MANHEIM, Pa. — Despite a rain deluge last week — parts of Pennsylvania received from 8-12 inches in five days — the flowers at the Southeast Agricultural Research and Extension Center (SEAREC) managed to keep a few blooms together to show off to the growers who came to the annual Penn State Extension Flower Trial Field Day in Manheim on July 26.

The day’s events included several presentations addressing water quality, pesticides and plant diseases, for example. To start the day off, however, Penn State Extension’s Sinclair Adam, the trial gardens director, walked participants through the gardens on an extensive tour, discussing the highlights of the plant varieties currently under test at the SEAREC.

To get ready for the trials, at the end of May more than 100 Penn State master gardeners and others work together to plant 875 cultivars into pots, where the SEAREC staff cares for and then evaluates the plants throughout the growing season.

In general, a few plant-growing trends are evolving, said Adam, who pointed out how growers are working toward breeding annual cultivars with a more compact growing habit.

“Consumers are also looking for plants that don’t set seed. It reduces maintenance in gardening and allows the plant to bloom for a longer time,” he said.

Growers like Marty Henry, Miriam Eckman and Anna Mary Barcus, a mother-daughter group from Henry’s Farm and Greenhouse, Holtwood, were looking for ideas and trends when they attended the field day.

“We make it a point to come every year,” said Henry, who added that not only can they socialize and network with other growers, the day gives them a chance to see new varieties that are coming out, and how they look in the middle of summer, she said.

“It’s good to touch base with our clients midseason (at the event),” she said. “They’re seeing varieties here they will order from us.”

Henry said the flower trials allow them to stay on trend and see which flower varieties should make the cut.

One of the interesting varieties that should make the cut is the Blue My Mind Evolulus from the Proven Winners vendor. It has been a favorite among visitors, Adam said.

The Flame Thrower series of coleus (solenostemon) from Ball FloraPlant was another of Adam’s favorites for the trial. In the series, the varieties included names such as “Chipotle,” “Salsa Roja” (new for 2018), “Salsa Verde” and “Serrano” (also new for 2018), sound good enough to eat, but caught Adam’s eye for their growth habit and bold colors.

Also checking in with uniform growth habit and nice color combinations, according to Adam, are the Main Street line from Dummen Orange, specifically the new “Pink Ocean Drive” coleus. He also mention “Main Street Sunset Boulevard” for its strong color combinations on each leaf.

In the geranium lineup, Adam picked out “Brocade Cherry Night” from Dummen Orange.

Out of 110 varieties of petunias, Proven Winners’ “Supertunia Vista Bubble Gum” continues to be a top-selling petunia in Pennsylvania.

“Evening Scentsation,” from American Takii, is a “delicious addition to the petunia kingdom,” according to Adam. It would be best appreciated if it’s planted next to a deck or porch, where the gentle smell of the geranium would be best enjoyed, he said.

The “EasyWave Spreading Silver” petunia from PanAmerican Seed also got a mention for its uniform and floriferous growth habit.

Also in the petunia trials, Adam likes the “Dekko Blue” variety from Syngenta Flowers.

According to Adam, miniature petunias “MiniFamous Uno Double Chiffon” and “Uno Double Light Pink” from Selecta One have exceptionally good uniformity, overall growth, and “flower power,” he said, along with foliar quality.

Proven Winners’ Supertunia “Pink Star Charm” and “Sangria Charm” were prolific bloomers with good foliar quality even after the recent high rainfall, Adam noted.

In the category of scaevola, a sun-loving, drought-resistant flowering plant that does not need deadheading, Adam mentioned the “Surdiva” series from Suntory Flowers as having strong color and being a good performer.

In the verbena realm, Adam would recommend the EnduraScape line from Ball FloraPlant as go-to landscape plants.

In the lantana category, Adam said if a customer doesn’t want to deadhead daily, it’s worth considering “Havanna Sunrise” from Dummen Orange and the new “Luscious Citrus Blend” from Proven Winners, both of which show great color combinations, he said.

For cut flower aficionados, Sakata Seed America’s new “Profusion Lemon,” and PanAmerican Seed’s “Double Zahara” series zinnias were showing great blooming qualities and color, Adam said.

The “Truffula Pink” gomphrena from Proven Winners would also be a good pick for cut flowers, Adam said.

Additionally, the “Sunfinity Yellow Dark Center” sunflower hybrid from Syngenta Flowers is doing well at the trial gardens and would make a great addition to a cut flower garden, Adam said.

A new market opportunity might be training sweet potato vines upwards on a structure, since they can reach 6-7 feet if they’re pushed, believes Adam, who recommended another marketing opportunity: goldenrod. Goldenrod is favored in Europe but only starting to gain ground here in the U.S.

Adam recommended the Golden Fleece and Fireworks varieties, the Golden Fleece being more compact and the Fireworks being more airy.

Also receiving high scores was the Soiree series of vinca from Kientzler North America.

Suntory Flowers’ new “Sun Parasol Giant Marbled Crimson” is proving to be an excellent mandevilla, according to Adam. Their “Sun Parasol Apricot” was the most floriferous in the trials. However, he still felt that he preferred the “Giant Marbled Crimson,” he said.

The flower trials are open to public visitors all season, and the results will be available later this fall. The location of the Southeast Agricultural Research and Extension Center is at 1446 Auction Road, Manheim, PA 17545. Call 717-653-4728 for information.

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