Tag Archives: CSU trial gardens

Breathtaking New Cultivars Flourish at CSU’s Annual Flower Trial Garden

Pots, lined up with military precision, display the latest coleus, geranium, petunia and calibrachoa cultivars, as well as cultivars from other genera.

If you drive by Colorado State University’s Annual Flower Trial Garden on August 7, you’ll notice a horde of individuals, armed with clipboards and electronic devices, roaming around.  They’re green industry professionals, CSU Extension master gardeners, and university faculty, students and employees, all participating in evaluation day.

More than 1,000 annual flower cultivars await evaluation by green industry professionals, CSU faculty and employees, and CSU Extension master gardeners on August 7, 2018.  Some of the flowers are in pots, but most are in the ground.

The evaluators’ task is to rate more than 1,000 new cultivars of annuals on uniformity (whether all plants of the same variety look similar), vigor, floriferousness (number of blossoms), and tolerance to environmental and abiotic stress (sunlight, day/night temperature extremes, soil pH, clay texture, etc.).

Green Fuse Botanicals has developed a new kangaroo paw cultivar, Kanga Jump Red. It’s exciting to see kangaroo paw here in the U.S., given that it’s native to Australia.

Once the results are tabulated, the winning varieties for 2018 will be posted on the CSU Flower Trial Garden website.

Evaluation day represents the yearly culmination of trialing efforts at CSU.  In the spring, growers from around the country ship cuttings to CSU, where students, employees and master gardeners transfer them to 4” pots at CSU’s state-of-the-art greenhouses so the growing can begin.  Seed companies send their newest offerings to Denver’s Welby Gardens, where the seeds grow into small plants under controlled conditions.

In late May and early June, CSU students, employees and master gardeners transplant most of the seed- and cutting-grown plants into pre-dug holes in the ground.  The plants and planting areas are carefully labeled to ensure that the right plants end up in the right holes.  The planting area is regimented, with two rows of nine plants of each new cultivar installed next to other new cultivars of the same type and similar color.  For example, 18 red geraniums from, say, Proven Winners might be planted next to 18 red geraniums from, say, Dummen Orange.  That makes it easier for evaluators to compare one red geranium variety to another.

How luscious is this? Proven Winners has created a stunning new coleus, ColorBlaze Torchlight.

Besides planting in the ground, workers also install many of the plants in large pots with about five plants per pot.

Sometimes hail storms and other environmental events occur that can wipe out new plants.  For that reason, CSU grows backup plants and stores them in its greenhouses.

Among my favorite annuals this year are Green Fuse Botanicals’ Kanga Jump Red Anigozanthos (the beloved kangaroo paw from Australia), Proven Winners’ richly colored and highly textured ColorBlaze Torchlight Coleus, Dummen Orange’s Confetti Garden Cupcake Smarty Party Portulaca, Floranova’s Apollo Pink Cosmos, and Danziger’s Lia Mix Calibrachoa.

Dr. James Klett, CSU professor of landscape horticulture, and David Staats, department of horticulture research associate, supervise the operation of the annual trial program.

CSU’s garden is one of about 80 trial sites throughout the U.S. and Canada.  The yearly trial is operated as part of the All-America Selections program, whose purpose is to test new, unsold cultivars; inform gardeners about the winners; and instill trust in AAS winners.

Besides trialing annuals, CSU also trials perennials and cool-season plants, such as violas and pansies.

So, if you want a leg up on the latest plant varieties, visit the trial garden.  You probably won’t be able to buy your favorites right away.   But if they do well in the trials, you’ll likely find them in your local garden center within a year or two.

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Flowers on Trial at CSU

CSU affiliates and green industry professionals converged on the annuals trial garden to evaluate this year's entries. That area of bare soil? That's where we planted a variety that didn't survive.

CSU affiliates and green industry professionals converged on the annuals trial garden to evaluate this year’s entries. That area of bare soil? That’s where we planted a variety that didn’t survive.

Today was Colorado State University’s flower trial garden evaluation day.

CSU faculty, research associates, students and master gardeners, as well as green industry professionals fanned out across the annuals trial garden this morning. Each of us was assigned 300 varieties to evaluate.

Proven Winners' Supertunia Vista Silverberry was a real standout in terms of vigor, uniformity and overall appearance.

Proven Winners’ Supertunia Vista Silverberry was a real standout in terms of vigor, uniformity and overall appearance.

I reviewed more petunias, geraniums and callibrachoas than I had ever seen in my life. The criteria included vigor, uniformity, density of blooms, foliage quality, color uniqueness and vibrancy, to name a few. The callibrachoas, in particular, gave me insight into the difficulties of breeding those qualities into a plant. Some plants were lopsided with few flowers. Some had leaves with iron chlorosis (yellowing). Others had sunburned blooms. It was an education.

Those perky verbenas that I planted in the trial garden a couple of months ago? Many of them aren’t so perky now. Verbenas seem to have a difficult time with Colorado’s growing conditions.

Lush and luscious--that's Ball FloraPlant's ColorRush Blue petunia. The blue flag indicates that this is the first year this variety has been trialed at CSU.

Lush and luscious–that’s Ball FloraPlant’s ColorRush Blue petunia. The blue flag indicates that this is the first year this variety has been trialed at CSU.

There were several coleus, though, that were outstanding for their vigor, color and uniformity. In fact, I nominated one variety, Inferno, for best of show.

In all, there were about 1,014 different annual varieties this year.  Plant companies could choose whether they wanted their varieties grown in the ground, in a container, or both.

At the end of the growing season, CSU will issue a garden performance report with information that can be used by the horticulture industry, as well as by the public.  In addition, CSU will announce the 2016 winners on its Flower Trial Garden website. Stay tuned.

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Cross One Off the Bucket List: Trial Garden Planting at CSU

Lavender Charme was one of many show-stopping verbenas that we planted.

Lavender Charme was one of many show-stopping verbenas that we planted.

Since becoming a Colorado master gardener in Denver in 2003, I’ve regarded Colorado State University as the mother ship and the CSU trial gardens as the mecca of master gardenerdom.

Last year, I moved from Denver to Fort Collins, and transferred my gardenership from Denver County to Larimer County. This fortunate relocation made it possible for me to volunteer to help install the 2016 annuals trial garden at CSU—something I’ve dreamed about since my first visit to the garden several years ago. Just imagine getting to examine and touch all of the most recent varieties of flowers as you nestle them into the ground.

There’s a lot riding on trial gardens for growers and research professionals. These folks want to find out how well the newest varieties will perform in Colorado’s growing conditions. Toward the end of each growing season, CSU evaluates more than 1,000 annuals varieties on their appearance, growth habits, tolerance of environmental conditions, and other criteria. Then the university publishes a report on its findings on its trial gardens website.

CSU research associate David Staats (kneeling) explains the planting process to Larimer County master gardeners, including (from left) Jim Carroll, Paula Mann, Gerry Hoffman (in straw hat), Daniel Owen, Craig Seymour and Karen Halberg (hidden behind Jim).

CSU research associate David Staats (kneeling) explains the planting process to Larimer County master gardeners, including (from left) Jim Carroll, Paula Mann, Gerry Hoffman (in straw hat), Daniel Owen, Craig Seymour and Karen Halberg (hidden behind Jim).

Earlier this week, six fellow Larimer County master gardeners and I, along with several CSU horticulture students, planted about one-third of the total annuals beds under the able direction of David Staats, CSU research associate, and Sean Markovic, a CSU graduate student currently serving as the annuals trial garden coordinator. My fellow master gardeners included Jim Carroll, Karen Halberg, Gerry Hoffman, Paula Mann, Daniel Owen and Craig Seymour.

We nestled dozens of stunning varieties of verbena, coleus, geranium and dahlia, to name a few. Some of my favorites included Lanai Blue Eyes, ES Lavender Charme, and Royal Peachy Keen Superbena verbenas; Flame Thrower Spiced Curry and Flame Thrower Chili Pepper coleus; and Labella Medio Pink Eye dahlia. I look forward to seeing whether these beauties thrive in Colorado’s challenging climate.

Paula Mann and David Staats (foreground) settle verbenas into their holes, as (from left) Jim Carroll and Craig Seymour work in the background.

Paula Mann and David Staats (foreground) settle verbenas into their holes, as (from left) Jim Carroll and Craig Seymour work in the background.

To begin the planting process, we master gardeners arrived at 9am May 26 at the vacant garden site, where David provided a short planting demonstration.  Crews had already placed signs identifying each new variety and had dug two rows of nine holes each so we could install 18 plants of the same type behind each sign. A tray of plants had been carefully placed in front of each sign. Our job was to make sure the plant varieties matched the signs, and then to unpot each plant, place it in the pre-dug hole and backfill the hole. Because the soil had been amended well, we could simply use our hands, rather than trowels, for planting.

So we each gravitated to our favorite plants and went to work, yakking along the way. At noon, we took a break to enjoy the barbecue lunch prepared by Dr. James Klett, CSU professor of landscape horticulture, ornamentals, and nursery management. Jim is one of those rare individuals who understands how to recognize and reward volunteers. Master gardener volunteers don’t just get to plant the new varieties and enjoy a free lunch; they also later receive the chance to participate in the trial garden evaluation and take home leftover plants.

What began as empty beds are now rows of happy young plants awaiting viewing by hundreds of CSU students and faculty, green industry professionals, and tourists, not to mention many others.

What began as empty beds are now rows of happy young plants awaiting viewing by hundreds of CSU students and faculty, green industry professionals, and tourists, not to mention many others.

After lunch, we spent another hour installing plants. In the next couple of weeks, two more crews of master gardeners and CSU students will continue the planting process until all of the annuals are installed.

CSU’s annuals and perennials trial gardens constitute one of the top tourist attractions in northern Colorado. If you’re in the neighborhood, be sure to visit. You may find a plant that you’ll want to grow in your own garden, once the plants become available commercially.

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