New Plants for Gardening, Part 2

Friday’s Grow gardening section in the Denver Post featured an article I wrote about eight great new plants for 2012. Speaking of new plants…here’s part 2 of New Plants for Gardening, an article I wrote for The Post in 2006. Please see the blog post from March 30 for Part 1.

Every year Welby Gardens holds annual trials for a variety of seed and plant companies. All-America Selections, the oldest international testing organization in North America, uses the trial process to name winners among new seed varieties.

During a field trial, plants are evaluated based on qualities like growing habit, time of bloom, disease resistance, and whether the color stays vibrant or fades in the intense Colorado sun.

“If it’s a variegated color, all of the flowers have to have the same white edge and have the same size of edge,” explains Debi Borden-Miller, Welby’s marketing coordinator. “The plant has to be consistent in size, especially if it’s a plant we’ll sell to landscapers.”

For plants to be added to the garden center’s line the next year, they have to perform well in the trial and offer some significant difference from the tried and true variety, Borden-Miller explains. “There has to be something unique that the customer wants, like a more disease-resistant zinnia, one that doesn’t show much powdery mildew.”

Welby’s Al Gerace attends the spring pack trials in California each year to see what’s new when more than 30 flower breeders and propagators showcase their new introductions.

“I come back from the pack trials with about 200 pounds of new catalogs and 1500 photos,” Gerace says. The trials also give him an idea of the amount of promotional buzz companies plan for their new introductions and a feel for any supply issues.

It takes a breeding company years of research before it can bring a new seed or plant to market. “There are a lot of dollars behind research,” Gerace says. “A company that gets behind a breeder program may have 300 or 400 plants, but only four will see the light of day in the marketplace.”

One of the most successful new introductions was in 1995 when Ball introduced the Wave Purple petunias. Now there’s a Ride the Wave family petunia in just about every size, color, and flower form.

Companies may introduce all kinds of new products each year, but that doesn’t mean gardeners will always go for the newest flower on the block. “We’ll probably sell more white impatiens and white petunias than any new product this year,” says Brian Corr of Ball Horticultural. “But new plants are what drives interest and it’s what gets people in the store.”

What new plants do you plan to add to your flower bed this year?


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