Ball Horticultural Co. is an anchor of the Southern California Spring Trials, and there’s always a lot to take in at this stop. So much so that we decided to bring you our observations in two separate articles. Here, you’ll find highlights from PanAmerican Seed, Kieft Seed, Selecta, and Ball Ingenuity. See “New Darwin Perennials, Ball FloraPlant, And Burpee Intros Cover The Gardening Gamut At California Spring Trials 2016” for the highlights from Darwin Perennials, Ball FloraPlant, Ch. Morel, and Burpee.
Long a fixture on the seed front, PanAmerican Seed is working to bring growers back to seed by highlighting some of the benefits of seed breeding. The breeder showcased a display showing vegetative annual market leaders in several genera, with the mirror image of a seed variety. The concept – a seed product, sewn with three seed plugs – costs the same as a plant from one rooted cutting, but it looks fuller and provides a healthier, fuller plant that consumers will gravitate toward, and be more successful with, ultimately improving sales and consumer success and satisfaction.
Seed combos are becoming a reality at PanAmerican, thanks to Product Manager Mary O’Connor, who is working extensively to develop and trial seed combinations that will be ready for the market when they hit. She’s doing this by working with eight growers from across the country who have expressed interest in combinations. They’re testing different combos – including one-genus Wave petunia combinations and mixed species combos – and giving feedback about how they work, providing specifics about when to plant, and any special instructions a grower might need to know about plant culture and production.
“There is a lot of detail behind the trialing,” O’Connor says. “The growers have to give me their approval before we release combos to the market.”
This is the first year for the seed combos in North America, and they will be officially introduced at Cultivate’16.
“We want to attack it, improve it, prove it works – we really believe in making these combos work for us, before we bring them to market,” says Claire Watson, Product Marketing Manager for PanAmerican Seed and Kieft Seed. “We’re not coming to the market with ideas – we want to come with trialed and tested plants.”
PanAmerican debuted the first new Fuseables Kabloom calibrachoa combination, Paradise Island, at California Spring Trials. The combos use three different colors of Kabloom calibrachoas, and more are in the works. Something new – the seed combos are Fuseables, meaning all the seed is pelletized into one, because previously the cylinder would get caught in seeders. Pelletized seeds don’t get caught, and they’re easier to plant.
MegaWatt begonia was the big intro at PanAm – a mid-range landscape begonia, between Baby Wing and Dragon Wing and competing with Whopper and Big. MegaWatt is available in three colors – two Greenleaf varieties in Rose and Red and a unique color to the market – Pink Bronze Leaf. The series looks incredible in the ground and offers resistance to downy mildew. Next year, a Red Bronze Leaf will be introduced.
“This is almost a no-fail crop for customers,” says breeder Lynn Knosher.
Watson agrees, adding, “I would love all gardeners to grow begonias like this because they will feel successful. We’re all interested in getting consumers to use more plants. We need to bring to market more plants that consumers can win with.”
On the veggie side, PanAmerican is going after the fresh market – including growers who grow produce for sale at the market, like hydroponic growers. Pelleted seed is ideal for growers like this, and growers have presented the Simply Salad mix as living lettuce at retail.
“We saw a gap between container and home gardening and saw a limitation between that group and large scale production,” says Cheni Filios Product Line Manager – Vegetables at PanAmerican Seed. “The needs are about the same – neither want to use a lot of pesticides due to food safety requirements, and they both want tender fruit, flavor – that’s the unique philosophy behind the HandPicked collection.”
One of the great things about choosing new veggie varieties, she says, is USDA records their names, due to food safety, so whatever name you choose is used forever by government, industry, and consumers.
The HandPicked series has been successful, especially with the Simply salad varieties, and the herbs, because gardeners can sew one time and have instant salad – same way with herbs. The pelletized seeds can also be direct sown into pots, which helps home gardeners be more successful with herbs.
Some new varieties include two new cucumbers and three new tomatoes. ‘Martini’ is a white-skin cucumber that growers for the fresh (farmers’) market are getting up to $1 to $2 for, says James Irvine, vegetable breeder for PanAmerican Seed. ‘Gherking’ is a bitter-free pickling, prolific cuke with a ton of disease resistance, and it “yields like a beast,” he says.
‘Sunrise Sauce’ is a breeder preference. Irvine says he loves canning with orange paste, and this is the first professionally bred orange paste tomato, with Fusarium and verticillum resistance.
‘Candyland Red’ produces current-size, mini-mini tomatoes (think M&Ms) that are indeterminate. They’ve earned an AAS award, and they’re super kid-friendly.
Finally, ‘Tomato Stellar’ has earned that name from its stellar disease resistance, including late and early blight resistance and one of the only tomatoes with septoria leaf spot resistance, Irvine says.
Some of the other highlights of PanAmerican include ornamental peppers ‘Hot Pops’ and ‘Sedona Sun,’ and marigolds ‘Fireball’ and ‘Strawberry Blonde,’ which provide multi-color in one variety.
Growers and retailers looking to grow pollinator-friendly plants have to start with perennials, Watson says, and Kieft Seed has introduced four new ones that will get you growing. With its specialty in first-year flowering perennials, Kieft Seed’s intros go up against others with their no-vernalization appeal. New varieties include:
- Perovskia ‘Blue Steel,’ a professional grade perovskia from seed.
- Gaillardia ‘Mesa Red’ is a color that’s been missing from the now six-year-old series, and it’s a uniform plant with a saturated, clear, no-fade color that competes with Arizona Shades.
- ‘LaVance Deep Purple’ is a Lavandula angustafolia that’s bred to be later flowering for summer sales. It has smaller flowers, but it’s all about providing summer color from English lavender, and according to Kieft, it’s the only summer-flowering lavender on the market from seed.
- Coreopsis ‘Sun Kiss’ is a single-petaled standalone, first-year flowering perennial with huge flowers, and bright, eye-catching color.
Kieft is also known for its brilliant cut flower varieties and gift plants. The Revolution gerbera series has some great new varieties – three bicolors, including the new Red Lemon that’s a new color on the market.
As the arm of the company that works with third-party breeders, sometimes this can mean Ball is competing with itself. This is the case with the Whopper series of begonia marketed through Benary. Ball Ingenuity presents a new branding package, positioning Whopper as The Landscape Begonia.
Twisted Celosia is a new series, adding to the Intenz series, which offers fall interest, selling alongside mums and other fall varieties.
‘Sweet Kiss’ strawberry is the star of this show, with not only delicious, flavorful fruit, but also attractive marketing materials that provide the whole package at retail. The variety is Zone 4 hardy, open-pollinated, ever-bearing, and exciting for growers.
‘Sweet 16’ primula is another great intro, with the potential for helping growers make more money on a plant that’s become a commodity. It has bigger foliage, and 30% more flowers, and flowers open white and turn darker. Plants do best in larger pots – 5 to 6 inch, which allows growers to sell at higher margins.
At long last, Petunia ‘Night Sky’ is ready and on the market. This variety has been so popular, prior to introduction, that if you Google it, products like mobile phone covers and blankets pop up. It’s all over Pinterest and other social media, and it’s become an international phenomenon – so you know it’s going to sell itself at retail.
The variety was first shown at 2015 Spring Trials, but held back as a 2017 intro, because breeders wanted to try to improve the pattern. What they found out is that it’s susceptible to the environment, so if it’s cooler, the white blotches are larger and if it’s warmer, there is more blue/purple on the plant.
‘Night Sky’ is in stores now and people are excited. Stefan Reiner, Head of Product Management for Selecta, says as part of the trials, he had his whole neighborhood grow ‘Night Sky.’ He set up a What’s App account for the neighborhood and was receiving photos from his excited neighbors constantly. More colors are coming, and will be introduced at the European Spring Trials in Week 24.
Other notables from Selecta include the Star Shine series of calibrachoa, and the MiniFamous Neo Calibrachoas. The new Gisele phlox series did really well at the Costa trials. With five colors in the series. It looks great in containers and the landscape.