California, here we go!

Features - Cover Feature

Stage is set for CAST ...

February 26, 2014

When Doug Cole owner of DSCole Growers, Loudon, NH, began attending the California Spring Trials (CAST) 14 years ago, things were different. For starters, there was more traditional trialing between groups of competing varieties, he recalls, but less emphasis on the marketing of new varieties by individual breeders.

While Cole admits he’d like to see “a little more trialing take place,” he notes there are still stops where companies put out different petunias or other genera by different breeders for trials.

What he does appreciate is the level of professionalism exhibited at virtually all the stops. “There are fantastic layouts everywhere and more in the way of partnering between growers and suppliers, resulting in more hard goods and plant materials being shown,” he says. OHP’s involvment at the American Takiii is a good example.

Still, it seems the more things change, the more they remain the same. This is the case for Cole’s reasons for attending CAST all these years. “My reasons are similar to those of most others attending,” he says. “It’s important for us to see and compare as much as we can. We’re not just going to carry a new item because it’s new. Rather, I’m accumulating information and comparing that information with what I’ve gathered at other shows and trials.

Noah Schwartz, director of growing, Neal Mast & Son Greenhouse, Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich., concurs. He’s been attending CAST for about nine years and says he goes to stay current.

“The number one reason for being there is to make sure we’re seeing the same things that the buyers are talking about and what they like,” says Schwartz. “We’ll put together reports for the buyers highlighting trends and items, which may lead to some business.”

Both Cole and Schwartz feel the elimination of the Southern Trials this year will prove beneficial for attendees and exhibitors.

“Cutting down on that long drive will allow attendees more time in a concentrated geographical area,” says Cole.

Schwartz adds, “I think it is good to have a more truncated trip for all growers who are limited on time and really need to get back to their businesses.”

But even with the elimination of the Southern Trials, putting together an itinerary that includes all the stops can be a daunting task. Which is why, for the fourth consecutive year, Mark Bridgen, professor of horticulture at Cornell, along with colleague Neil Mattson, associate professor will lead a group of 40 through stops at this year’s trials.

“We had been hearing for many years from growers who wanted to do the trip but felt it was too complicated and that they wouldn’t know how to go about it,” says Bridgen. “So we (Bridgen Mattson, and Roberto Lopez, associate professor of horticulture at Purdue) decided to organize the tour.”

Four years later, Bridgen is glad they did. “We ask attendees to complete surveys about their Trials experiences, and the surveys indicate that they’re happy and thankful that such a tour is available.”

Attendees are diverse, too. Bridgen says the group attracts independent growers, botanical gardens, graduate students, academics, and even industry executives such as Charles Walton, CEO of Smithers-Oasis (twice) and Jeanne Porter, sales/logistics at Perishable Transport Solutions.

While the registration deadline for this year’s tour was Feb. 28, Bridgen says there is sometimes room for one or two late additions. Bridgen can be contacted at or at 631-727-3595.

What follows are some (not all) of the highlights to be found during this year’s CAST.

‘Happy Trials’ to you.


Northern Trials

Danziger’s display at the Spring Trials will include:

  • ‘Sun Harmony Scarlet,’ new to the Sun Harmony impatiens series for demanding, full-sun applications. The variety has a mounded growth habit and blooms continuously and profusely from early spring to fall. It performs well in full sunlight or partial shade.
  • ‘Salmon Ray,’ new to the Ray petunia series, is a sun-loving item and features a mounded habit combined with a profusion of large size flowers and superior center branching for patio combinations, borders, landscape, hanging baskets, window boxes, and pots.
  • ‘Autumn Mystery,’ new to the Cascadias petunia series, blooms in varied flowers. The first blossoms are yellow with a brown center and as the flowers mature, shades turn to cream with a purple center. It has lush flowering and an excellent branching structure.
  • ‘Bicolor Pink,’ a new color in the lobularia Stream series, makes for a beautiful pink variety with its floriferous and semitrailing habit. This fast-growing offering performs well in heat and rain.


OHP will once again display at the American Takii site where OHP experts will be on hand to discuss product calibration, best management practices for weed control, how to manage pests common to vegetable and herb plants, and PGR trial responses on canna, petunia, and zinnia.

Pacific Plug & Liner will Pacific Plug & Liner will play host to the following: Cohen, Cultivaris (new), Hishtil, Jaldety, MPS, Sunset Western Garden Collection and Vivero (new). Each will be showing a selection of genetics. These include the gazania ‘Gazebra Red’ by Jaldety and from Southern Living Plant Collection, ‘Ember’s Wish’ and ‘Love and Wishes’ salvia and ‘Lemon Lime’ nandina; and from Cohen, ‘Happy Magic’ petunia that includes black; three new varieties of verbena ‘Tiara Mickey.’ Expect new herb varieties and even a tree tomato from Hishtil. Cultivaris will bring numerous new plants to the table including new Digiplexis varieties.

Among the new PP&L offerings: ‘Echibeckia Summerina,’ an intergeneric cross between rudbeckia and echinacea; helleborus ‘Winterbells,’ a new addition to PP&L’s popular Frostkiss collection; ‘Savour Basil,’ a grafted, Greek-type gourmet basil with an incredibly long harvest; and ‘Todaisy,’ a grower-friendly pericallis variety with a round habit and extraordinary branching, meaning less pinching. Plus there is one special selection that is sure to make you blush.

Sakata will show many varieties, including: ‘ColorMax’ viola, ‘Danessa’ primula, and ‘Bonita’ aster series. Visitors will also see new colors in the SunPatiens, SuperCal, and Candy Showers families and will have opportunities to learn about marketing programs such as SunPatiens, Ladies Love Daisies, and Constant Color. Marketing specialists and technical experts will be on hand to answer questions.

Speedling will feature offerings by ABZ Seeds, Hem Genetics, and Greenex. ABZ Seeds is a Dutch strawberry breeder and will show its seed-propagated F1 hybrid varieties for strawberry growers and the ornamental market (bedding plant and hanging-basket segment), featuring 90 percent usable seedling quality; Hem Genetics will show a wide assortment of genetics, including ‘Nano’ seed natural dwarf geraniums, ‘Limbo’ and ‘Mambo’ petunia, and ‘Diana’ dianthus. Greenex will show kalanchoes, ornamental capsicum, and a wide assortment of peppers.


Central Trials

Ball FloraPlant will show an osteospernum and a calibracho. ‘Blue Eyed Beauty’ is a multicolored osteospernum developed for premium, early-spring sales. The daisy flower makes for an effective end-cap presentation. ‘Conga’ is a new series of calibrachoa that is naturally compact and uniform for high-density production. Growers can produce a pot-tight crop of bicolor calibrachoas that flower one week earlier than the ‘Cabaret’ series. Conga is easy to grow – no pinch required – and it flowers profusely with good retail hold.

Green Fuse Botanicals will show an upgraded trailing Fuchsia series, ‘New Windchimes.’ These varieties have the same early flowering response as the original Windchimes, plus they were selected for a more uniform flowering from variety to variety. There are four colors in the series for 2014: Dark Eyes, Neon/White, Red/White and Rose/Purple. Green Fuse also will be adding new colors to the petunia ‘Blanket’ line.

These introductions are early to flower and include new colors to the series. ‘Blanket Yellow’ has a mounded plant habit with a robust yellow flower. ‘Blanket Red’ has a rich red color with a complementary white eye. The extra-large flowered calibrachoa ‘Cruze’ series has added a two-toned, orange variety called ‘Persimmon.’

In the ‘First Light’ perennial grouping, ‘Veronica Vernique’ rose is an exquisite new offering with a bright rose color, excellent branching, and can be scheduled to flower for any season. There will be additional ‘First Light’ perennials on display.



GroLink is playing host to nine companies. The setting will be colorful and relaxed, and will show visitors how plants can be used to “beautify and enhance life.” In addition to the new varieties by the exhibiting companies, GroLink will present its 2015 ‘Belgian Mum’ introductions. These include the Jasoda family, which consists of six colors and two new varieties: ‘Thera Red’ and ‘Veritas Orange.’GroLink’s ‘Belgian Mum’ collection currently offers more than 90 colorful varieties of these beautiful, strong, and flexible plants.

Selecta North America’s all-new genetics of interspecific impatiens provide opportunities to merchandise a shade product with confidence. ‘Bounce’ (compact) and ‘Big Bounce’ (vigorous) are strong-performing impatiens for sun and shade. They’re highly resistant to impatiens downy mildew.

As the names imply, they “bounce” back after wilt. Both series launch with several top-selling colors.

Also, new this year are more than a dozen ‘Trixi’ combos for 2015, each filled with exciting color, varieties, and textures. Look for ‘Cajun Flare,’ ‘Cherry Kiss,’ ‘Geisha Girl,’ and ‘Pop The Bubbly.,’ Trixi combos are balanced for a variety of pot sizes and are available in kits or by mix recipe.

Suntory Flowers Ltd. will welcome visitors at the Ventura Botanical Gardens. New introductions include ‘Surfinia Sumo’ petunias, which produce mounds of color, full of big flowers. As the name implies, the ‘Surfinia Sumos’ are big and bold.

This vigorous series is for large containers, baskets, and landscape beds. Colors include Sumo Pink, Sumo Plum and Sumo Bold Lilac. Another series that debuted this year at the Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition is ‘Sundenia’ dipladenias. Historically, dipladenias have had beautiful colors but limited flower size.

The new Sundenias have the large flowers consumers love in mandevillas, but in a compact plant. ‘Sundenia’ flowers are 3-5 inches in diameter, double the size of a typical dipladenia. Plants are for patio pots and hanging baskets. Colors include red, white, and coral. Also, look for new colors and improvements in ‘Million Bells Bouquet’ calibrachoas, ‘Sundiascia’ diascias, ‘Sunbelia’ lobelias, ‘Sun Paraso’ mandevillas, ‘Senetti’ pericallis, ‘Surdiva’ scaevolas, and ‘Tapien’ verbenas. Apps and digital tools will be available for “test drives.”

Windmill Nursery, a new location this year will host Plug Connection,T erra Nova, Westoff, pac-Elsner, Beekenkamp, and Pelemix. Plug Connection will showcase its ‘Mesa Magic’ cyclamen, ‘Mighty’Mato tomato, grafted vegetables, certified organic herbs and veggies, as well as new varieties, classics and best-sellers. Terra Nova will show several new varieties: bergenia ‘Spring Fling’; coleus ‘Spicy,’ coleus ‘Zooey,’ heuchera ‘Forever Purple, and Veronica ‘Aspire.’

Skagit Gardens will show helenium ‘Short ’n’ Sassy, a compact plant featuring bright flowers. This is a version of the stately border perennial. It starts blooming up to two weeks earlier than other heleniums and flowers continuously until late fall. Westoff will show its ‘Crazytunia’ (petunia) colors, including neon brights, velvety blacks, pulsating duo-tones, and bold confetti flashes. Also to be shown is Westoff’s ‘Epic’ bacopa, featuring a vigorous trailing, compact and well-branched habit with glimmering, star-shaped blue flowers.


Planning your trip

This year’s California Spring Trials dates are April 5-10. The event will include stops in the North and Central regions, but not the Southern region, which may make planning a little easier.

For mores, go to


Click to access the California Spring Trials Company Directory.