maryland grower Roxana Whitt says, "Blue Horizon
ageratum works well in bouquets for us and is superior to other ageratums we've
tried." Indiana cut flower grower Beverly Sharritt says, "We had an
increased demand for it from our florist customers this summer and will
increase production for 2003."

Dried Cut Flower of the Year style='font-weight:normal;font-style:normal'>. Woody cuts continue to grab the
attention of cut flower growers and cut flower buyers around the country.
Hydrangea paniculata produces strikingly large pyramidal clusters of white to
pale pink flowers that lend themselves quite well to preserving and drying. The
flowers can also be artificially colored or allowed to age to pink or green.
Valued for its vigor and wide range (Zones 3-8), H. paniculata is also quite
popular as a fresh cut. Many great cultivars of paniculata are available:
'Grandiflora' (PG or PeeGee hydrangea) and 'Praecox' can be used to start the
season in early to midsummer, and 'Tardiva' can finish it in early fall. Other
cultivars are available; try them to find your favorite.

"PG hydrangea pays my bills in October. My customers
start asking for it by early August, and by the time I finally have flowers
that are Á ready for drying, the anticipation has reached a fever
pitch," says Susan O'Connell of Fertile Crescent Farm, Hardwick, Vt.

Joanne Harrison of Harrison Flowers, Hood River, Ore.,
reports: "My customers buy it any way I offer it -- fresh, almost dry,
preserved (with supplemental color) or air-dried. I use it fresh in large
bouquets and arrangements and save the dried and preserved stems for use in
holiday wreaths and winter arrangements."

The author would like to thank all of the evaluators who
returned their trial reports and the seed and perennial suppliers for providing
great plant materials. Compliments to Chaz Gill (Kennebec Flower Farm and
Nursery), Betsy Hitt (Peregrine Farm), Vicki Stamback (Bear Creek Farm) and Bob
Wollam (Wollam Gardens), who all participated in both the seed and perennials
trials and returned evaluations on all of their trial plants. Also to Betty
Coleman for laboriously typing in everyone's comments, Ingram McCall for data
analysis and for taking care of the NC State portion of the trials and Frankie
Fanelli, Diane Mays, Lane Greer and Sarah Lane for assisting with the NCSU
trials. Thanks to everyone for making this important service for cut flower
growers possible.

About The Author

John Dole is a professor in the Department of Horticultural Science at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C. He may be reached by phone at (919) 515-3537 or E-mail at john_dole@ncsu.edu.

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