2015 trial participant "Salvia Black and Bloom" in a container.
About the Trials
One aspect of my job that I look forward to each year is the chance to evaluate new plant materials that often are not yet available to the general public. The rest of the McCrory Gardens staff and I are always anxious to see what will be sent and then to finally either receive the seed or the young plants in the spring. We generally do not know what we are going to get and we certainly do not know which plants will be the best performers in the gardens each year. There is sure to always be a few surprises.
McCrory Gardens has been an All-American Selections (AAS) Trial and Display Garden for many years and I have been the judge there for 13 years now. Besides the 14 AAS trial plants and their comparisons, we also receive plants from several other major plant breeding and selection companies. This year we were also a part of a new evaluation process called the Plant Trials Database that accepts entries from even more plant companies and arranges for distribution to trial gardens across the country. Altogether we had 101 trial plants through that program plus some additional plants that we trialed from Ball Seed, Ball FloraPlant™, Ball Ingenuity, Pan American Seed and Proven Winners®.
This year I evaluated all the plants approximately two, six and 14 weeks after planting or about June 20, July 20 and September 20 respectively. Plants were given a numerical rating of 0 to 5 along with comments every time each plant was evaluated. Digital images were captured as well of every plant at each evaluation time. Evaluation ratings, comments and images of the plants in the Plant Trials Database program were uploaded to a central database where they can be viewed by the plant breeders, botanical gardens and others in the industry.
One of the biggest factors in how any one plant will perform in a particular year is the weather. Like many other parts of the region, drought conditions were predicted, but for the Brookings area at least, it ended up being one of the wettest springs and early summers on record. While at times excessive amounts of rainfall was recorded, timely rains helped fill in the gaps so that plants had little problem with water stress. That, of course, made the work of the McCrory Gardens staff much easier in reducing the amount of irrigation that needed to be done during much of the spring until about mid-August. While plentiful moisture can be beneficial for good plant growth and flowering, excessive moisture can lead to serious disease problems in some instances, as was evidenced in the rapid decline of certain plants during July and early August.
Coleus Plants (Plectranthus scutellarioides)
The highest rated new plant that I trialed this year with a 4.7 was coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides) ColorBlaze® Velveteen™. This great new coleus was planted out in direct sun, directly in the ground. It produced compact but very bushy plants with interesting rust-brown leaves edged in yellow. Plants grew rapidly so that by the end of the summer they were very large, full, nicely mounded and had not developed any flower spikes, which are usually not that attractive on coleus. The final height was over three feet with a similar spread. Very impressive. This coleus was supplied by Proven Winners®.
Another full-sun adapted coleus introduction from Proven Winners® that scored an average of 4.5 was ColorBlaze® Apple Brandy™. These plants grew to be quite full, yet compact, with rust and lime edged leaves that were quite attractive. Later in the summer they grew to be big, bushy plants with their dramatic red and burgundy foliage, with only a few flower spikes developing. These plants looked great but were a bit uneven in size.
Ball FloraPlant had several new sun-adapted coleus introductions as well. Two standouts were FlameThrower™ Chili Pepper and FlameThrower™ Spiced Curry. Both of these plants feature foliage that is much more dissected than the typical coleus giving the plants a finer texture while providing a new bolder impact. FlameThrower™ Chili Pepper has narrow, pointed and somewhat dissected light green foliage with dark red central patches. Plants are well branched and compact. They grew quite large, were well-branched, and maintained their great foliage with just a few flower spikes developing by the end of the season. FlameThrower™ Spiced Curry was compact, well-branched with stems and finely textured foliage of red and burgundy edged in light green. The newer foliage is darker red.
Sweet Potato Vines (Ipomoea batatas)
Sweet potato vines (Ipomoea batatas) performed extremely well this year, particularly one called SolarPower™ Lime, an introduction from Ball FloraPlant™ which received an average rating of 4.3. This is a very versatile plant performing equally well when planted in the ground or in a container, quickly growing into a bushy plant with great lime-green foliage. There were some signs of leaf spot during the wettest part of the summer but plants recovered nicely by the end of the summer. Plants growing in the ground extended out about four feet and covered the ground with foliage.
Petunias (Petunia x hybrida)
It was also a great year for petunias (Petunia x hybrida) with several standouts. The highest rated cultivars included two from Proven Winners®: Supertunia® Vista Bubblegum and Supertunia® Vista Silverberry which received ratings of 4.7 and 4.3, respectively when grown in large containers. Vista Bubblegum® was full of bright pink flowers and building in size early in the summer in a large container while it was not far behind when grown in the soil. By mid-summer it had grown into a fabulous plant, covered in flowers, nicely spilling over and filling the container. Vista Silverberry® produced lots of silvery white flowers that fade to pink and branched out early and was more compact than its “sister”. Later in the summer it grew to become another fabulous plant, covered in flowers with a fantastic spill and fill effect in the large container. Two other petunias of note from Proven Winners® were Supertunia® Pink Star Charm and Supertunia® Violet Star Charm. Both of these hybrids had smaller flowers than the typical petunia but easily made up for size with the sheer number of flowers they produced. The former had white flowers with soft pink star. Plants were bushy and mounding with good flowering. The latter had fantastic bloom power with vibrant white flowers featuring purple star patterns.
Several excellent Pan American Seed petunia introductions all performed equally well receiving an average rating of 4.3. Those included Pretty Flora™ White Improved, Tidal Wave® Red Velour, and Tidal Wave® Silver. The first of these petunias had abundant flowering on compact mounded plants, and looked very nice early on. They grew into nicely mounded plants that were loaded with flowers. By the end of the summer the plants still looked very good for the most part despite having a few gaps, but were still very floriferous. The flowers were large and bright white. Tidal Wave® Red is a showy, tall, massing petunia with velvety red-flowers. It put on a tremendous show in the Red Garden at McCrory Gardens and continued to perform until late in the fall. Tidal Wave® Silver is another taller growing petunia with light lavender flowers, with darker veins and throat. It grew into a mass of fabulous plants which were quite uniform and covered with flowers until late in the season. One other petunia from Pan American Seed that merits mention here was Pretty Grand™ Violet which earned an average score of 4.0. It flowered abundantly early on with fairly large violet flowers on compact plants. Plants became nicely mounded with very good flowering into the fall.
Other Top Performers
Salvia ‘Black & Bloom’ (S. guaranitica) was another introduction from Ball FloraPlant™ that was quite impressive and one that I particularly liked. It develops rich, dark green foliage with nearly black flower stems and calyces that contain dark blue-purple flowers. It worked great in containers in full sun to part shade, grew 20 to 30” tall, and flowered all summer and fall.
There were a few other plants that stood-out in the trials this year. The first is Sedum rupestre Lemon Coral™. We used it in some large containers where it’s wonderful, bright, lime green foliage was an excellent contrast to other plants and foliage. Cleome Senorita Blanca™ Improved was another excellent plant that was full of flowers from spring to freeze. Unlike the old-fashioned cleomes, Senorita Blanca™ is very well branched, is much finer textured and only grows to about 30 or 36” tall. The flowers are nearly pure white compared to its “sister” plant Senorita Rosalita™ with its lavender pink flowers. These were all Proven Winners® introductions that received an average rating of 4.2 or 4.3.
Complete 2015 Trials Information
Contact David Graper for complete evaluation data for all 2015 entries.