Approximately 40 varieties were trialed at Gateway Technical College and the Pike Creek Horticulture Center in 2017. This year’s trials included annual bedding plants and vegetables.
Wisconsin spring weather in March, April, and May saw slightly warmer than average temperatures, but along with it came a lot of rain. Rainfall in March and April averaged 2 to 3 inches above normal in southeastern Wisconsin. Retail garden centers and customers appreciated below normal levels of precipitation in May and several rain-free weekends. Rainy weather picked up again in June, and by July, three severe storms dumped as much as 8 to 10 inches on southeastern Wisconsin cities, causing massive flooding problems. Temperatures in late September were in the high 80s, with no rain since early August. Severe drought ended seasonal color and caused early leaf drop of woody plants.
Here are the comments on some of the plants in the trial from Kate Field (Horticulture Instructor and Trial Manager) and Kate Jerome (Horticulture Instructor and Landscape Manager) at Pike Creek Horticulture Center.
Best in Show
Scaeveola ‘Surdiva Blue Violet’
A neat and tidy spreading growth habit combined with a beautiful blue flower color made this one of our favorites this year. This plant sailed through rain, drought, and uneven temperatures, edging flower beds and providing a mounding to trailing accent in containers. This compact grower bloomed beautifully throughout the season without deadheading.
Tomato ‘Midnight Snack’
This dark-skinned, almost black tomato created a lot of interest when people saw it growing in containers. Heavy trusses of black, cherry-tomato-size fruits turn red on the underside when ripe for a two-tone appearance. The plant is very adaptable and weather tolerant since we had a lot of rain and unseasonably cool temperatures in late summer, just when tomatoes are coming on. ‘Midnight Snack’ pulled through without any of the usual disease problems or cracking to produce high volumes of attractive and delicious fruit
Dianthus ‘Rockin’ Red’
This perennial introduction blooms the first year from seed and keeps blooming all summer into fall. The plant began flowering for early spring sales and kept going all summer. The dark, wine-red color is beautiful in combination with other strong summer and fall colors to create good visual impact in the landscape. We did deadhead plants twice, once after the initial spring bloom and again in late summer. Deadheading was easy by using hedge shears across the top. These plants continued to set bud all summer, producing huge, lightly scented flower clusters in spite of heavy rain and then drought.
Dwarf Crested French Marigold ‘Bonanza Bolero Improved’
Reliable, adaptable, and easy, marigolds are the workhorses of the garden. ‘Bonanza Bolero Improved’ provides a compact growth habit, large flowers, uniformity, and superior performance under less than ideal environmental conditions. Seed sown directly into a 606 pack in April was ready for the Mother’s Day sale six weeks later. Huge flowers, and pure, intense bicolors are customer favorites.
Canna ‘Cannova Bronze Orange’
Easy to grow from seed and early to flower, this is the only canna to grow where seasons are short and temperatures unpredictable. The F1 seed produces disease-resistant plants suitable for 4-inch early sales and gallons later. Maturing at about 3 feet, the soft-orange flowers topping dark foliage work great in mixed containers and in-ground plantings. ‘Cannova Bronze Orange’ thrives in shade or sun, poorly drained soils, and submerged in water gardens.
Alternanthera ‘Purple Prince’
‘Purple Prince’ is an adaptable, durable, compact accent plant with beautiful burgundy to ruby foliage, for a unique color contrast when spilling over the side of a container. The plant is low maintenance and survives a wide range of conditions. This is the first compact seed-type alternanthera that is a good alternative to vegetative varieties.