We have been trialing seed and vegetative annuals for three years. We included about 40 seed and 15 vegetative annual varieties this year. We also added about 5 perennial species and 5 woody trials this year.
All our trial plants are planted directly in the ground or in above ground containers. Most of the trials are planted in irrigated beds but we do have a portion that are hand watered, including the container trials. Perennial trials are planted in both irrigated and non- irrigated beds. We also plant some perennials within 15” of sidewalks that receive salt applications for winter ice removal. The perennial trials are ongoing and will evaluate winter hardiness, salt tolerance and garden performance over a three year period.
The soil in our area is heavy clay with high levels of organic matter. Fir bark mulch is applied during the growing season but we plan to switch to shredded leaf mulch next year. We evaluate annual seed varieties for greenhouse as well as landscape performance. In the greenhouse this includes uniformity of germination, growth and maturity for harvest. We are also interested in annuals that stay compact without the need for PGRs and that hold well in containers at retail. We grow seeds in a 288 plug tray and shift up to a 606 flat or 4” pot depending on mature size.
Spring 2011 weather in Wisconsin, like much of the country, was exceptionally cold and rainy with crops being as much as 2 weeks later than ‘normal’ until about late June. Cold and rainy is not exactly unusual for a Wisconsin spring but we usually get a few nice weekends to move spring along and drive garden center sales. Retailers and growers experienced a lot of plant damage and lost sales due to the cold, rainy weather forcing early clearance sales and markdowns. Several retail garden centers described spring 2011 as one of the worst in twenty years in terms of weather and sales.
Temperatures in southeast Wisconsin spiked into the 90’s and stayed there for several weeks mid to late July, extending off and on into early August. Several days saw heat advisory warnings. The heat was accompanied by lower than normal rainfall for the months of August and September. While not officially considered a drought, conditions were unusually hot and dry. These high temperatures coupled with low rainfall, meant supplemental irrigation had to be provided to planting beds that normally receive no extra irrigation. Heat stall and heat/drought related collapse were observed in community flower beds that did not receive irrigation.
Temperatures began to cool rather early and suddenly; by the third week of August night temperatures in the low 50s were occurring regularly. The month of September has been unusually cool with days in the 60s many nights in the 40s. The first frost warning was given September 12. The first hard frost usually occurs near October 15 in southeast Wisconsin with warmer temperatures near Lake Michigan. A light frost and cold injury was experienced on warm season crops as early as September 12 in western Kenosha county and into southwestern Wisconsin.
Most of the plants we recieve are genrously donated by Ball Horticultural. However since my trip last spring to the California Spring Plant trials we have added a few more breeders and brokers, namely Fides North America (Dianthus), DeVroomen (Delosperma), Walters Gardens (Proven Winners Hibiscus and Leucanthemum) NovaFlora (Drift Roses).
Over the next few weeks I’ll be describing some of the favorites of our 2011 field trials. The main focus of trials this year has been annual since we just began the perennial trials this year. However a couple perennials performed very well and bloomed the first year after planting, even though some were planted quite late. The perennial trials will carry over into next year as we see which ones make it though a Wisconsin winter! Stay tuned to see ‘must have’ plants for 2012