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
Orius_June 2015

September 25, 2016

Peace Tree Farm Hosting Biocontrols Event In October

“Advanced Greenhouse Biocontrols for Ornamental and Vegetable Producers” will feature advice from biocontrol authorities Lloyd Traven and Suzanne Wainwright-Evans.

Read More
sbi-software-triumph

September 25, 2016

Greenhouse Software Suppliers Offering A Range Of New S…

Want to know what some of the leading software suppliers are doing to address the ever-evolving needs of their greenhouse customers? Here’s a brief update.

Read More
cannabis-lighting

September 24, 2016

4 Tips On Picking The Best Lighting System For Cannabis…

From energy use to maintenance, here are some suggestions from one expert on how to ID the best lighting system for your greenhouse.

Read More

September 24, 2016

Plantarium 2016 Honors Winning Novelty Varieties

Novelties at Plantarium 2016 were judged by an expert committee from the Royal Boskoop Horticultural Society.

Read More
steve-larson-bayer

September 23, 2016

Bayer Continues Its Shift Into The Ornamentals Market

The company has announced its 12 distributor partners, and also recently named Steve Larson — formerly with Color Spot Nurseries — as its ornamental specialist.

Read More
mukgenia-nova-flame-terra-nova-nurseries-feature

September 23, 2016

Growers Offer Advice On How To Grow Mukgenia ‘Nova Flam…

‘Nova Flame’ is best brought in as a summer or fall crop and bulked over the winter.

Read More
Employees separate the plants by stem count, bud development and height. “This process allows us to respond more quickly to specific requests from customers,” Van Wingerden says

September 22, 2016

AmericanHort Hosting Webinar On Overtime Rule Complianc…

The webinar takes place on Thursday, Sept. 29. AmericanHort is also throwing its support behind the Overtime Reform and Enhancement Act.

Read More

September 22, 2016

Peat Moss Supplies Look To Be Down In 2016

The annual harvest update from the Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association calls for below-average numbers in several major production areas.

Read More
deutzia-yuki-snowflake

September 22, 2016

Allan Armitage Suggests Plants That “Even My Neig…

When the urge to garden strikes, every homeowner needs a few plants like these for their yard.

Read More
customer-base

September 21, 2016

6 Creative Ways To Expand Your Business

Marketing experts offer tips to help you catch the attention of new customers and grow your business.

Read More

September 21, 2016

Floriculture Industry Working To Solve The Whitefly Pro…

This summer, the floriculture industry has been faced with a dangerous new development — the detection of the Q-Biotype whitefly (Bemisia tabaci) in outdoor landscapes. It’s the first time that the Q-Biotype has been found in the U.S., outside of a greenhouse or wholesale nursery, since the pest was first detected on an ornamental plant in an Arizona greenhouse in December 2004. This year in Florida, there have been 47 detections of the Q since April, in retail nurseries and residential landscapes in 10 counties in Florida, from Miami-Dade to Duval County, primarily on hibiscus. Other hosts involved are crossandra, eggplant transplants, lantana, ficus, and porter weed. The detections have been in 17 retail nurseries, eight wholesale nurseries, 10 residential landscapes, and two agricultural fields. Other states have reported Q-Biotype detections this year, as well. The discovery of Q-Biotype whitefly in the landscape is troubling for the entire ornamentals industry, […]

Read More
led-toplighting-from-erik-runkle

September 21, 2016

How To Determine The Economic Viability Of LED Lighting

You can decide whether LED lighting is right for your operation by considering seven important factors that impact return on investment.

Read More
Starcom Plant Partner Enterprise

September 21, 2016

Greenhouse Growers Tackling Software Needs Head-On

Whether by working with proven technology experts or developing their own systems, many growers are looking to update their business software to allow for inventory management, streamlined production, and more.

Read More
perennial-plant-association

September 21, 2016

Perennial Plant Association Southern Symposium Takes Pl…

The symposium is a chance for growers and horticulturists to learn how to better navigate the challenges of extreme weather conditions, while still creating beautiful landscapes.

Read More
OSU ATI Greenhouse

September 21, 2016

Your Support Is Essential For Current And Future Studen…

September is back to school time, and that means renewed opportunity to support the young people who are electing to pursue careers in horticulture. I continue to hear from growers of all sizes, from all over the country, that there just are not enough qualified graduates of two- or four-year horticulture programs. We also need to be active in promoting careers in horticulture to those who are not aware of the opportunities available. There have been some great success stories in this area recently. At University of Florida (UF) last fall, Anna Ball and Dr. Marvin Miller of Ball Horticultural Co. joined UF’s Dr. David Clark in an introductory environmental horticulture couse that’s open to any major. After the class, the line of students waiting to talk with Ball, Miller, and Clark was out the door. It is so important, Ball says, for each of us, individually and collectively to […]

Read More
Workers

September 20, 2016

How California’s New Overtime Law Will Affect Greenhous…

Some growers say they will have to make hard decisions about worker benefits or the crops they grow. One thing is certain: the need to automate is now more critical than ever.

Read More
dutch-student-greenhouse-drone-project

September 20, 2016

Dutch Tech Students Tackle Greenhouse Drones

A group of Dutch student engineers were recently honored for their development of a greenhouse drone that can monitor plant health.

Read More
Pansy ‘Cool Wave Blue Skies’ (Wave)

September 20, 2016

PanAmerican Seed Settles Alleged Trade Sanction Violati…

PanAmerican Seed, a division of Ball Horticultural Co., has been charged with violating trade sanctions to Iran over a number of years. According to a release from the U.S. Treasury department, PanAmerican Seed made 48 indirect sales of seeds to two Iranian distributors. The company shipped the seed to consignees based in countries in Europe and the Middle East. PanAmerican Seed’s customers then arranged for the re-exportation of the seeds to Iran. The release states that the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) determined PanAmerican Seed did not voluntarily self-disclose the alleged violations to OFAC, constituting an egregious case. “We believe that the settlement was extreme; however the alternative was to litigate with the U.S. government, which would take months, if not years,” says Todd Billings, Chief Financial Officer for Ball Horticultural Co. When asked what Ball Horticultural Co. has done to ensure that violations to trade sanctions do not […]

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