UF bedding plant trials put to bed
In Florida, June's steamy breath can be the kiss of death. That made it a suspense-filled time of year at the University of Florida/IFAS bedding plant trials. "The exciting part of the trials has been to show the real survivors - those plants and varieties that continue to flower and do well ... past June 15," said Terril Nell, chairman of the environmental horticultural program. "These real survivors are the plants we usually recommend highly." Last year, the top 10 summer performers included the Purslane "Toucan" series. The trials also gave the state's gardeners a top 10 list of best new plant varieties, like Ptilotus "Joey," a preview of the goodies they'd likely see for sale in the spring.But there won't be any top 10's to watch for this year. IFAS - the Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences - lost 20 percent of its funding over the past two years, Nell said. While breeders and others in the industry paid well to participate in the bedding trials, the program got so big - 850 cultivars evaluated from April to August last year - it required a paid full-time agriculture worker and two paid graduate-student researchers. "I was $50,000 short," Nell said. Too bad. The trials helped plant breeders, many of them in Europe and California, learn which of their new cultivars to sell in Florida, a huge market with unique needs, said Ben Bolusky, executive director of Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association. Growers and landscape businesses got information about cultivars to produce and recommend to their customers. But what made the program especially valuable to regular Joe (and Joanne) gardeners was the annual May open house for the state's master gardeners. These volunteers, dedicated to educating the public, got to see the plants for themselves and spread the word. This isn't the end of plant trials in Florida. Far from it. Rick Brown, owner of Riverview Flower Farm, which produces the Florida Friendly Plants brand sold at Home Depot stores, conducts his own trials. Breeders will continue to pay to ensure their plants thrive in Florida, he said. "But you can't see them. They're not open." And that's a loss. To see all of the 2008 award winners, go to trialgar den.ifas.ufl.edu/index.shtm. Purslane 'Toucan Yellow' One of the summer award winners from UF's spring 2008 bedding trials. On a scale of 1 to 5, it scored a 5 from June 18 to July 30. "Toucan Fuchsia" and "Toucan Scarlet Shades" were also top performers. They're categorized as an annual, though sometimes they come back. Grow in full sun as a ground cover or in a hanging basket. Ptilotus 'Joey' Ptilotus exaltatus was one of the Best New Varieties during the 2008 bedding trials. It scored 4 on a scale of 1 to 5 in the spring, but dropped to 1.3 from June 18 to July 30. A new annual, Joey won raves in trials across the country last year for its metallic pink feathery blooms, drought tolerance and general hardiness in the heat. UF researchers noted the leaves turn yellow and the flowers brown in mid- to late June.
Reach Penny Carnathan at (813) 259-7612.
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