Top Trends From Spring Trials

If you want to be in the know, you’ve got to go to the California Spring Trials in April. While some growers may only make the trip once or twice in their lifetimes, because it’s so difficult to leave the greenhouse as spring is getting underway, others have made it a priority to go most years because they want to be at the forefront of all the new developments in varieties, marketing programs and global supply options.

For those who can’t make the trip, we’re happy to be your eyes and ears and provide the highlights from the trip. My traveling companions from April 10-17 were Contributing Editor Allan Armitage and Associate Editor Kevin Yanik. We had a great time posting news stories and videos that entire week, which can be seen on GreenhouseGrower.com.

Movers & Shakers

Last year was a big year for breeder consolidation. We got to see the results, where the dust settled. The Syngentaacquisitions have been different than the typical breeder acquisitions because the global agricultural giant also is a force to be reckoned with crop protection chemical controls and growing media in addition to having a distribution arm, Syngenta Horticultural Services. On the breeding side, Syngenta Flowers combines S&G Flowers, Fischer, Goldsmith Seeds and Yoder mums and asters.

Syngenta’s intent always was to bring the companies together to provide more comprehensive solutions and drive innovation. Now we’re seeing results. In breeding the Diabunda and Dulce dianthus combined S&G’s and Goldsmith’s genetic strengths in barbatus and chinensis varieties. On the technical support side helping growers, Syngenta announced an integrated Technical Services Team that spans all crop input needs–genetics, biological and chemical controls and growing media. While part of the team is on the front lines working with growers and brokers, another group is behind the scenes, writing technical communications and working on research and development.

Ball Horticultural Co. became an even bigger destination incorporating Kieft Seeds and Selecta First Class. While Kieft was an acquisition, Selecta is a distribution alliance. Kieft brings Ball strengths in perennials and grasses while Selecta brings a leading position in calibrachoa and other premium vegetative annuals.

Takii Seed, which is celebrating its 175th anniversary and will be receiving our Industry Achievement award this year, has fully integrated the acquisitions of Global Flowers and Sahin into its genetics. While Global Flowers brings a leading position in gerbera and other pot crops, Sahin brings niche offerings in perennials, grasses, herbs and violas.

Forging Alliances

Beyond consolidation through mergers and acquisitions, we’re continuing to see more strategic alliances. A new one that came together over the summer is the supply chain supporting the Hort Couture brand developed by Jim and Jennifer Monroe for independent garden centers. C. Raker & Sons in Michigan and other young plant producers are part of the alliance along with key breeders and brokers. During the trials, Gerry Raker said he felt one of the limitations of the more established industry brands is the perspective of those creating them was too narrow. Having more segments of the supply chain involved will help overcome issues that arise in execution, he says.

On the cuttings side, Green Fuse (formerly Bodger Botanicals) has contracted with Dutch breeder-producers Fides and Florensis to produce its cuttings in Costa Rica and Kenya, respectively.

Oro Farms in Guatemala is starting the beginning of a contracted rooting network with Head Start Nursery in California and Van Wingerden International in North Carolina. The plan is for Oro to own the production instead of having inconsistent rooting stations. The goal is to expand to regional sites to take advantage of truck delivery. Oro also will be producing unrooted cuttings for Terra Nova Nurseries.

In addition to strategic alliances, we’re seeing more companies streamline their assortments. Japanese breeder Suntory refined its collection from 160 varieties to 100 while adding some new ones this year. The company’s goal was to choose the 100 best plants for growers and consumers while doing a better job of grouping plants by growth habit.

GroLink, which produces a wide range of vegetative annuals and tropicals in addition to mums, reduced its offerings by 300-400 varieties. “These varieties accounted for less than 7 percent of sales,” GroLink’s Paul Gaydos explains. “We give plants a few years, but if the numbers are not there, they’re not there.”

This is the first time we’ve published a comprehensive reference of the varieties that were introduced by genus within the key crop categories. Check out our New Varieties Guide following page 34. In addition to checking out the new varieties, we assess common themes and trends that emerge. Here are the top 10 trends across all locations:

1) Incredible Edibles

Interest in fruit, vegetables and herbs continues to grow as consumers maximize their dollars, take charge of their health and dabble in the culinary arts. This was the first time Dutch strawberry breeder ABZ Seeds exhibited at the trials. In addition to bearing tasty fruit, plants featured eyecatching pink and red flowers.

The most innovative concept in edibles was PanAmerican Seed’s Simply Salad program with mixed lettuces fused together as pelleted seed. Plants grow out beautifully together as instant combos. These would be a hit at food retailers, farm markets and garden centers.

This year also marks the full national rollout of the Burpee retail program managed by Ball. The expanded assortment includes 34 new and five exclusive varieties and a large, mixed container option called Burpee Home Gardens To Go.

Floranova continues to add vegetables that present well in pots in its Vegetalis program and demonstrated how to make attractive combination planters with flowers. New varieties include striped tomatoes and eggplants.

The John Henry Co. has developed innovative marketing concepts for edibles. One is a holographic display that flashes blueberries and then muffins. Another is through a partnership with AllRecipes.com, directing consumers to recipes for their garden vegetables.

2) Combos, Combos, Combos

Breeders and producers are taking the guesswork out of combination plantings by conducting trials and determining which plants will grow well together. The multiliner trend is especially hot and breeders are integrating more species into their assortments. Sales of Dummen’s Confetti Garden liners and unrooted cuttings collections nearly quadrupled in the last year, Chief Business Development Officer Perry Wismans says. Other multiliner sources include: Trixi Liners from Selecta, Kwik Kombos from Syngenta, Multi liners from Proven Winners and Patio Ensembles from Ball FloraPlant. Even cuttings producers are testing combination plantings. Ecke Ranch is conducting extensive research. Oro Farms developed a list of 150 combination plantings that are grower friendly and require only six cuttings per container. Plant Source International is putting together combinations within a genus that arrive together as packaged unrooted cuttings. On the seed side, PanAmerican Seed is pioneering Fuseables, combining different varieties to grow together in seed pellets. These include Shockwave petunias and bacopas. The concept was first tried with straight and curly grasses as Twisted Arrows juncus. For retailers, Hort Couture is promoting combination plantings named after cities. It also groups 4-inch plants together as a ready-to-plant combo called a Fashion Plate.

3) Black & Dark-Colored Plants

There’s no question about it. Ball FloraPlant’s black petunias–’Black Velvet,’ ‘Pinstripes’ and ‘Phantom’ were the hit of the trials with ‘Black Velvet’ becoming a finalist for all three of our Medal of Excellence breeding awards, Industry’s Choice, Editor’s Choice and Reader’s Choice. Expect a lot of attention from Ball’s “Everything Goes With Black” campaign to promote mixing it with other colors. Other dark varieties include cordyline ‘Renegade’ from PlantHaven, calla ‘Black Star’ from Flamingo Holland and calibrachoa ‘Superbells Blackberry Punch’ from Proven Winners. Several women who looked at Blackberry Punch said, “I would wear that.”

4) Maximizing Merchandising

We’re continuing to see a big push on packaging and presentation as a proven way to sell more plants. Proven Winners continues to hire Kip Creel to conduct studies on site at garden centers to compare the sell-through of plants in Proven Winners pots compared to generic pots. Ball also underscored the difference of selling Wave petunias in pink pots and is encouraging retailers to create a real destination through its Ultimate Wave Garden Center program. Ball also is offering free downloadable benchcards for its Simply Beautiful program and encouraging retailers to use mannequin plants as a focal point. The Hort Couture brand also heavily emphasizes merchandising with its iconic silhouette, Lady Couture. Knock Out roses will require a mandatory pot and tag program starting in July. Beyond plant packaging, the John Henry Co. and Proven Winners showed a prototype of instant display kiosks and gifting centers that offer packaging.

5) Cause-Related Marketing

In a down economy, consumers feel better about their purchases if they are supporting a cause rather than just buying things for selfish reasons, says Snow Maestas from Paul Ecke Ranch. This year marks the big rollout for the ‘Polar Bear’ poinsettia with proceeds benefiting Polar Bear International. The program appeals to consumer interests in protecting the environment and animals, a wonderful tie in with local zoos, too.

We got a sneak preview last Christmas when the poinsettias debuted in larger-than-life topiaries in Las Vegas. Ecke Ranch also is looking at new types of pink euphorbias that are different than the Christmas poinsettia and could be grown for breast cancer awareness promotions.

The instant display kiosks shown by John Henry and Proven Winners could easily promote a cause. John Henry’s Bee Friendly program (see page 36) promotes Pollinators.org. Happiness itself can be a cause. Proven Winners has a “We Grow Smiles” campaign for retailers to partner with other local businesses to hand out plants.

6) Consumer Engagement

We’re seeing more one-to-one relationship building with consumers than ever before. Proven Winners has been really successful introducing new programs while growing more established ones. The marketing company has honed distinctive strategies for two distinctive consumer bases–the passionate gardener and the casual gardener.

One high-profile television spot this spring was live on the Katie Couric show at Chicago’s Navy Pier. More television personalities with a female following are approaching Proven Winners. In radio, working with friendly but rival disc jockeys in a metro area has been really fun and well received as they compete against each other for the best garden and share what they are doing. Ryan Seacrest also featured Proven Winners on his syndicated radio show. But perhaps the program that most exceeded Proven Winners’ expectations was the response to its series of Outdoor Living Extravaganza events in major cities featuring garden celebrities along with Proven Winners staff. People paid money and drove great distances to attend.

Ball has developed consumer engagement strategies for three key brands. It’s using the Wave Fan Club to introduce members to more plants. In addition to new Wave petunias, 1,500 members will receive samples of Serena angelonia. For Simply Beautiful, Ball has been partnering with garden centers to have a mixed container contests on site. This spring Burpee ads appeared in spring issues of gardening and nongardening magazines, including Parents and food magazines. The Burpee brand also lends itself to hands-on promotional events focused on community gardens. Facebook fans will each receive a Garden Fresh guide to help them succeed with vegetable gardening.

7) Techno Tagging

Tagging companies are harnessing the information age to link plants and consumers to a wealth of information. Pilot programs featuring Quick Response codes that can be captured by smart phones and ordinary dialing and texting were tested this spring. For the complete story, turn to page 36 for “Information Revolution.”

8) Seeking Sustainability

Sprinkled throughout the Spring Trials destinations were eco-friendly and biodegradable packaging from Western Pulp, Bellan, Summit Plastic and others. John Henry has been promoting carbon neutral, paper-based packaging, printed using wind power. Jiffy presented a plastic-free retail concept called Plant In A Jiffy featuring paper-wrapped seedlings consumers can put in a paper carrying tray. Some breeders also promoted varieties that achieve sustainable objectives, including reduced water, energy and chemical use. Ball has developed an EcoIndex for genetics and packaging and Ecke Ranch promoted an Eck-O collection of plants.

9) Taking In Tropicals

We’re seeing the plants presented at Spring Trials reach beyond conventional annuals and perennials. Plug Connection is promoting a Tropical Surge collection that includes an assortment of acalyphas, colocasias and tibouchina. Heat-loving tropicals have been a sweet spot for GroLink for many years. Suntory’s Sun Parasol mandevillas continue to take the market by storm.

10) Premium Perennials & Shrubs

More annuals breeders and brokers are selectively adding perennials and shrubs and more perennials-oriented companies are participating in Spring Trials. The Color Choice partnership between Proven Winners and Spring Meadow Nursery continues to bring innovative shrubs to market. PlantHaven focuses on distinctive perennials and is evaluating more shrubs. Terra Nova’s lines from tissue culture are showing up in more places. Skagit Gardens shined a bright light on coreopsis and hellebores this year. Ball continues to build its ornamentals division and presence.

Leave a Reply

More From Variety Trials...
National Garden Bureau CAST 2016 Bloggers

May 3, 2016

5 Things Gardens Bloggers And Writers Learned At California Spring Trials

For the second year in a row, the National Garden Bureau hosted five popular garden bloggers and writers on a trip to California Spring Trials. Here’s what each of them had to say about their experience.

Read More
Syngenta Pentas

April 20, 2016

Syngenta Flowers Opens Its Perennial Genetics To The Market, And Plans To Change The Future Of Pentas And Geranium Breeding

California Spring Trials 2016 visitors to Syngenta Flowers found the breeder company and its employees happy and excited for the future, in the wake of the announcement of its acquisition by ChemChina. Now Syngenta Flowers is ready to move forward with its breeding efforts in geraniums, pentas, and other crops, and it is opening its perennials offerings to the whole supply chain for a better chance to get those plants to retail.     Syngenta Wants To Revolutionize Geranium Breeding The big news in this year’s trial, says Karl Trellinger, Technical Services Representative at Syngenta, is the change in Syngenta’s breeding efforts in geraniums and pentas. The Calliope geranium series, long considered a premium line in the market, is getting a makeover. Growers have told the breeder that they love the colors available in the Calliope series, but the plants are just too vigorous for smaller containers and combinations. As […]

Read More
Petunia Vista Bubblegum (Proven Winners)

April 20, 2016

Proven Winners Funds Gardening “It Couple,” Names Plant Of The Year For 2017, And Promotes Retail Concepts

Since 1992, Proven Winners has been changing the gardening game, and it’s not stopping now. With new plants, improved series, and interesting retail customers, the brand aims to make planning easier for growers, and make gardening easier and more fun for consumers. At its new 2016 California Spring Trials location at Kirigin Cellars in Gilroy, Proven Winners had the space and a beautiful setting to lay all of its offerings out, from new and improved varieties in annuals, perennials, and shrubs, to marketing and retail programs. Check out the slideshow below for highlights.   Proven Winners Is Flexing Its Marketing Muscle One of the ways Proven Winners is working toward better use of its products and gardening in general, is by supporting the gardening authorities that gardeners of all ages trust on social media. Director of Marketing Marshall Dirks says while searching for influential gardeners, he came across a young […]

Read More
Latest Stories
National Garden Bureau CAST 2016 Bloggers

May 3, 2016

5 Things Gardens Bloggers And Writers Learned At Califo…

For the second year in a row, the National Garden Bureau hosted five popular garden bloggers and writers on a trip to California Spring Trials. Here’s what each of them had to say about their experience.

Read More
Syngenta Pentas

April 20, 2016

Syngenta Flowers Opens Its Perennial Genetics To The Ma…

California Spring Trials 2016 visitors to Syngenta Flowers found the breeder company and its employees happy and excited for the future, in the wake of the announcement of its acquisition by ChemChina. Now Syngenta Flowers is ready to move forward with its breeding efforts in geraniums, pentas, and other crops, and it is opening its perennials offerings to the whole supply chain for a better chance to get those plants to retail.     Syngenta Wants To Revolutionize Geranium Breeding The big news in this year’s trial, says Karl Trellinger, Technical Services Representative at Syngenta, is the change in Syngenta’s breeding efforts in geraniums and pentas. The Calliope geranium series, long considered a premium line in the market, is getting a makeover. Growers have told the breeder that they love the colors available in the Calliope series, but the plants are just too vigorous for smaller containers and combinations. As […]

Read More
Petunia Vista Bubblegum (Proven Winners)

April 20, 2016

Proven Winners Funds Gardening “It Couple,” Names Plant…

Since 1992, Proven Winners has been changing the gardening game, and it’s not stopping now. With new plants, improved series, and interesting retail customers, the brand aims to make planning easier for growers, and make gardening easier and more fun for consumers. At its new 2016 California Spring Trials location at Kirigin Cellars in Gilroy, Proven Winners had the space and a beautiful setting to lay all of its offerings out, from new and improved varieties in annuals, perennials, and shrubs, to marketing and retail programs. Check out the slideshow below for highlights.   Proven Winners Is Flexing Its Marketing Muscle One of the ways Proven Winners is working toward better use of its products and gardening in general, is by supporting the gardening authorities that gardeners of all ages trust on social media. Director of Marketing Marshall Dirks says while searching for influential gardeners, he came across a young […]

Read More
CallaFornia Red

April 19, 2016

Golden State Bulb Company Shows Off New Concepts In Cal…

There’s no question that Golden State Bulb Company’s specialty is in breeding virtually any color of Calla Lily, available in about any habit — cut flower, bouquet pot, upright pot type — the list goes on. But now, the bulb specialist is focusing on making calla lilies more accessible to the masses, for use in combination planters and the landscape, with calla six-packs. Calla breeder Peter Beckman showed us the shrunken-down version of these beauties, and they’re certainly perfect for patio pots, planting along paths or at the front of the garden, or en masse for an elegant statement. This presentation makes it easy for consumers to pick up and use callas, without the intimidation they might feel from a bulb crop, says Dr. Allan Armitage.   They’re also versatile for growers to plant in early to mid-February to add to finished containers in the spring, or to sell in […]

Read More
Disney Trial Garden

April 17, 2016

Mark Your Calendars For Florida Flower Trials In May

The two-day event, which takes place in Orlando, is held in conjunction with the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival and offers educational seminars, tours, and open houses.

Read More

April 15, 2016

Pacific Plug & Liner Features Plenty Of New Varieti…

One of the best-merchandised spots on the California Spring Trials is always Pacific Plug & Liner (PP&L), where the greenhouse is stocked with beautiful plants and displays, and the people are dressed to the nines and graciously ready to help in any way.

Read More

April 15, 2016

American Takii Commemorates 180 Years Of Industry Commi…

American Takii, Hilverdakooij, and newcomer HMA Plants show off zombie-zone celosia, new dianthus, and hip succulents.

Read More

April 15, 2016

Ernst Benary of America Takes Plant Fashion Week To The…

Ernst Benary of America gave growers a taste of the fashion world during the new variety promenade held during California Spring Trials 2016.

Read More
Delizz Strawberry packaging

April 14, 2016

ABZ Seeds’ Delizz Strawberry Makes Mouths Water At Spee…

Speedling, Inc. hosted Hem Genetics, Thompson & Morgan, ABZ Seeds, Plant Source International, and Vista Farms For California Spring Trials 2016. Here are some of the highlights of the trial.

Read More
Begonia Evi Pink and Evi Bright Pink

April 14, 2016

Westhoff, Beekenkamp, PAC-Elsner And Plug Connection Pr…

Floricultura-Pacifica in Salinas opened its doors to invite California Spring Trials visitors to experience new offerings from European breeders including Westhoff Flowers, Beekenkamp, and PAC-Elsner, as well as California native The Plug Connection. While there, it was interesting to witness the ongoing and highly automated production of orchids, as well as construction of more greenhouse space happening simultaneously. As is tradition, Westhoff Flowers invited its visitors to flag their favorite combos at the entrance, and showed off its unique assortment of annuals, as well as a few concepts. The breeder is working loosely with Florist Holland to show mixes used with Westhoff Flowers — or Westflowers — annuals and Florist gerberas in the center. The combinations are bright and cheerful, and spur a happy reaction in those who have seen them, so it will be interesting to see what happens with this concept going forward. Another new idea is putting together […]

Read More

April 14, 2016

Sakata Ornamentals’ 2016 California Spring Trials…

Sakata is celebrating 10 years of SunPatiens production, and a whopper-sized, three-layer SunPatiens cake was featured at Sakata’s display at California Spring Trials. There are four new colors in SunPatiens, three compact and one spreading, with lots more to come. The Mix it Up combos promise three seasons of color — rain or shine, sun or shade. ‘Sunpatiens Shell Pink’ is not new this year, but is still noteworthy as a recent All-American Selections winner. It was impossible not to notice the electric colors in the Majorette Gerbera line. This new series promises uniformity, a characteristic hard to achieve in gerberas. It comes in six colors, plus one orange color with a ring around the eye. Also worth mentioning is a Clear White, another breeding challenge for gerberas. There are two new mixes in the SuperCal Petchoa line. The Pink Lemonade mix received a lot of attention from trial attendees. […]

Read More

April 13, 2016

Danziger “Dan” Flower Farm Breeding Focuses On Market A…

The company is using available technological breeding advancements to align its products with market demand and give them every chance for commercial success.

Read More

April 13, 2016

Hort Couture Builds Relationships With Independent Bree…

The company works with independent breeders from all over the world to introduce unique genetics to the market.

Read More

April 13, 2016

Dümmen Orange Succulent Combos Stole The Show At Barrel…

Succulents and succulent combos were bigger hits than the beer at Dümmen Orange’s BarrelHouse Brewing location in Paso Robles, CA. With the acquisition of Florexpo, Dümmen Orange now has the capabilities to produce broader selections of perennials and herbs, which featured prominently in its display, along with succulents. Succulent guru Robyn Foreman was on hand to pump up the excitement about succulents and demonstrate their versatility for use in everything from half-cut wine bottles to coffee cups and mini-pots. Color bowls of succulents with Kalanchoe Calandiva and other combos designed by Foreman were a popular item with trial-goers. The company is looking at mapping out some of these combos and pre-determining recipes to make it easy for consumers to achieve the same look. These succulents are moving toward being available as Confetti liners, which could streamline production of succulent combinations, says Tom Costamagna, National Production Manager at Dümmen. More information […]

Read More
Verbena Wicked Purple 2017

April 13, 2016

Dr. Allan Armitage Highlights His Favorite Varieties Fr…

From the explosive color of a new verbena, to the vigor of an upright veronica, Armitage says there’s a lot to like from Dümmen’s new introductions this year.

Read More

April 13, 2016

HGTV Celebrates New Simplified Order Fulfillment And Ex…

The HGTV brand continues to grow, as consumer interest in products associated with the popular home improvement brand increases. Streamlined ordering will help growers improve plant quality and reduce frustration. This year’s big deal at HGTV is its new alliance with young plant grower EuroAmerican Propagators. The partnership allows one-stop-shop ordering for young plants, which will allow growers to receive the plants for containers at the same time, so they can be stuck together, in an HGTV box. Previously, growers would often receive cuttings from multiple locations, at different times, in boxes that didn’t indicate they were from HGTV. This caused growers to not be able to stick cuttings at the same time — a major issue in production, especially for combination plantings. Rolling out to Lowe’s Canada stores, HGTV simulated a mass merchandiser display, to demonstrate how that would look. It’s important to the brand, says representative Maria Zampini, […]

Read More

April 13, 2016

Dümmen Orange Presents Its Impressive Annuals Collectio…

Dümmen Orange’s Edna Valley Vineyard location is a favorite California Spring Trials stop for its view, food, and beverage. But this year’s trials in San Luis Obispo also yielded a number of new variety introductions, new combos, branding, and a streamlined distribution and ordering method that will improve communications and reduce headaches for growers and brokers. With two farms in Guatemala and one in El Salvador, the company revealed it will generally assign annuals production to Oro Farms in Guatemala and Las Mercedes in El Salvador, while the perennials and herbs it acquired with the Florexpo acquisition in 2015, and its new succulents program will be produced at its Antigua Flowers facility, formerly owned by Paul Ecke Ranch. This shift was made to accommodate crops’ environmental needs, as well as to simplify ordering and fulfillment, says Tom Costamagna, National Production Manager at Dümmen Orange. There will be some exceptions, depending on […]

Read More

April 12, 2016

EuroAmerican Propagators Brings In-Ground Tests Back To…

EuroAmerican Propagators’ decision to move its California Spring Trials (CAST) location back to its Bonsall headquarters was deemed risky by some, and applauded by others who said they enjoyed seeing the older format of actual trials at the company. The location included in-ground trials and container trials, and included genetics from a number of breeders who submitted them. For the past few years, EuroAmerican has collaborated with Suntory Flowers on a CAST location at the Ventura Botanical Gardens, but this year, the grower opted to hold its own open house back in the San Diego area. Many have gotten used to not traveling as far south, but as of the first day of the open house, Friday, April 8, EuroAmerican had received a number of visitors, despite the rainy and cool conditions. The in-ground trials were meant to simulate real growing conditions with real-life challenges in the garden, compared to […]

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