Verbenas have come a long way since their early days of seed propagation and bedding plant packs. The introduction of Verbena ‘Homestead Purple,’ developed by Allan Armitage in the 1980s, ushered in a new era of vegetatively propagated verbenas. Suntory soon followed suit with their Tapien and Temari series, and breeders haven’t looked back since.
Ranging from trailing basket dwellers to sprawling landscape plants, verbenas are a well-known staple in the garden. Their vivid colors and robust blooms draw customers’ attention in the garden center and spice up the blandest garden corner. Thanks to breeders’ efforts, verbenas are easier to grow than ever. Growers can now take advantage of their many benefits — multiple colors, novelty patterns, garden performance and powdery mildew resistance.
Greenhouse Grower spoke with three top breeders to learn more about the verbenas they highlighted at trials this year. One thing quickly became clear; the beauty and novelty of these new varieties will not be the only outstanding qualities that draw growers and retailers. They are tough garden performers that will stand up to the elements and come out on top.
Enduro Series Promises Toughness And Heat Tolerance
“Being able to bring a solution to the market that adds value is what makes us tick,” says Jim Kennedy, sales manager for Ball FloraPlant and Selecta. The desire to respond to growers’ needs has been a driving force behind Ball Horticulture’s verbena breeding program.
“I often hear customers say, ‘My verbenas burn out in June. I love them in containers. They look great at point of sale, but they don’t last through the summer. What can you do to help? Do you have a solution?’” Kennedy says. Ball’s answer, the Enduro series, is new this year from Ball FloraPlant.
The Enduro series promises to live up to its tagline, ‘Tougher than the rest,’ with a winter hardiness to USDA Zone 8b and exceptional heat tolerance. Ball has certainly put them to the test, overwintering and oversummering them in Athens, Ga., for three years prior to their introduction at the California Spring Trials.
“Enduro’s habit is vigorous and trailing,” Kennedy says. “On the production side, the ability to grow them in the cold is a big plus. The Enduros offer the same cold tolerance as Verbena ‘Homestead Purple,’ but with additional heat tolerance, so they don’t cycle out of color. They also have an expanded color range when compared to ‘Homestead.’”
Ball FloraPlant introduced three colors at the 2013 trials: ‘Enduro Purple,’ ‘Enduro Rose’ and ‘Enduro White Blush.’ Next year they plan to introduce red to the series.
Another problem-solving verbena series for Ball is the Lascar Compact series.
“The Lascar Compacts bring together the habit growers are looking for in terms of control, but with enough vigor to fill out pots,” Kennedy says. “The Lascar series has a wide color range and is ideal for use in quart- and gallon-size containers. They also flower early, a critical factor for southern markets. Their saturated, bright colors add impact to patio containers and baskets.”
Dümmen’s Wicked Series Offers More Choices For Combinations
Dümmen adds eight new colors and one improved color to its portfolio this year, which includes four new Wicked colors and three new Flairs in the Empress series. “Our Flair is a subspecies of the Empress series,” says Paul Hammer, research and development manager for Red Fox/Dümmen. “Selection and development for compact growth makes it easy to grow and produce for packs, quarts and small-pot production.
“We are excited about some of the bicolor combinations in the Wicked series,” Hammer says. “The ones with the white eyes or charms work especially well in combinations. You get a pop of color and can pull out other colors from them. They offer a lot of possibilities and work well in our popular Confetti and Garden Party mixes.”
The plant performance growers have come to expect from Red Fox breeding is evident in Dümmen’s new verbenas. They also fall under the True Grower Guarantee program. When a grower orders a Red Fox product originating from Dümmen’s Las Mercedes production facility in El Salvador, it is free of charge if delayed or substituted.
“The industry has improved at breeding verbenas to solve the problems of cycle blooming and lack of blooming in the heat. Customers have always wanted to see improvements in those areas,” Hammer says. “Our primary focus has been on overall performance, which includes garden form, heat tolerance, uniformity and breeding against cycle blooming and for powdery mildew resistance.”
Innovative Flower Patterns Attract Attention
Last year, Syngenta introduced Verbena ‘Lanai Candy Cane,’ which attracted a lot of attention at plant trials with its eye-catching red-and-white flowers.
“‘Candy Cane’ is a sport from one of the varieties we found at selection trials,” says Kristan McGuigan, Syngenta’s market manager for vegetative. “We are seeing it perform quite well, and its distinct color pattern remains strong and stable.”
Following on the heels of ‘Candy Cane,’ Syngenta broadens the Lanai line this year with three new color additions: ‘Scarlet with Eye,’ ‘Twister Purple’ and ‘Twister Red.’ They have also added one new color, ‘Lipstick,’ to the Magelana series.
The award-winning Twister series has been a popular addition to Syngenta’s verbena line because of its unique tricolor blooms and long-flowering periods. “We are thrilled to be able to offer more color shades in the Twister series,” McGuigan says. “These innovative flower patterns are very versatile in their usage. They draw attention in monoculture containers or work well in combination for baskets and patio planters.”
“New verbena cultivars have to meet or exceed the current threshold within our portfolio for consideration for introduction,” McGuigan says. “Flower patterns need to hold up under high temperatures with no flushing or cycling. Plants must withstand the elements and powdery mildew resistance is a necessity. Only the strongest lines are brought forward.” McGuigan suggests growing the new Twister colors under slightly cooler conditions to enhance expression of the flower pattern.
Syngenta is fortunate to have a passionate verbena breeder leading product development, according to McGuigan. She promises a veritable “candy store” of good things to come for Syngenta’s verbenas in the future.
The newest generation of verbenas offers growers the toughness and durability they have been looking for, all wrapped-up in a complete package of various colors, patterns, habits and disease resistance. As breeding selection continues to improve, growers can look forward to seeing more exceptional verbenas find their way to market.