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

Latest Stories
all-america-selections-new-website-home-page

December 3, 2016

New Mobile Responsive Website From All-America Selectio…

All-America Selections has launched a newly redesigned and revamped mobile-responsive website that includes a more attractive design, enhanced search tools, and easier and simpler navigation.

Read More
Sea Breeze Catharanthus combo

December 2, 2016

Four Mixed Container Trends To Watch

Mixed containers are still one of the best-selling SKUs at retail. Pay attention to these four trends that are making their mark on multi-liner mixes and combination containers.

Read More
kelly-norris

December 2, 2016

Kelly Norris: How The “Me Too” Philosophy Affects Plant…

When you’re selling the exact same thing as everyone else, it’s unrealistic to expect customers to buy only from you.

Read More
mcconkey-plastic-shelves-feature

December 1, 2016

How Color Point Is Stopping Cart Theft With Plastic She…

Plastic shelving on carts acts as a deterrent to theft, and employees enjoy the benefits of being able to handle the racks without difficulty or injuries.

Read More
oasis-water-valve-feature

November 30, 2016

How You Can Water Plants Based On Basket Weight

The Oasis from Control Dekk is designed to reduce water use by giving baskets the exact amount of water they need.

Read More

November 29, 2016

How Changes In Plant Patent Law Could Affect Your Varie…

There is an ongoing discussion happening among plant genetics companies about the current laws and ethics of plant breeding, and what the future holds for the improved lawful protection of genetics.

Read More
foxglove-aphid

November 29, 2016

How Greenhouse Growers Can Manage The Foxglove Aphid

Recent research is shedding new light on the foxglove aphid. Understanding host plants, identification, and biology will help growers deal with this pest.

Read More
endless-summer

November 29, 2016

Endless Summer Hydrangeas Will Soon Feature New Identit…

Bailey Nurseries, which first introduced the reblooming hydrangea a decade ago, says the new identity will feature a more contemporary look to appeal to current and future gardeners.

Read More
Trays move on an overhead conveyor to the end of the production line, where workers carefully pack the cleaned, sized, graded, counted and sorted Calla tubers

November 29, 2016

Texas Judge Halts Overtime Rule; Here’s What It Means F…

According to Craig Regelbrugge at AmericanHort, the injunction against the overtime rule is welcome news for horticulture.

Read More

November 29, 2016

How The Industry Is Ensuring Consumer Success With Plan…

Greenhouse Grower RETAILING reached out to growers and suppliers for their ideas on how to attract and keep new plant customers. Here's what they had to say about ensuring gardening success.

Read More

November 29, 2016

Heroes To Hives Seeks Veterans For Beekeeping Training

Michigan State University is bringing together two great causes of our times — supporting vets and boosting pollinators — in its new program aimed at teaching professional beekeeping to former soldiers.

Read More
Silver Bullet Heaters (Heat Star By Enerco) Feature

November 28, 2016

The Latest In Greenhouse Heating And Cooling Products

New developments in heating, cooling, ventilation, and humidity control technology are designed to help you manage your greenhouse environment more efficiently. Check out some of the latest offerings from leading manufacturers.

Read More
prince-tut-cyperus-grass-feature

November 28, 2016

Growing Tips For ‘Prince Tut’ Cyperus Grass

'Prince Tut’ from Proven Winners’ Graceful Grasses collection is versatile, working well in all container sizes with its columnar habit and dense canopy and filling out well in the landscape.

Read More

November 28, 2016

Help Nature-Loving, Gardening-Skeptic Consumers Fall In…

Learn sales and merchandising techniques that will help you bring in new customers in part three of our The Missing Gardener series.

Read More
growing-media-december-2016-feature

November 27, 2016

How The Sustainability Movement Impacts Growing Media

As consumers continue to focus on sustainability, growers need cost-effective media additives and options that produce high-quality plants, all while conserving precious natural resources and reducing the grower’s carbon footprint.

Read More
florida-farm-bureau-award

November 27, 2016

Florida Farm Bureau Honors Nursery Grower For Leadershi…

State Rep. Halsey Beshears, a long-time nurseryman, was recognized for his contributions to agriculture during the 2016 legislative session with the Legislator of the Year award.

Read More
Sea breeze combo

November 26, 2016

Four Mixed Container Trends To Watch

Mixed containers are still one of the best-selling SKUs at retail. Pay attention to these four trends that are making their mark on multi-liner mixes and combination containers.

Read More
Begonia at Oklahoma State University field trials

November 26, 2016

2016 Oklahoma State University Field Trials Results

Check out the 2016 field trials results for Oklahoma State University in Oklahoma City.

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]