Trial plants get good grades for Louisiana

Want to get the jump on next year? Here;s a list of plants that got passing grades in trials at the LSU AgCenter station in Hammond:

By Dr. Allen Owings, LSU AgCenter

Each fall, trial gardens, such as those located at the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station, compile results from entries and name the best-performing of the new plants for the next season. The plants below are new to the industry (in the warm-season, herbaceous annual category). Plants are listed in no ranked order. All have performed very well under south Louisiana growing conditions in Hammond from April 2012. This year was above average for rainfall and average for temperature in south Louisiana.

Senorita Blanca cleome. Photo courtesy of Proven Winners

-Amistad salvia. The hybrid salvia Amistad was very impressive and gathered a lot of interest at California spring trials. It will part of the Sunset Western Garden Collection in 2013. It’s a great new salvia also for the Southeast. We have been very impressed with the performance at the LSU AgCenter. Large deep purple with black calyx flowers, plants grow 4 feet tall and respond well to shaping. Jadelty Plant Propagation Nursery via Pacific Plug and Liners.

-Cheyenne Spirit Echinacea. A great new plant coming for 2013 is the All-America Selection winning Cheyenne Spirit Echinacea. This variety has been performing great in trial gardens across the Southeast this year – from the LSU AgCenter in Hammond to Texas A&M in Overton to the MAFES sites in Crystal Springs and Poplarville. The unique thing about this new purple coneflower is the assortment of mixed flower colors and the fact that it is a seed-originating variety (Kieft Seed). With so many new Echinacea on the market, it is sometimes hard to know where to begin. But this new variety, combined with the award winning seed-propagated PowWow White and PowWow Wild Berry, together make great additions for growers, landscapers, retailers and home gardeners.

This stunning first-year flowering-echinacea captures the spirit of the North American plains by producing a delightful mix of flower colors from rich purple, pink, red and orange tones to lighter yellows, creams and white. This wide range of flower colors on well-branched, durable plants are sure to please the color preferences of any gardener. As an added bonus, Cheyenne Spirit does not require a lot of water and offers a wide range of uses from the perennial border, in a mass landscape planting, in a butterfly garden or as a cut flower.

The AAS judges and their trial garden visitors raved about the attractiveness of the flowers and the range of colors while appreciating its sturdiness and low water needs. Even during wind and rain, this compact plant does not topple over like many Echinacea. The variety of intense, bright colors adds sparkle to the garden from midsummer through fall. As an added bonus, this maintenance-free Echinacea doesn’t need deadheading to provide summer-long beauty. Bred by Kieft Seed.

-Cherry Sparkler Pennisetum. The Celebration series Pennisetums are great improvements over what we used to call purple fountain grass. Fireworks is the cultivar that was introduced first (2010) and is being widely used and accepted in the industry. Nice red spring growth lasts through summer and fades some in fall. The new addition to the series for 2011 was Sky Rocket – with white and green variegated foliage. The new cultivar in the series for 2012 release is Cherry Sparkler. This one has blushy pink foliage mixed with white and green variegated stripes.

As with the common pennisetum – purple fountain grass – plants are best used as annuals in the majority of Louisiana. Plants reach 42-48 inches tall by fall when planted in spring. These are from Itsaul Plants in Georgia, and plugs are available from Emerald Coast Growers in Florida.

-BabyWing Bronze w/White begonia. This is the newest variety in the popular series of BabyWing begonias from PanAmerican Seed. Current varieties are BabyWing White and BabyWing Pink. This new variety is the first in the series with bronze foliage and white flowers. The former varieties are Louisiana Super Plants from spring 2012. Seed-propagated, it works well from full sun (need to plant early in spring for adaptability) to partial sun, partial shade and shade. May slightly tip prune in mid- to late summer. Blooms from planting time in spring until first frost.

-Lighthouse series salvia. Purple and Red are the colors in this new series of annual salvia from PanAmerican Seed. Annual salvia are variable in performance in the South. The Lighthouse series has shown good landscape quality from spring planting in early April through early October. Foliage retention has been a problem late summer onward. But repetitiveness of bloom has been good, and the plants have held up reasonably well in this above-average-rainfall year. Plants were deadheaded one time in early July.

-Senorita Blanca cleome. Senorita Blanca joins Senorita Rosalita as a new addition to these nice cleome. Spineless and seed sterile, it offers constant bloom spring through fall. It is vegetatively propagated and a Proven Winners selection. Senorita Rosalita is a Louisiana Super Plant from spring 2012. These 3- to 4-foot tall plants prefer full sun to partial sun. With pale blush-lavender blooms, it may need pruning to reduce height (which slows lodging, stem breakage) in midsummer.

-Monza series begonia. The Monza series bedding plant begonia is from American Takii. We have been pleased with the performance of four colors in the series this year at the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station. Earliness of flower, large blooms and compact growth are characteristics. Nine colors are available – salmon orange, appleblossom, coral, blush, rose, pink, scarlet, white and orange scarlet.

-Trend Purple Red cuphea. The Purple Red variety in the Trend series from Pacific Plug and Liners performed best from the April planting. Hurricane Issac in late August led to a significant decline of this variety. Plant performance of Salmon, Lavender and Red is superior in September and October, although they were slower than Purple Red to reach their peak landscape performance. All of these cultivars have performed well, and we will be continuing evaluations in 2013. These cuphea appear to be highly worthy of landscape use in Louisiana.

Vincent’s Fresh sunflower. Photo courtesy of LSU AgCenter

-Chocolate Covered Cherry coleus. Part of the Fantastic Foliage collection from PanAmerican Seed, this new seed-propagated coleus has non-fading, multi-color foliage in a unique bold pattern – the rose center on each leaf is surrounded by deep mahogany and edged with a thin green margin. Late flowering and dwarf size make it adaptable to premium pack and 4-inch pot programs. It performed well with late flowering and little to no lodging or stem breakage in 2012 landscape trials at the LSU AgCenter. Adapted to sun and shade, it would do best in a partial sun, partial shade setting. Great companion to other “chocolate” coleus: Chocolate Mint, Chocolate Splash and Dark Chocolate.

-Vincent Choice and Vincent Fresh sunflowers. Both of these are new cut-flower sunflowers from Sakata. Vincent’s Choice features brown centers with deep orange petals. Vincent’s Fresh has a green center. This new series was bred to be more daylength neutral. Better for early, mid- and late season production. Both varieties have overlapping petals with upward-facing flowers on stronger stems.