California Spring Trials special report

If visitors to this year's California Spring Trials needed a pick me up from the long, cold winter, they got it. Check out the plants, the marketing and the special products in our comprehensive report.

June 9, 2011

The 2011 California Spring Trials offered glances not only at stellar plants that will hit the market in 2012 but at some new, innovative marketing projects in the works at the various breeding and plant specialty companies. Here are some of the plant, product and marketing highlights.

Nectar agastache series, hybridized by Florensis, is appropriately named for its ability to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Shown by Skagit Gardens, the series consists of five fruit-named varieties (Apricot, Grape, Grapefruit, Orange and Raspberry). The compact plants, which reach 15-18 inches tall and 15 inches wide, are well suited for containers or landscapes. They produce multiple flower spikes covered with blooms.

The Party Mixers series from Thompson & Morgan consists of ‘Raspberry Daiquiri,’ ‘Lavender Martini’ and ‘Peach Margarita.’ The 10- to 12-inch plants have fragrant foliage and brightly colored flower spikes.

Suntory’s new Sungelonia series is an early flowering series (as early as April) consisting of Blue, Deep Pink and White. Plants are compact and uniform with dense foliage and plenty of flowers.

Ball FloraPlant’s new Archangel series has four varieties: Pink, Purple, White and Raspberry. The compact, well-branched dense plants produce large flowers compared to other varieties. Plants are uniform in habit and timing.

Floranova’s new seed-produced double-flowering F1 Begonia semperflorens Fairyland series comes in four colors: Red, Rose Coral, Picotee and White. It has a higher percentage of double flowers than other seed-produced varieties.

Green Fuse Botanicals’ new Shadow King Rex begonia series originates from tissue culture. Rothko, Green Envy, Moonlight and Strawberry Lime have been selected for their quick finishing in cooler growing conditions (as low as 55°F night temperatures).

The Sunvillea series from Suntory is a compact series that blooms early and often. Three colors are available: Rose, Pink and Cream. The plants can be grown in pots as small as 4-inches. Plants produce large clusters of colored bracts. Plants reach a final height of 2 to 3 feet and spread of 2 feet in the landscape.

Golden State Bulb Growers is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Its demonstration trials offer much more than new calla (Zantedeschia) varieties, providing visitors with practical information on real-world planting options for cut and pot production. In regards to new varieties, pink was the predominant color with three additions to its Callafornia Callas. Lolly Pop is a full, well-branched plant with maculated (spotted) medium-dark green leaves and uniform bicolor pink flowers. Well suited for pot production, it requires limited PGR applications. Pink Cloud is a vigorous, well-branched plant that produces solid medium-green leaves and an abundance of 2- to 4-inch soft-pink flowers. Pink Melody lends itself to both pot and cut flower production. It produces striking 2¼- to 4-inch white flowers with a contrasting pink-rose edge.

Fides North America launched its garden mum trial program at this year’s California Spring Trials. Bred specifically for the North American market, plants have a Belgian mounding habit. Most of the plants available in the program produce decorative type flowers. Natural season response time includes early, mid, late and very late varieties. Unrooted cuttings are available through Aug. 8.

Hort Couture’s Under the Sea coleus collection was bred at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada. This is a six-year project in which much of breeding work is being done by undergraduate students under the direction of plant sciences assistant professor Bob Bors. Funds generated from the sale of the plants will go directly to cover the expenses of teaching horticulture at the university. There are eight varieties in the series. With names like Langostino, Bone Fish, Golden Anemone and Hermit Crab, and the plants’ unique leaf shapes and colors, this series should draw plenty of attention. The names and plants lend themselves to some creative point-of-sale opportunities.

Schoneveld Breeding’s new Super Series Jive kicks off with eight colors. Each variety in this mini-size series produces flowers with waved petals. Plants are best suited for 3½- to 4½-inch pots. The compact, round plants produce a lot of leaves and thick flower stems with central flowering. Other colors are being developed including flame types.
Schoneveld has developed a “Let’s Dance? Jive” marketing campaign for the series, which launched in Europe last year. The company has done presentations on the series at trade shows, produced ads and folders and promoted it on Dutch television gardening programs.

Syngenta Flowers/Goldsmith Seeds introduced two new series. The Winfall F1 mini series has seven colors and a mix. Bred for high density production, plants size up under low temperatures. It can be grown for fall and winter in both indoor and outdoor conditions. Plants are well suited for 2½- to 4½-inch pots.

The Friller F1 standard series is a thriller with its frilly flowers in four colors and two mixes including a Flame Mix. Plants flower up to three weeks earlier than other fringed varieties.

Dummen’s new Dahlia XXL series is best suited for large-sized containers. The heat-tolerant plants produce flowers nearly a half foot wide. The series starts with nine colors including two shades each of pink, red, yellow, orange and a white.

GroLink’s new Happy Days dark foliage series includes four varieties (Cream, Pink, Purple and Red). Plants are more compact and produce larger flowers than the Lucky series. Plants in the Happy Days series are much more compact than those in GroLink’s Happy series.

PlantHaven showcased its “Whetman Pinks New USA Program: 2011 and Beyond.” During the trials the Whetman team from the United Kingdom, including breeder Carolyn Bourne, talked with visitors about the eight series and the 34 varieties in the program. Trials visitors also had an opportunity to view plants in the series comparing growth habit, flower size and color. All of the cuttings in the series are being produced by GroLink in Oxnard, Calif.

Hem Genetics’ Dianthus chinensis ‘Diana Lavender Picotee’ is a unique color. It produces many large flowers on compact plants. The addition expands the series to 12 colors which are very uniform in flower timing.

Dummen introduced two new interspecific (ivy-zonal mix) series. The two varieties (Red and Pink) in the Salsa series produce dark green foliage and single flowers. The two are suitable for a variety of pot sizes.

Dark Red and Hot Pink are the first varieties in Dummen’s vigorous new Cumbia interspecific series. Plants produce large double flowers.

Plug Connection is a rooting station for Elsner pac-bred vegetative geraniums. The breeder offers around 150 varieties including zonal, ivies and many specialty types including the compact Little Lady series and Fireworks collection. Elsner also has an extensive regal geranium breeding program. Many of the varieties are also available as unrooted cuttings through Plant Source International.

Syngenta Flowers/Goldsmith Seeds new Pinto Premium series is an improvement over this well-known series. There are eight colors in this series, which has better branching, reduced leaf size and shorter flower peduncles. Overall plant size has been reduced allowing for tighter production spacing. Plants also flower five to seven days earlier. The old series, now called Pinto Classic, has 10 colors and 1 mix.

Ball FloraPlant’s new Presto series consists of 13 compact, dark-leafed varieties that don’t need growth regulators. Plants produce at least three flowers at first flush. Varieties are uniform in timing so they can be grown as a bench-run crop. The Prestos are available as Genesis callused direct-stick cuttings, which cuts production time by two weeks versus starting with unrooted cuttings.

Precision is Ball FloraPlant’s new ivy geranium series consisting of 14 varieties. The medium-size mounded plants have been bred for uniformity in habit and timing, lending them to a bench-run crop. They are early to flower and oedema resistant. The Precisions are available as unrooted and Genesis cuttings.

American Takii showed off its new Song Bird series and All-America Selections winner Glamour Red. The Song Bird series consists of round-leaved varieties Pink, Red and White. The compact plants have an upright habit for better drainage. Temperatures of 55°F-60°F intensify the foliage color.

AAS winner Glamour Red is the first shiny leaved bedding-type kale. Its unique leaves protect the plant from water loss. Its vibrant color intensifies at temperatures of 55°F-60°F.

Flamingo Holland presented a selection of Asiatic and oriental lilies along with calla lilies. One of the plants that really stood out was the double flowering (20 petals) Roselily Belonica. Plants produce lightly scented, soft pink flowers that have a long vase- and shelf-life. The flowers do not produce any pollen allowing the flowers to last up to two weeks. A 14-16 bulb produces two to four flowers. It can be grown as a cut or pot crop.

New Guinea impatiens
Plants in Danziger’s new Sun Harmony series are more compact than Sunpatiens, but more vigorous than its Harmony series. This full sun series will be trialed in 25 U.S. outdoor trials this summer. In initial comparison trials in California, the Sun Harmony series flowered a week earlier than the Sunpatiens. However, in trials conducted in Israel the Sun Harmony series flowered later than Sunpatiens. In both trials, no difference was seen in the number of flowers produced and in heat tolerance. The Sun Harmony series starts with four colors (Magenta, Orange, Purple and Salmon) with more colors coming.

Selecta’s 3D series drew a lot of attention, especially since visitors had the chance to view this new series with 3D glasses. Available in Pink, Purple and Silver, plants are grown just like other osteos and do not require different culture. Flowers stay open 24 hours.

Sakata Ornamental’s Cape Daisy line has two additions: Fire Burst and Purple. Fire Burst should definitely draw some attention with its unique color that starts coppery yellow then evolves to coppery red.

PanAmerican Seed’s new Akila seed-produced series is available in Purple, White and Lavender Shades. The compact, well-branched plants don’t need to be pinched and bloom within a seven- to 10-day flower window. These prolific flowering plants are well suited for high density pack or pot production.

Plug Connection did its comparison trial with osteospermum. It has been doing a comparison trial with one vegetative crop for several years. Ten breeders participated in the trial, which consisted of five color groups/shades (orange, pink, purple, white and yellow). Plants were grown in 4½-inch and gallon containers.

Floranova’s new Freefall F1 pansy series has a vigorous spreading habit and produces medium-sized flowers. Available in five colors, plants flower one to two weeks earlier than the Plentifalls. The low spreading habit of the Freefalls makes them well suited for late summer production to avoid stretching. The daylength neutral plants continue to flower through the shorter winter months.

Sakata has simplified its pansy/viola offerings for the North American market by categorizing plants into four flowering segments: extra-large, large and medium-to-small size flowers and the viola segment. Sakata’s well-known Majestic Giants II is its extra-large flowered pansy with 4-inch flowers. Sakata’s large-flowering segment will include selections from both the Dynamite and Crown series. Varieties from Sakata’s Supreme and Ultima series make up the medium-to-small flowered pansy segment. The viola segment includes the Rebelina varieties.

Black Jack is an appropriate name for Dummen’s new black Sweetunia petunia. The company has also added two other dark flowered varieties Bordeaux and Mystic.

Yellow and Orange are additions to Westhoff’s Perfectunia series. Plants, which have a more upright habit, are uniform and early to flower, making this series ideal for bench runs.

Benary’s Gaillardia × grandiflora ‘Arizona Apricot’ is a 2011 All-America Selections winner. This FastraX perennial doesn’t need vernalization to flower during the first year.
The Arizona series, the first from seed, also includes previously released Sun, both an AAS and Fleuroselect Gold Medal winner, and Red Shades.

Partnering with Walters Gardens, Proven Winners introduced 28 perennials, eight of which are brand new to the market. The new Decadence baptisia series contains four varieties: Blueberry Sunday, Cherries Jubilee, Dutch Chocolate and Lemon Meringue. Plants have a compact habit reaching 2½ to 3 feet tall and about 3 feet wide. Decadence plants are hardy to USDA Hardiness Zone 4-9.

Green Fuse Botanicals new Ladyslippers series starts with six varieties. Plants originate from tissue culture providing for disease-free stock enabling plants to finish more quickly than plants propagated from leaf divisions. These shade-loving plants can be used as indoor and outdoor plants. They continue to flower for months under low-light conditions. Plants can be grown in specimen containers and as components in combination planters.

Home Grown is a new division of Sakata Seed America that will begin operation on Sept. 1. This new division will begin by offering 127 varieties to companies that supply home gardens in the United States and Canada. Seed will be available to a variety of customers including to seed suppliers, vegetable transplant growers and growers who finish the crops and sell to retailers.

Plug Connection displayed a new line of grafted vegetables called Super Naturals that it plans to roll out at the OFA Short Course in July for commercial production in 2012. The company will be a rooting station in partnership with Garden Life. Tomatoes will be the primary crop the first year, but other crops that can be grafted include peppers and eggplant. Liners (probably 72 cell plugs) will be sold to growers to finish the plants.

Dutch hybrid strawberry breeder ABZ Seeds showed off its latest F1 hybrid Frisan. Aimed at the bedding plant market, plants have a vigorous trailing habit making them well suited for specimen containers and hanging baskets. Plants produce hot pink flowers, multiple vigorous runners and juicy sweet fruit.

Although technically a vegetable, Zea mays japonica ‘Field of Dreams’ from Floranova is considered an ornamental plant. This relatively drought- and heat-tolerant corn caught the attention of trial visitors. A strong white stripe runs though the center of the pink tinged leaves. The plants, which reach about 5 feet tall, have variegated white, pink and green leaves. An added bonus for consumers is the two to three ears of corn produced at the end of the season that can be dried and popped.

Floranova’ sister division Vegetalis introduced several new vegetable varieties. Three new chili peppers (Basket of Fire, Chenzo and Loco) have both ornamental and culinary applications. Also well-suited for hanging baskets and large containers is Vegetalis’ new Cherry Falls tomato. This vigorous plant, which easily sets fruit, produces 500+ fruit per plant, and is less susceptible to disease.

Lanai Twister Pink from Syngenta/GoldFisch produces white-pink bicolored flowers. Varieties in the Lanai series are early to bloom and produce large flower heads. Plants have exceptional powdery mildew resistance.

Westhoff added another star-patterned flower to its Estrella series. Last year Voodoo Star drew visitor’s attention with its dark red and white star-patterned flowers. This year’s addition Salmon Star was the focus. The compact plants produce large flower heads with salmon and cream-starred flowers that are close to the foliage

Mixed containers
Dummen celebrated the 5th anniversary of its Confetti Garden Mixes. The company currently has 24 easy-to-plant combinations. The company is looking at 11 experimental mixes for introduction in 2012.

Ball FloraPlant’s new MixMasters gives growers a choice of unrooted cuttings, standard rooted liners or its high density 2.0 that combines three separate rooted liners into one cell. There are 15 mixes available.

Selecta is also offering its Trixi mixes in the 2.0 configuration. Liners are available in 50- and 72-cell configurations.

Danziger dedicated 70 percent of its display area at Headstart Nursery to its Mixis combinations. The Mixis are targeted for female buying power and the point-of-sale pots and tags are a mandatory part of the program. The program is aimed at providing growers with flexibility in regards to choosing the combinations they want to produce.

Mixis Same-Crop contains two to three designer colors of the same species. Plants have the same habit and timing. Mixis 3 Combo-Crops enables growers to choose a combination that mixes two to three company-tested designer varieties. Freestyle Mixis gives growers the option of choosing the varieties they want to produce in combinations. Growers who choose the Freestyle with three cuttings only pay two royalties.

Fides showed examples of its Party of 6 containers for its Dalinova Longlife dahlias, Pop Idols geraniums, Lindura calibrachoa and Margarita Nano osteospermum. The six packs come with a Party of 6 labeled handle and side wrap. Plants selected for the Party of 6 program can be grown under high density production, have a short crop time, have low growth regulator requirements and have proven themselves to be good garden performers.

Fides also showed its series of Blossom Blends—The Natural Mix. The Blends are currently available in six mixes (three petunia and three calibrachoa). Each mix consists of three different varieties from the same series.

Pacific Plug & Liner did a comparison trial of multi-cutting combinations available from 10 different breeders and/or plant suppliers. Around 100 different mixes were trialed in 12-inch cache/patio pots. PP&L sales and marketing manager Ryan Hall said the mixes were compared for ease-of-use, vigor and earliness to flower. He said that some companies need to work on ease-of-use, which includes the way the cuttings are packaged and organized.

Hall said overall the single species mixes worked the best, but some of the multi-species mixes did very well. He said there needs to be more grading done with those mixes that consist of three cuttings in one plug. He said it is much easier to replace poor cuttings if they are planted as separate plugs. Hall said that he would prefer to see two types of mix series, those that are vigorous and those that are compact.

Benary is working with John Henry Co. to develop a marketing program for three of its series: Big begonias, Inspire pansies and ‘Denver Daisy’ rudbeckia. QR tags have been developed for the three. Snapping a picture of the QR code takes consumers to Facebook pages for each of the three products. The sites enable consumers to learn more about the plants as well as providing feedback with their own experiences of using the plants. Other POP materials for the program include shelf strips and cart banners with the QR codes. Benary also plans to post information on the Facebook pages where the plants are being grown in public places and gardens.

Ecke Ranch
A display of Ecke’s Luv U Pink euphorbia showed how the plant might be marketed to consumers for different holiday and personal occasions. The company sought feedback from visitors as to how this plant might fit into growers’ production schedules and how and when retailers might market it.


MasterTag relocated its exhibit to Salinas and teamed with Sakata to create a more retail and marketing oriented presence. MasterTag designed, printed and implemented all of the merchandising elements shown by Sakata. Sakata’s theme for the Spring Trials was “Good, Better, Breakthrough. True Color Performance.”

MasterTag’s display was set up in six high-impact color blocks. The display used Sakata plants, color themed tags and decorative pots. QR code tags were a predominant part of the display. MasterTag offered visitors an opportunity to use their smart phones to view three applications of how the codes could be used to provide consumers with more product information.

MasterTag also showcased the consumer gardening website and the children’s gardening website Both sites are exclusively represented by MasterTag. They provide gardeners with a source of information that can be accessed at the garden center or at home via QR codes or the traditional website.

Syngenta/Goldsmith provided both growers and retailers with ideas on how plants could be marketed with its Good, Better, Best displays. The displays showed ways plants could be accessorized with sleeves and pot covers, tags, bows and containers at various price points to enhance the value of the plants. The displays showed it doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to improve the packaging and presentation to increase the visual impact of the plants.

Syngenta/Goldsmith also created display vignettes of simple projects (landscaping around a mailbox, decorating a balcony or patio with plants) that retailers could create in their own stores to give their customers ideas of how to use plants in and around their homes.

Proven Winners
For the past couple of years, Proven Winners has invested heavily in consumer marketing, actually letting end-user focus groups decide which consumer ads the company will run to promote various plants. Proven Winners in turn will work with retailers to make sure they have promotional materials about the plants shown in the ads that run in Better Homes and Gardens, Canadian Gardening, Birds and Blooms and Fine Gardening.

The company also is taking its brands straight to various consumer groups in North America via Outdoor Living Extravaganzas this year in Atlanta, Seattle, Milwaukee and Toronto. These all-day, retreat-styled seminars have been popular during the past two years and have helped Proven Winners and participating garden centers in the host cities bond with consumer attendees. Proven Winners offers a coupon in the participant’s “goodie bags” for any garden centers that help promote the event to their local customer base.

Burpee Home Gardens
The Burpee Home Gardens brand will move from the kitchen to the landscape in 2012, thanks to a new collection of easy-to-maintain flowers that should be especially appealing to the Gen X customers who helped turn Burpee edibles into a garden center staple the past few years.

Burpee has actually given the aforementioned Gen Xer a name – and a personality. Julia, the literal poster person for Burpee at the trials, is a company creation who is a 37-year-old working mom interested in vegetable gardening and in growing a healthy family.

To that latter end, Burpee is marketing its Boost program in 2012. Boost will promote vegetable varieties that are high in nutritional value and that include health boosters such as beta carotene, lycopene and Vitamin C. The Boost line will include ‘Gold Standard’ cucumber, ‘Sweet Heat’ pepper and ‘Power Pops’ cherry tomato.

To assist Julia – and those shoppers Burpee hopes will relate to her – the company is playing up the Burpee Garden Coach. The smart phone technology can help a customer design her vegetable and flower gardens and create a “recipe” sheet that can be printed and presented at the garden center.

John Henry Co.
A lot of the buzz at the trials focused on, the consumer website John Henry Co. introduced last year. The site walks prospective gardeners through the entire process, from planning to implementation. Consumers go to the site, enter some geographic and demographic specs, and instantly find information they’ll need to be successful gardeners. They can choose the color and the texture of the landscapes they want to create, and then be pointed toward a plethora of plant options that fill the bill in their respective regions. The consumer then can print out her landscape “blueprint” to bring to the garden center – any garden center – where the dream has the chance to wed the reality. In addition, all manner of gardening advice is available to the site’s visitors, from design tips to plant care instructions.

Greenheart Farms
Greenheart Farms has developed marketing programs for two rose brands, Garden Treasures and My Boutique, complete with promotional materials and ideas that can be used in displays to tout the benefits of the respective brands.

For Garden Treasures roses, the retail “bullet points” include the compact growing habit, their disease resistance and the little maintenance required to keep them looking good in the landscape. Garden Treasures can be sold as annuals or perennials in 2¼-inch to 1-quart pots. At the trials, Greenheart used literal treasure chests in marketing the plants, a trick that garden centers probably will want to emulate.

My Boutique rose retail marketing has been made easy by Greenheart, thanks to clever chalkboard display materials that retailers can use to craft any message they want. If the message is to focus on the roses, per se, these plants are the largest pot rose on the market, and they rebloom every 45 days.

Hort Couture
Hort Couture has been chosen as the exclusive provider of annual flowers for the grounds of the Greenbrier resort and the Old White Golf Course that will host the 2011 PGA Greenbrier Classic, July 25-31, in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. This FedEx Cup Event will be broadcast on The Golf Channel and CBS Sports. The resort’s grounds staff will be planting nearly 200,000 Hort Couture plants.

Hort Couture joined the ranks of companies focusing marketing efforts at the consumer level when it had more than 100 people participate in its Spring Trials consumer day. The event was held March 26, and participating consumers purchased plants and provided feedback about the company’s marketing programs.

Hort Couture is a strategic partner in the Garden Pilot smart phone technology crafted by 10-20-Media. The company has introduced “smart gardening tags.” This QR technology allows consumers to interact via video content, text messages and web content. Hort Couture is hosting regional fashion show webinars that feature new plants and that inform gardeners about Hort Couture.

Growing media, containers, PGRs

Ecke introduced its Snap System of pre-stuck callused cuttings. The Snap System consists of ES media, which is considered an inert packing material, and ES78 trays. Most genera offered by Ecke, including poinsettias, geraniums and spring annuals, are available in the Snap System. The cuttings are stuck in Guatemala and Mexico. The advantage to the Snap System, according to Ecke, is that it removes numerous inputs in the unrooted cutting process, including rooting media, rooting trays, propagation bench space, sticking labor, heat and mist and the loss due to shrink. It takes two weeks off the propagation process.

Jiffy Products of America opened a new mixing facility in Macon, Ga., in March. The company offers 20 different growing mixes. Proven Winners Eco-Grande and Eco-Royal biodegradable containers will be manufactured by Jiffy. The containers will include a plant-starched base PLA color wrap that can be removed by consumers. The compostable wrap will include planting instructions.

Jiffy’s Plant in a Jiffy program includes 3½-inch Jiffy pots, a range of plant wraps and a recyclable beer carton six-pack made from John Henry’s EcoBreeze material. The flower pack is available to all growers and retailers. The vegetable six-pack will be an exclusive to independent garden centers.

McConkey’s new Elements RPET line of containers is made from 100 percent recycled water bottles and other plastics. The first product in the line is bedding plant inserts. The company is working with a recycler to supply the recycled plastic it uses to make the thermoformed containers.

OHP’s growth regulator trials at American Takii focused on Augeo, a new PGR which can help plants induce lateral branching. Spray applications of Augeo to the hedge type petunia ‘Cadenza Rose Pink’ at rates of 400-800 parts per million appeared to have the best results. Applications were made soon after plugs with four to six leaves were transplanted into 6-inch finished pots. The result was a significant increase in side shoots 25-40 percent, respectfully, along with no disruption in flower size or development. Applications directly to plugs trays did not produce significant breaks, but this may have been a function of the early application timing (two-leaf stage) and the cool weather conditions.

Yale Youngblood is publisher and editor of
Garden Center magazine.