New Cut Flower Selections: Powerhouse Production

August 24, 2011 - 10:38

Check out these new cut flowers that will keep your buckets and pockets full.

The cut flower industry needs to regularly introduce new cut flower species to keep and increase consumer interest. With all the new introductions growers have a difficult time deciding which ones to grow. That’s where we come in; the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers Trials tests the latest in cut flower introductions each year. For the seed trials, we had 34 cultivars from nine companies. All cultivars were grown and evaluated at North Carolina State University (NC State), Raleigh, N.C., Zone 7. In addition, more than 40 trialers from around the United States and Canada tested the cultivars and provided evaluations at the end of the year to NC State. Below are the compiled results for 2009’s best all-around and most productive cut seed, perennial and woody species and cultivars from NC State and trialers that are sure to keep you busy all season long! Full details, including comments made by trialers, can be found in The Cut Flower Quarterly.

Seed Trials

Gomphrena. This prolific, durable flower is grown by many as a great filler flower for bouquets, both fresh and dried, but little discussed by growers. That has changed this year with the introduction of ‘Audray Pink’ and ‘Audray Purple Red’ (Takii). Trialers reported harvesting 15 stems from each plant and the stems averaged 17 inches long — quite good for gomphrena. At least one trialer reported getting 26-inch stems. Even the postharvest life appears good with an average vase life over nine days. These gomphrenas scored well enough in the trials that both were nominated for ASCFG Cut Flower of the Year based on market appreciation (average of wholesale, florist, and consumer), likelihood for future production, and ease of cultivation. Note that Takii has changed the name of gomphrena ‘Bicolor Rose’ to ‘Audray Bicolor Rose’. This cultivar did quite well when it was tested in the ASCFG Trials back in 1995.

Zinnia. We have had a number of zinnia cultivars in the trials over the years, but zinnia ‘Giant Wine’ (Benary) stands out as one of the best. People loved the color, productivity (over 12 stems per plant) and long stems, averaging 20 inches, but some reaching 30 inches. We noticed, as did a couple of our fellow trialers, that the burgundy color changes to purple a few days after harvest. The color is still nice, but not as rich as the original burgundy color. ‘Giant Wine’ was also nominated for the ASCFG as Cut Flower of the Year. The other zinnia in the trials, ‘Red Beauty’ (Genesis), also performed quite well. A number of trialers loved its bright red color; however, at least one person thought it was too bright — not a bad problem to have! Plants produced an average of 12 stems each and stem length averaged 20 inches.

Snapdragon. Red was the snapdragon color this year: ‘Opus III/IV Bright Red’ (Goldsmith), ‘Opus III/IV Red’ (Goldsmith) and ‘Potomac Crimson’ (Ball). While stem lengths were a bit longer for Opus cultivars, the number of stems harvested was slightly more for ‘Potomac’. However, considering the informal nature of this trial, all three cultivars performed rather similar with stem lengths averaging 22 to 26 inches. ‘Opus Red’ was the overall favorite, scoring higher than the other two cultivars. Here at NCSU we continue to be impressed with the summer performance of snaps in our heat. They slow down during the middle of summer, but still continue to produce stems suitable for small bouquets and then come back strong in the fall.

Sunflower. It would not be an ASCFG cut flower trial without sunflowers and we had three in the trials from Genesis: ‘Tapuz’, ‘Zahav’ and ‘Zohar’. Unfortunately, the sunflower market is quite competitive (translation: growers are a bit jaded when it comes to new sunflowers) and it is difficult for a new cultivar to get noticed, especially if it is a classic orange-petaled/brown-centered cultivar. All three of the cultivars from Genesis performed quite well, producing stems of at least 30 inches. Chris Wien continued his long running work at Cornell on photoperiod of sunflowers and noted that all three cultivars were sensitive to short days and would flower much earlier if planted in greenhouses or high tunnels early in the spring or late in the fall.

Perennial and Woody Trials

Echinacea. The new echinacea cultivars keep coming and each one seems bolder, brighter or more unusual than the last one. Echinacea ‘Tiki Torch’ and ‘Tomato Soup’ (Terra Nova) are knock-your-socks-off orange — a color unheard of in coneflowers not that long ago. Both cultivars were in the trials for the first year, but still produced several harvestable flowers per plant, which ranged in length from 10 to 19 inches. While the plants at NCSU flowered, other trialers did not have flowers in the first year. Three other cultivars were also in the trials: ‘Mac n’ Cheese’, ‘Merlot’ and ‘Purity’ (Terra Nova) all did very well and were quite prolific.

In last year’s planting, we had two coneflower cultivars, ‘Double Decker’ and ‘Summer Sky’ (Grow ‘N’ Sell), in the trials. Both produced many more flowers and longer stems in the second year. ‘Big Sky’, a softer orange than ‘Tiki Torch’, averaged 12.5 stems per plant with stem lengths up to 2 feet. ‘Double Decker’ is a very different appearing cultivar that produces petals from the top of the cone as well as around the base. The suppliers tell us that the unusual flowers do not start to appear until the plants are well established. Unfortunately, we did not get very many of the unusual flowers and many other trialers did not either. The plants are certainly very hardy and durable as none of the trialers lost any plants from last year. Echinacea ‘Big Sky Summer Sky’, ‘Tiki Torch’ and ‘Tomato Soup’ were nominated as ASCFG Cut Flowers of the Year.

Unfortunately, growers in the center of the United States will have a difficult time growing coneflowers for more than a year or two due to aster yellows phytoplasm (AYP). As Laurie Hodges, University of Nebraska, pointed out, this leafhopper-transmitted disease is especially prevalent in the central states. It can kill plants quickly if they are infected when young; however, the disease tends to be more common later in the season, when plants tend to show stunted stems and abnormal greenish flowers. There is no cure and the best control is to rogue out infected plants as soon as you see them to prevent spread of the disease.

Leucanthemum. Another second year perennial, leucanthemum ‘Summer Snowball’ (Grow ‘N’ Sell), continued to impress the trailers and earned it a Cut Flower of the Year nomination. Flowering was prolific, with an average of 29.5 stems per plant; at NCSU we harvested 56 stems per plant. These plants are hardy as none were lost over the winter and all flowered this year. Stem length averaged 19.7 inches. The flowers are an unassuming double white, but they make great bright fillers and compliment strong colors.

Baptisia. ‘Purple Smoke’ (Grow ‘N’ Sell) stood out for us because of its versatility and durability. At NCSU, our plants grew quite strong this year and we harvested 18 flowering stems per plant, which averaged 21 inches long. After harvest very little foliage was left, but the plants rebounded and produced a flush of stems. We did not harvest the stems for foliage, but others have been cutting it as a filler foliage. If not harvesting the flowers (or you couldn’t harvest the flowers in time!), trialers are also using the pods. What more could you ask for — cut flowers, foliage and pods on a hardy durable plant. If ‘Purple Smoke’ is like other baptisias, we expect the plants will be long lived. The genus baptisia has a number of species in a broad range of colors: purple, white, cream and yellow. I expect we will see many hybrids in a few years, spanning the color range, just as we are seeing now with echinacea. One problem with the flowers, however, is that they tend to shatter easily. We have not yet tested the anti-ethylene agents, Ethylbloc and AVB, but they may prevent that problem.

Callicarpa. Callicarpa americana ‘Welsh’s Pink’ was productive in its first year and produced even more stems in the second year. The pink color of the berries was quite attractive, but the berries tended to fade fast in the field. You may have to cut early before the berries are all well colored and tip the stems to remove the green berries at the tips.

Thank you to all of the evaluators who returned their trial reports; the seed companies for providing such great cultivars; and the perennial and woody plant producers for providing the plant materials; and the growers for producing the plants, collecting data and submitting trial reports. We would also like to thank Emma Locke, Erin Moody, Erin Regan, Qianni Dong, Michelle McElhannon, Diane Mays, Brad Holland and Tim Ketchie for assisting with the NCSU trials.

Cut Flower Postharvest: Secrets for Success

By Alicain Carlson, John Dole and Ingram McCall

Successful cut flower production doesn’t end in the field. Growers must also know how to treat the harvested flowers to maximize vase life for the consumer. Each year North Carolina State University conducts postharvest trials on the most promising species/cultivars from the ASCFG seed, perennial and woody trials. This year we screened 17 new entries. Below are our secrets for your success!

What We Did

Field-grown flowers were harvested at the optimum stage of flower development and immediately placed into tap water. Subsequently, stems were sorted and placed in the following treatments:

  • Hydrator only (Floralife Hydraflor 100)
  • Holding preservative only (Floralife Professional)
  • Hydrator followed by holding preservative
  • De-ionized water only (control)

Our testing methods tend to produce the maximum vase life, which tells you the potential vase life of each species. We cut and process the stems rapidly, put one stem per jar, and use a postharvest temperature that is cooler than a typical home in the summer time (and warmer in the winter, but the field trials obviously take place in the summer). These procedures were set up to provide a consistent environment so that anyone else should be able to repeat our work and get the same results. All these factors typically add about one to three days to the vase life of some species compared to what a grower would usually get.

What We Found

Basil. ‘Cardinal’ was one of our favorites. We got two cuts from it and probably could have gotten more. It tolerated our heavy pruning well and had even better stem length and quality the second time around. Stems were sturdy and packed with broad leaves. It was also easy to handle, unlike some of the more branchy basils. Each stem is substantial and would serve as a great filler in bouquets, not to mention the delightful classic basil scent. The cardinal-red inflorescence is very attractive as well. ‘Cardinal’ had an average vase life of 14 days when pretreated with hydrating and holding solutions. Without those treatments the vase life dropped significantly, to 4.7 days.

Callicarpa. The average vase life of ‘Welsh’s Pink’ was 21 days regardless of treatment. Stems need to be stripped to get the full view of the pink berries, but this is easily done. Minimal berry dropping occurred as they aged and if done properly, this cut has the potential to dry well. Great woody cut for Fall when berries are popular in arrangements.

Delphinium. Delphinium is always an eye-catcher and demands good prices. ‘Stiletto Indigo Blue’ has an unreal blue-purple color. Vase life was adequate at 9.5 days, which is when half the petals had dropped. There was no difference among the four postharvest treatments.

Dianthus. The color and pattern variation among plants of ‘Fandango Purple Picotee’ was quite interesting, resulting in many shades of purples with combinations of white. Some even looked like purple leopard print! The vase life was 11.7 days, regardless of treatment, which is quite good. However, we were unimpressed by the stem length (around 12 inches), but in cooler climates this may improve.

Indigofera amblyantha. This fun woody plant would make a great filler flower with a vase life of 7.9 days. It is recommended that a holding solution be used to extend vase life. It’s something interesting that your customers probably don’t see often!

Monarda. One cultivar that really stood out this year with its whimsical shape and beautiful color was monarda ‘Raspberry Wine’. The unique shape of the inflorescence is a sight to see and bound to get your customers talking. It was also nominated as Cut Flower of the Year. The vase life is something to talk about too. With an average vase life of 8.7 days, with the shortest-lived stem lasting 7 days, ‘Raspberry Wine’ is a great choice for growers. Even once the jester hat-like florets have fallen off, the remaining parts are still quite attractive. We terminated this study when the top florets abscised, but the flowers would look fine in a bouquet for quite a bit longer. ‘Raspberry Wine’ benefits from the use of a holding solution, which bumps its vase life up to an average of 9.5 days.

Ornamental pepper. We were hoping for a pepper whose foliage you wouldn’t have to remove because we know how much of a pain that is, but unfortunately we still have not found one. The foliage on ‘Hot Purple’ is quite attractive with its white and purple marbling, but to keep stems looking good longer it must be removed. The peppers (without foliage) had an average vase life of a whopping 24 days regardless of treatments.

Physocarpus. When it comes to foliage, physocarpus ‘Summer Wine’ should be added to your collection. The deep, rich-burgundy coloration is absolutely gorgeous and adds depth to any arrangement. ‘Summer Wine’ had an average vase life of 14 days and a minimum of 9 days. Hydrator followed by a holding solution is recommended for maximum vase life. As the foliage aged, the leaves rolled up and dried but kept their color, so like monarda ‘Raspberry Wine’ it has the potential to stay looking good in a vase for a bit longer.

Sunflower. It wouldn’t be an ASCFG cut flower trial without at least one sunflower. ‘Lemon Summer’ had shockingly neon yellow petals that are sure to attract buyers. The vase life was satisfactory at 9.5 days, but lower than the other two sunflowers in the trials. There was no difference between the four treatments. ‘Zohar’ had a wonderful vase life of 12 days and did not react differently to holding and hydrating solutions. The rich golden yellow of ‘Zohar’ is stunning. Much like ‘Zohar’, ‘Tapuz’ had a golden yellow color, but a slightly shorter vase life of 10.5 days. Again, preservatives and pretreatments were not necessary to extend vase life.

Zinnia. A tried and true favorite of just about every cut flower grower is the zinnia. Many colors are available already, but ‘Giant Wine’ is a must-have addition to your list. ‘Giant Wine’ possesses all the traits that we love about zinnias: classic flower shape, vibrant color, average vase life of 10 days in holding solution, excellent stem length and money-making productivity all season long. The gorgeous color of ‘Giant Wine’ would make anyone crave nothing other than a giant glass of…well, you know! The second cultivar trialed was ‘Red Beauty’, which was definitely a beauty. It has all the appeal of other zinnia varieties and offers a stunning red to boot. Vase life was 8.7 days, which was similar to average for most cultivars. Maximum vase life of 9.3 days was achieved with a holding solution. Both cultivars had excellent stem length and productivity.

This project was supported by the American Floral Endowment, the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers Research Fund and numerous suppliers. The authors would like to thank Erin Regan, Emma Locke, Michelle McElhannon, Diane Mays and Qianni Dong for assisting with growing and harvesting the cut flowers.

Cut Penstemon: Bigger and Bolder

Penstemon, or beardtongue, is a U.S. native. Most species are perennial, love dry soil and don’t mind poor fertility. A promising new penstemon mix, sure to catch your customers’ eye, is ‘Esprit’. Compared to other penstemon species already used in the cut flower industry (i.e. ‘Husker Red’ or ‘Sour Grapes’), the flower size and color range of ‘Esprit’ is much more impressive. ‘Esprit’ offers 2-inch tubular shaped flowers in a range of pinks, reds and purples with white throats or solid color on 3-foot stems. Rosettes of foliage are held below the flowers. ‘Esprit’ could be used as a focus flower rather than just filler, thereby entitling it to a higher price tag. We grew ‘Esprit’ as a greenhouse or high-tunnel cut flower and tested various production and postharvest handling methods to determine the best way to growing and handling this new cut flower.

Planting and propagation. The easiest method of propagation is from seed; however, plants may be propagated by cuttings. Seeds may be sown into 105 plug trays using a typical peat-based substrate during October/November for March/April flowering. Be wary of overwatering as the seedlings are sensitive to root and crown rots and damping off. A fungicide drench is recommended once plants have about one to two sets of true leaves to prevent problems with rots or deeper plug cells may help by increasing drainage. When plugs reach pullable-plug stage (when eight to nine true leaves form) they can be transplanted into ground beds or lily crates at no less than 4x4-inch spacing if grown as an annual. Perennial plant spacing should be greater to allow for adequate growth. Stems get very long and most certainly need to be netted for support.

Water, fertilizer, and substrate. A well-drained substrate is best. If planting into lily crates typical peat-based substrates are adequate. ‘Esprit’ is tolerant to drought and poor soils. Water as needed during the week with 150-ppm 20-10-20 fertilizer and leach with clear water on the weekends.

Light and temperature. ‘Esprit’ likes full sun and night temperatures between 50 and 65° F. Higher temperatures will make it more vulnerable to spider mites, but lower temperatures will delay flowering. These low temperature requirements may make ‘Esprit’ suitable for high-tunnel production in the early spring. It is not tolerant to the high summer temperatures and humidity of Raleigh, NC. ‘Esprit’ is hardy in Zones 3 to 8, where it is perennial, but in places where it is not hardy it can be grown as an annual.

Pests and diseases. Spider mites are common, so keep temperatures low and substrate moist. The spider mites do little damage to the flowers, but will make the foliage unsightly. The foliage is easily removed and stems still look acceptable. Root rots and wire stem are common at the seedling stage so a preventative fungicide drench is recommended; however once plants are transplanted and established incidence significantly declines. Thrips like the flowers, but damage is minimal as long as populations are kept to a minimum.

Harvesting and postharvest treatments. From sowing, ‘Esprit’ takes about 165 days to flower. Stems should be harvested when ¼ of the florets have opened. As the flowers age they abscise from the stem. The stems are very easy to strip of leaves; however, make sure stems are turgid and be careful stripping curved stem as they may break. The use of a floral preservative or sucrose holding solution is necessary to obtain maximum vase life of around 8 days. A hydrating solution is not necessary. ‘Esprit’ does not appear to be sensitive to ethylene exposure and anti-ethylene agents are not necessary. Stems can be stored wet or dry for up to a week without effecting vase life giving them the potential to be shipped. ‘Esprit’ would be useful in a variety or floral arrangements since its vase life is unaffected by floral foam.

About The Author

Alicain Carlson is graduate research assistant, John Dole is professor of horticultural science, Ingram McCall is floriculture technician and Erin Regan is graduate research assistant at North Carolina State University. Dole can be reached at john_dole@ncsu.edu. Judy Laushman is executive director of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers and can be reached at ascfg@oberlin.net.

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