This was my first trip to the California Pack Trials, and it
was a really wonderful experience. The term “trials” is a bit of a
misnomer, though, as there was very little comparison trialing and a lot of
display material. I understand that, in the past, trialing was more the norm,
but as the focus shifted to sales, the emphasis on trialing dropped off.
Don’t let that dissuade you from going to the Pack Trials, though, as it
is still the best way to see what is new and in the works for the crops you
grow. As an example, having just written an article on Angelonia, I found that
most of the major companies have new Angelonia series coming out this year, and
there are some marked differences between the different series. I’m
looking forward to trialing these and seeing what the differences are (look for
an article update on Angelonia in the near future).
Everywhere we went, we were given educational tours and a
ton of great production information. If you have a new grower on your staff,
this would be a really good opportunity to collect an impressive grower’s
notebook all in one week. Coming from the university system, I want to give
Kudos to American Takii who had a great series of displays showing the
different plant growth regulators at different rates on their crops; it was a
really informative set-up.
I have a lot more sympathy for garden writers after
attending Pack Trials. There is simply too much material to hold it all in your
head, and still so many incredible plants coming out that you feel an obligation
to do them all justice. It is really a great time to be in this field as our
nation’s breeders and production nurseries are able to churn out new
material much faster than they could in the past. As a result, there are a lot
of really exciting new plant introductions on the way for 2003.
In the next two articles, I will cover a couple of areas I
feel are especially promising. Begonia basket options, which have always been a
personal favorite of mine, is this month, and in the next issue, some of the
new and very different materials released by a variety of breeders for use as
component plants or stand-alone material.
Why begonia basket options? As we move into a retail market
that is always looking for instant gardens, this group of plants provides a
huge selection of varieties for both Northern and Southern growers.
Northern nurseries rely on strong tuberous-type begonias for
early spring sales, and there were some extremely nice options at Pack Trials
this year. Most of these plants are not new for 2003, but many of them have new
colors or forms available. Since the tuberous begonias are a very difficult
crop in the Deep South (there’s a good niche market for someone), it was
great to see them again and to be reminded of their value in the Northern and
Western markets. Although the non-stop types are proven performers, I’m
going to focus mostly on the hanging (or pendula) forms and less on the
uprights. With the pendula types, growers will want to ship material in bud and
let the plants grow out in a retail setting because once plants get very far
over the side of a hanging basket, they become very difficult to ship. Easily
bruised and somewhat fragile, they are best in localized markets and will sell
well once the buds show color.
There were quite a few major displays of hanging
tuberous-type begonias that I saw as I drove through California. Most of the
begonia series below have similar production requirements, and the limiting
factor on who can grow them appears to be growing temperatures. All prefer
daytime temperatures around 70-80° F and night temperatures somewhere
around 55-60° F. These begonias are best in early spring production, as
summer temperatures can be very hard on them, but in the extreme north, they do
beautifully all through the summer.
Lorelei are available as rooted cuttings in 72-cell trays. The flowers are 2-3
inches in diameter and a brilliant, clear orange with a cactus form flower (see
picture and culture information on page 108). The individual petals are
serrated and quite straight, giving each bloom a rounded look. Lots of color
and a very graceful habit. The plant is fairly open, unlike some of the other
basket types, and leaves are a lighter green. Average crop times: 14-15 weeks
for an 8- to 10-inch basket (three plants per basket); seven weeks for a 4-inch
(one plant per container).
Tenella Series (S&G Flowers).
style='font-weight:normal'> This series is in many ways similar to Lorelei, but
the flowers have fewer larger petals and smooth edges, giving the plant a
different, softer look. Colors include pink, white, orange and rose; white and
pink have pale green foliage; orange and rose forms have a dark green leaf.
Otherwise, habit and production for this series are similar to Lorelei. Makes a
nice-looking, 6-inch plant but would also do well in baskets. Average crop
times: From seed to first flower is roughly 16 weeks; production timing is
similar to Lorelei.
Illumination Series (Benary Seed).
style='font-weight:normal'> Illumination series is a full, Camellia-type flower
on a cascading plant and is larger in stature and habit than the previous two
series. This series is also available in the Proven Selections line. These
plants were displayed in 10-inch baskets and were a mass of color. Leaves and
flowers are larger; stems are thicker; and all around, this is a bigger plant
than Lorelei or the Tenella series. So plan accordingly.
Fortune Series (Dæhnfeldt).
style='font-weight:normal'> This series is much more upright with fully double
flowers, so production will be similar to nonstop series. These are camellia-flowered
types with blooms up to 4-5 inches in diameter. Strong, vigorous plants make
excellent 10-inch baskets but no hanging stems, just full bushy plants. This
actually works well because the flowers are presented either horizontally or
upright, making it good for displays. The series is not new, but they added an
orange this year.
Solenia series (Oglevee). The Reiger-type begonias are a little bit different in their
production than some of the other types we have looked at. If you are not
familiar with their production, I suggest checking with your distributor before
purchasing the plants and making sure you know what you are doing as they are a
bit tricky, but well worth the trouble. Flowers are 2+ inches in diameter,
fully double with some single flowers mixed in and a bit more heat-tolerant
than the true tuberous types. Incredible, iridescent colors are more upright in
growth habit and a great way to get into something that will set your crops
apart from mainstream flowering plants.
Fibrous begonias in general are produced as plugs; some
growers may still do in-house production by seed, but due to the size and
expense of the seed, most nurseries opt to have them produced by plug
specialists. In this way, they take less bench space and time to get to sale.
The selections I will be talking about each had some
attribute that made them different from generic bedding begonias, but all will
do well being grown under the same conditions as their generic counterparts.
Like the typical bedding begonia, these crops are easy to grow, and consumers
like them because they require little additional care after purchase to keep
flowering and putting on a good show of color all summer.
Lotto Series (Benary Seed). The major difference between these begonias and standard bedding types
is flower size. Many of the series have single flowers up to one inch or
larger, with a nice habit and strong growth. Green foliage will bronze up in
brighter light. The pink stood out in my mind as being exceptionally strong,
but this series all looked good, and the increased flower size was really a
Maribel Light Pink (S&G Flowers).
style='font-weight:normal'> This begonia is one of the old-fashioned Begonia
richmondensis types and is not at all like the generic bedding begonia, though
just as attractive and easily produced. This is a very striking plant with
glossy olive green to black foliage, pale pink blossoms and a plant size of
10-18 inches in height. The leaves are somewhat like an angelwing begonia but
with a bit of serration on the edge and a little bit of fuzziness to the leaf
surface. This is a sleeper of a plant and deserves much more exposure.
Dragonwing (Pan American Seed).
style='font-weight:normal'> If you aren’t growing this begonia, you
should be. This is one of the most attractive begonias on the market; it gives
an incredible show with minimal effort, and season-long interest in part sun to
full shade. Pan American had it in their displays in 20-inch baskets, and the
plants were four feet across! It is marketable in 4-inch pots as specimens, and
in bright light, the foliage will bronze, which sets off the red or pink
flowers. A truly exceptional plant!
Queen Begonia Series (Dæhnfeldt).
style='font-weight:normal'> I have always thought the double sempervirens
begonia market was undersold. The flowers of these plants resemble miniature
peonies, and the plants are tough. What set this series apart from others was
the size of the leaf; some of the leaves were up to seven inches across, and
the baskets were eye-catching. Some of the doubles have problems in the extreme
heat of the Deep South, but these will still be great spring and early summer
Doublet series (Oglevee). Another double-flowered form but with smaller leaves and incredible
flowering. The foliage is almost invisible under the masses of flowers. This
type of Begonia can be used for winter color as the Begonia sempervirens types
will tolerate a light frost and continue flowering. I’ve seen this series
in production, and it is really a strong crop.
Despite their attractive presentation and higher price point, few growers have tapped this market. These are some of the author’s favorite varieties.