A New Twist On Freesia

A New Twist On Freesia

I am always surprised to hear growers say they think freesias are not an interesting product. Many say freesias are not in vogue, that they’re old-fashioned or a crop without profit. I say today’s freesia cultivars make excellent cut flowers, and with the right treatment they can be excellent potted plants, too.

Longwood Gardens visitors adore freesias. Over the years, they came to expect the eloquent presence and the pleasing fragrance of freesias in the winter and spring display. Not at all shy, visitors will tell me if the flowers are not displayed on time–or not scented enough.

In my mind, it is easy to see why people enjoy freesias. They are a timeless floriculture standard: the raceme-like flower spike consists of a number of flowers that bloom in sequence for an extended period of time. The blooms may be single or double, and they come in colors ranging from whites and yellows to reds, pinks and blues. And traditionally, freesias have been very fragrant. Certainly, for our visitors, the fragrance of freesias has become a trademark of Longwood’s late winter and early spring displays–right along with hyacinth, daffodils, hybrid lilies and our citrus trees.

All current cultivars have one thing in common that should be of interest to cut flower growers: they are tall and well suited for cut flower production. Recent breeding efforts have favored long strong stems with lots of flowers, although the foliage of some cultivars has often been rather disappointing. Also, growth habit and complicated culture requirements make freesias a poor pick for pot production–at least this seems to be the widely accepted opinion. It is my intention to illustrate that this assumption may be incorrect and, perhaps, ready to be put to a test.

Production

Most plants grown for Longwood’s display are produced in containers for easy transportation and transplanting into flowerbeds of the conservatories. This includes freesias. Expected crop proportions are specified by the display designer who likes plants that are tall and showy.

Due to their growing habit, freesias require staking and elaborate tying–a very time-consuming task. With all this TLC, I produce super-sized pot crops that make astonishing mass displays in the conservatory–but certainly would be impossible to sell to the consumer market. Perhaps due to my ever-changing production schedule and the need for extra plants, I need to either hold plants in the cooler–until bench space becomes available–or delay potting.

Following my regular schedule, corms are planted in October and November. These pots will come to flower in February and March, producing these oversized container plants mentioned. In addition to the regular production, this year’s schedule asked for an additional crop for April display. Due to this complicated schedule and limited growing space, the potted freesia corms were held in coolers at minimum temperatures. The temperatures of the growing compartment were also maintained low because the other crops in this compartment required very low temperatures.

In short, the April crop of freesia was being treated the wrong way. I was rather worried about all these compromises. I was not even sure I would have a crop, or if the crop would flower on time.

These plants came into flower this spring, but the crop was completely off specifications. While I normally grow plants about 36 to 42 inches tall, this year’s crop would be an absolute knockout pot crop if I was growing for the consumer market. The plants are now budded up and have an average height of 8 to 10 inches. The stems are sturdy and self supporting so they don’t need staking. The foliage is dark green, attractive and compact. The flower buds are normal size, so I am a bit anxious about how the stem will hold up once the flowers start opening–considering that ‘Yvonne’ is a double-flowered cultivar. Although I am very excited, our display designer is less enthusiastic about these midget freesias.

An Alternative Approach

When working with freesias it is advisable to find a supplier that works for you. Over the last five years, Leo Berbee Bulb Company in Marysville, Ohio has been my supplier of choice for freesias. For you, it will be important to determine if you like to work with prepared (pre-cooled) material or with standard corms. Standard corms require a pre-cooling treatment. Furthermore, the supplier should help you develop your planting schedule based on your local conditions.

Because Berbee knows how my production works, it has been extremely helpful finetuning my production schedule. Another important factor when working with freesias is to order according to the planting schedule. If corms are stored too long or at a wrong temperature, they will “pupate” and develop new side corms rather than grow a plant with flowers.

Freesias require a well-drained media. Most cultural mistakes are made by choosing the wrong media or by poor water management. If pots stay too wet, freesias will suffer root and bulb rot. However, actively growing plants should never dry out completely. The delicate root system simply desiccates and plants become victim to opportunistic infestations.

I use a specific Freesia mix consisting of the following components: 40 percent peat moss, 25 percent sand, 20 percent pine bark compost and 15 percent vermiculite. The pH is adjusted with lime to a range of 6.0 to 6.5, and I add RootShield at a rate of 1.5 pounds per cubic yard. Corms are planted into 6-inch fiber pots about one inch under the soil level.

While I plant 12 corms to a pot, for commercial purposes, 10 corms per 6-inch pot should be sufficient. The potted corms are normally brought to the bench right away. However, freesias can be started in a cooler with a temperature range of 48-55°F. I sometimes leave the pots in a cooler for up to three weeks, or until first shoots are visible. At this point, the pots need to go to the bench, otherwise shoots will stretch too much.
Suggested light levels are around 3,000 footcandles. Because I grow freesias during the low light winter months, I use supplemental light to ensure proper plant development. The growing lights provide supplemental light and extend the day to 14 hours.

Freesias need adequate nutrition and should be fertilized every 10 days. I have had good results with Peter’s Excel 15-5-15 CAL-MAG Special from Scotts-Sierra Horticultural Products Company. It’s a water-soluble complete fertilizer applied at a concentration of 150 to 200 ppm.

Temperature & Bench Time

Flower bud initiations for freesia will occur at temperatures below 48°F. I keep temperatures at 41°F because we are also growing other cool crops in the same greenhouse compartment. At this low temperature, my freesias usually require about 95 to 110 days, although the time requirement varies among different cultivars. This is about 20 to 25 days more than when freesias are grown at the regularly suggested temperature range of 50 to 60°F. The longer bench time is offset by improved crop quality. The growth habit is compact and sturdy and plant height is significantly reduced.

Market & Post Harvest

Freesias are ready for market when flower buds show slight pigmentation. At this stage, they should be shipped or placed in a cooler. Although freesias can be stored at 33°F for a few days, storage should be kept to a minimum because plants will deteriorate. Make sure there are no sources of ethylene in the cooler–do not store fruit and freesias in the same cooler. Ethylene will lead to a rapid decline of the flowers. Temperature management during storage and transportation, as well as at the sales location, is a must. At a temperature range of 62 to 68°F, freesias have a very long shelf life–up to four weeks–but temperature spikes over 70°F will reduce longevity of the crop to just a few days.

More Tests Are Needed

Because Longwood’s freesia display is popular with our visitors, one surely can speculate on a potential market for potted freesias. By late winter, people are longing for color and the scent of spring. Perhaps in the future, Dutch breeders will provide us with new dwarf cultivars suitable for pot production without the need for complicated growing environment modification and/or application of PGRs.

Until that time, low-growing temperature production perhaps could be the answer for growing potted freesias. For areas with inconsistent winter temperatures, a combination of PGRs and low-growing temperatures could provide the tools needed for producing consistently compact pot freesias. Growing crops at low temperature increased production time by about two to three weeks. However, the compactness of the pot crop was achieved without the use of PGRs. In addition, the minimum temperature input should provide for an improved carbon footprint–a more sustainable approach to crop production.

Leave a Reply

2 comments on “A New Twist On Freesia

More From ...
PP&L CAST 2015 intros

April 22, 2015

6 Breeding Companies Serve Up New Varieties At Pacific Plug & Liner

Pacific Plug & Liner’s theme this year, Labyrinth, a conservatory of the world’s most captivating plants, was perfectly topped off (pun intended) with fascinators for the women and newsboy caps for the men. The PP&L team dressed their part to act out the gothic “conservatory of the world’s most captivating plants.” Truly, the displays looked like they practically popped out of a catalog, and the costumes were a nice touch. Retailers take heed, the fully merchandised displays at Pacific Plug & Liner are worthy of emulating. We’ll let the pictures tell the story of all the fabulous variety introductions presented at  Pacific Plug & Liner’s 2015 California Spring Trials, where Cultivaris, Cohen Nurseries, Histil Nurseries, Jaldety Nurseries, Southern Living/Sunset Collection and Pacific Plug & Liner all highlighted their 2016 introductions.  

Read More
Speedling 2015 CAST intros

April 22, 2015

Speedling Inc. Presents New Varieties From ABZ Seeds, Hem Genetics, Thompson & Morgan, Vista Farms & PSI

You name it, we saw it at Speedling's California Spring Trials location in San Juan Bautista, where five companies showed off their new introductions for 2016.

Read More
PittMoss on Shark Tank

April 22, 2015

PittMoss Wins On Shark Tank

Mont Handley, president and CEO of PittMoss, appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank on April 17 to try to get the “sharks” to invest in his peat moss alternative. Three investors from the TV show contributed $600,000 to PittMoss for a 35 percent stake in the company. Check out this clip from ABC’s website in which Mark Cuban, Kevin O’Leary and Robert Herjavec discuss getting on board with the product. PittMoss is an alternative to sphagnum peat moss, made up of a mix of proprietary additives and recycled paper rescued from landfill space. Handley founded the Pittsburgh-based company in 1994. What started as a small experiment grew into a full-fledged business with the help of funding provided by an EPA SBIR grant and Pittsburgh’s Idea Foundry. Today, PittMoss is available to commercial greenhouses and nurseries from Michigan to Maine to North Carolina, with plans to grow. To learn more, visit PittMoss’ website, or check it […]

Read More
Latest Stories
PP&L CAST 2015 intros

April 22, 2015

6 Breeding Companies Serve Up New Varieties At Pacific …

Pacific Plug & Liner’s theme this year, Labyrinth, a conservatory of the world’s most captivating plants, was perfectly topped off (pun intended) with fascinators for the women and newsboy caps for the men. The PP&L team dressed their part to act out the gothic “conservatory of the world’s most captivating plants.” Truly, the displays looked like they practically popped out of a catalog, and the costumes were a nice touch. Retailers take heed, the fully merchandised displays at Pacific Plug & Liner are worthy of emulating. We’ll let the pictures tell the story of all the fabulous variety introductions presented at  Pacific Plug & Liner’s 2015 California Spring Trials, where Cultivaris, Cohen Nurseries, Histil Nurseries, Jaldety Nurseries, Southern Living/Sunset Collection and Pacific Plug & Liner all highlighted their 2016 introductions.  

Read More
Speedling 2015 CAST intros

April 22, 2015

Speedling Inc. Presents New Varieties From ABZ Seeds, H…

You name it, we saw it at Speedling's California Spring Trials location in San Juan Bautista, where five companies showed off their new introductions for 2016.

Read More
PittMoss on Shark Tank

April 22, 2015

PittMoss Wins On Shark Tank

Mont Handley, president and CEO of PittMoss, appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank on April 17 to try to get the “sharks” to invest in his peat moss alternative. Three investors from the TV show contributed $600,000 to PittMoss for a 35 percent stake in the company. Check out this clip from ABC’s website in which Mark Cuban, Kevin O’Leary and Robert Herjavec discuss getting on board with the product. PittMoss is an alternative to sphagnum peat moss, made up of a mix of proprietary additives and recycled paper rescued from landfill space. Handley founded the Pittsburgh-based company in 1994. What started as a small experiment grew into a full-fledged business with the help of funding provided by an EPA SBIR grant and Pittsburgh’s Idea Foundry. Today, PittMoss is available to commercial greenhouses and nurseries from Michigan to Maine to North Carolina, with plans to grow. To learn more, visit PittMoss’ website, or check it […]

Read More
Danziger_Coreopsis_Solanna Glow1

April 22, 2015

Industry Perspective: McHutchison’s Vaughn Fletch…

Vaughn Fletcher with McHutchison Horticultural Distributors is part of Greenhouse Grower‘s Medal Of Excellence For Industry’s Choice Panel. Fletcher recounts some of the standout varieties he saw while visiting Danziger "Dan" Flower Farms and Beekenkamp during California Spring Trials.

Read More
Lomandra-Platinum-Beauty-Ball

April 22, 2015

Allan Armitage Finds A Lot To Love On His Last Day At T…

On the last day of the 2015 California Spring Trials, Allan Armitage and the Greenhouse Grower team visited three stops that accounted for 12 breeding companies. From annuals and perennials to herbs and strawberries, Armitage found plenty to get excited about.

Read More
CrownBees_Blue-Orchard-Bee-Female_Artz

April 21, 2015

There’s Still Time Left In Crown Bees’ Camp…

There is a little more than a week left in Crown Bees’ Indiegogo fund-raising venture designed to give garden center retailers a chance to help increase awareness of native bees, and to increase the number of bees to pollinate local food. The company is raising $100,000 to redesign “Bee with Me,” a social network that connects, maps and empowers bee boosters across the U.S. Garden centers that take part in the campaign can: Be listed as a local resource for products and supplies in the online network Get access to and activate a new group of customers Be viewed as a leader in the community Be seen as a source of local expertise. Within your own store and brand, there are several ways you can also help to raise awareness about native bees, such as educating customers about the gentle nature of solitary bees. Visit CrownBees.com for some easy facts to pass […]

Read More
Viola 'Yellow Purple Wing'

April 21, 2015

Benary Combines Fun Marketing Ideas With Strong New Pla…

It's no surprise that Benary, which built its company on begonia breeding more than 100 years ago, still has a magical touch when it comes to the genus. Two standouts among a field of great introductions were begonias.

Read More
Syngenta CAST 2015

April 21, 2015

Syngenta’s Getting Crafty With Containers

Containers seem to be the name of the game for Syngenta, perhaps because the company knows that the consumer garden of today and of the future is on the deck. From Kwik Kombos to veggies, Syngenta’s California Spring Trials display provided a variety of options and information that growers and retailers can use to drive consumer success. Bengal is a new series of F1 seed gerberas in six classic colors. The big brother to the popular Jaguar gerbera series, Bengal gerberas have a larger flower but remain compact in containers, and they’re ideal for six-inch and larger pots. The grandiflora F1 hybrid Tritunia series is a compilation of genetics from three different petunia lines, to allow Syngenta Flowers to declutter the market and growers to simplify their orders. Tritunia is available in 20 colors and three mixes. Kwik Kombos, Syngenta’s line of mixed containers, is a big deal for the breeder and […]

Read More
Danziger CAST 2015

April 21, 2015

Danziger Highlights The Best Of Its 2016 New Variety In…

After a long day during California Spring Trials (CAST), Vice President of Marketing Chanochi Zaks highlighted the cream of the crop among Danziger “Dan” Flower Farm’s new varieties. Check out the slideshow to see the 10 varieties that CAST attendees were most excited about.

Read More

April 21, 2015

2015 Paul Ecke Jr. Scholarship Goes To Daniel Klittich

The American Floral Endowment presented University of California Davis student Daniel Klittich with the 2015 Paul Ecke Jr. Scholarship. Klittich will receive $5,000 for two consecutive years, provided he continues to meet scholarship requirements.

Read More
Green Mum Basket

April 21, 2015

Growers Face Dilemma In Managing Plant Growth

Whether you’re applying plant growth regulators, manually pinching plants or using automated trimming, the most important thing is to find the right balance.

Read More

April 20, 2015

Three Michigan State University On-Demand Webinars Offe…

The first rule of effective insect and disease control for vegetables is to take action to prevent problems before they occur. But in order to do that, you need to have an effective pest and disease management strategy in place that incorporates best practices to ensure a successful outcome. Michigan State University offers three pest and disease management on-demand webinars that will get you started and keep you on the right track.

Read More
PW_Sakata_CAST15-4

April 20, 2015

Sakata’s Celosia ‘Dragon’s Breath’ Steals The Show In S…

Since January, when I first saw celosia ‘Dragon’s Breath’ in the landscape at Costa Farms’ Season Premier, I knew it looked like a great plant that would garner some serious attention. And sure enough, up and down the trials road, people were talking about Sakata’s hot new introduction. Celosia ‘Dragon’s Breath’ is a seed-propagated, plume-type celosia that is said to actually perform better with less fertilizer and water. If it’s fed too much, its dark leaves lose their reddish-purple coloring and turn green, and by restricting water, it tends to bloom more. It tends to be a more vigorous plant than other plume-type celosias, and its large blooms are quite attractive. Sakata also introduced a new series of African Marigolds. Proud Mari comes in Orange, Yellow and Gold, and has huge, fist-sized flowers that bloom vigorously. New colors in SuperCal petunias are L.A. Yellow and Pink, and they are fabulous additions […]

Read More

April 17, 2015

Sakata Seed Uses California Spring Trials Display Plant…

Sakata Seed America is putting its post-CAST (California Spring Trials) plants and flowers to good use to support events in local California communities of Salinas and Morgan Hill. The plants, along with donations through Sakata's Charitable Giving Program, will support three fun-filled community events that promote healthy lifestyles and support the agricultural industry.

Read More
Hakonochloa macra Aureola v

April 17, 2015

Ornamental Grasses — A Few Thoughts

Grasses have been embraced by growers, landscape architects and retailers, and are an important component in wholesale and resale sales. Allan Armitage shares some popular grasses, one to avoid and a few to use with caution.

Read More
PW_CAST15

April 17, 2015

Allan Armitage’s Favorite Plants From Proven Winn…

Between visiting California Spring Trial giants like Proven Winners, Syngenta and Danziger, Allan Armitage saw a lot of great plants in one day. Despite the size of the challenge, Dr. Armitage finds a few favorites he thinks you should try.

Read More
Gazania hybrid 'Amber Ice' (Cultivaris)

April 17, 2015

The 80/20 Theory Approach To Inventory Selection Is Put…

Tim Runte of Calloway Gardens is a member of Greenhouse Grower's Medal Of Excellence For Industry's Choice Panel. Here, he shares how he determines which plants shown at this year's California Spring Trials will make the cut at his retail stores.

Read More

April 17, 2015

Trends At California Spring Trials: AmericanHort’…

Michael Geary, CEO and president of AmericanHort, hit the road during California Spring Trials, and noted trends he saw at many of the stops. Here's one that he says we'll need to consider carefully.

Read More