Penstemon is a genus that flirts with stardom. It includes some of the most spectacular wildflowers in North America with eye-popping reds, true blues, and rich purples.  Unfortunately, most species are quite prone to root rot. Thus, while many penstemons flower profusely on rocky hillsides, they fade away when brought into cultivation. However, several breeders have been working on the genus and Dale Lindgren of University of Nebraska has produced some wonderfully durable penstemons. One of these, Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’ (Terra Nova) scored very well in the trials due to its high productivity – cut flower growers harvested an average of 17.5 stems per plant with one trialer noting a harvest of “20 to 30 on first harvest”.  Stem length ranged from 12 to 36 inches, quite a spread in length. Typically the first stems harvested were quite long. Each stem had a cluster of light pink flowers nicely highlighted by the dark bronzy red foliage. Plants were quite durable as none of the plants died during the winter in Zones 5, 5b, 7 and 8b. Not many problems were noted by cut flower grower other than a short flowering period and sticky stems (be careful of where you place the bunches).

Heuchera have been in the cut flower trials in the past and several have scored quite well. This year, ‘Paris’ (Terra Nova) was exceptionally productive, with an average of 36 stems per plant, which were 6 to 18.5 inches long. ‘Paris’ produced long stems with dozens of small coral-rose flowers, which make great fillers. One grower noted that plants flowered “all summer after big flush in the spring’ and that “flowers lasted a long time on the plant – at least two weeks for each stem before the individual flowers would fade.”

Monarda ‘Raspberry Wine’ (Gro ‘N’ Sell) was one of our personal favorites for its rich color, unique shape, high productivity and long stems. Last year it scored so well that it was nominated for Fresh Cut Flower of the Year and this year it performed equally well. Plants produce an average of 15 stems each, although we got 26 harvestable stems per plant here at NCSU. Stem length ranged from 15 to 26.5 inches long. 

This was the first year in the trials for Rudbeckia ‘Henry Eilers’ (Terra Nova), but all the plants flowered, producing an average of 12 stems per plant. Stems lengths averaged a respectable 23 inches long, with at least one person getting 36-inch long stems. Respondents listed many positive qualities, from the “long, strong stems” to the “architectural quality to the flowers”. No problems were listed, except one person who said “they are still blooming in mid November, enough already.”  Needless to say, ‘Henry Eilers’ scored well and was nominated for Fresh Cut Flower of the Year. According to one trialer, ‘Henry Eilers’ was “the most successful of the 10 perennials that I trialed this year”.

In the woody trials we are testing several of the beautiful shrub roses from Kordes.  While we will be tracking these for several years, ‘Toscana Freelander’ is doing quite well so far, according to the trialers. It has large bright red flowers on strong stems. In addition to the comments and data, at NCSU we rated each of the cultivars according to fragrance, the incidence of black spot, defoliation and thorns. ‘Perfumed Passion’ had the strongest fragrance, closely followed by ‘Mon Petit Chou’ and ‘Sweet Antique’. ‘Party Dress’ and ‘Antique Caramel’ had some fragrance, while the rest had limited fragrance. The worst for black spot were ‘Toscana’ and ‘Antique Caramel’. The cultivars with the least black spot were ‘Mon Petit Chou’, ‘Corrie Freelander’, ‘Party Dress’, and ‘Perfumed Passion’. Of these, all but ‘Corrie Freelander’, held most of their foliage by the end of the summer. However, ‘Samba’, ‘Toscana’ and some of the ‘Corrie Freelander’ plants had lost much of their foliage. Thorniness varied quite a bit from the very thorny ‘Samba’ and moderately thorny ‘Honey Freelander’ to the almost thornless ‘Corrie Freelander’. ‘Perfumed Passion’ and ‘Antique Caramel’ also had relatively few thorns.

The past couple years we have discussed the surge of stunning new Echinacea hybrids. These spectacular plants come in a variety of colors from white, pink and purple – the traditional colors – to yellows, oranges and all shades in between. Regardless, several cultivars planted this year scored quite well. Of these, ‘Green Eyes’ (Terra Nova) received the highest scores. Plants produced an average of 4.5 stems that were 7 to 18 inches long. Cut flower growers loved the vibrant pink color with the green centers. This cultivar was good enough for one person to write “in my opinion, most echinaceas are not great cut flowers. However, two of this group – ‘Green Eyes’ and ‘Fragrant Angel’ – have made me reconsider. They are both beautiful cuts.”

In their second year ‘Merlot’ and ‘Purity’ (Terra Nova) did quite well. ‘Merlot’ produced an average of five and a half stems per plant and the stems were 11 to 18 inches long. We loved the rich rosy purple petals and dark purple stems. ‘Purity’ produced an average of 11 stems/plant, which were 10 to 15.5 inches long and sported bright white petals.

We feel it is important, unfortunately, to mention again that growers in the center of the U.S. will have a difficult time growing coneflowers for more than a year or two due to aster yellows phytoplasm (AYP). As Laurie Hodges pointed out, this leafhopper-transmitted disease is especially prevalent in the central states. There have also been a number of reports of hybrid echinaceas “melting away” after prolonged flowering. 

Based on trial results, the top five performers are automatically nominated for the ASCFG Cut Flower of the Year competition. Rankings are based on the combined ratings score:  market appreciation + repeat again + ease of cultivation for those cultivars where more than three trialers responded. Thus, from the 2010 trials Heuchera ‘Paris’, Monarda ‘Raspberry Wine’, Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’, Rudbeckia ‘Henry Eilers’, and Rosa ‘Toscana Freelander are nominated as Cut Flowers of the Year and will join nominations from the seed trials and from ASCFG members.

Interpreting the trial results: The numbers reported are averages of all the respondents. Many factors will affect the success of any plant species. Our participants are growing and harvesting the trial plants in a wide variety of ways. For example, with annual asters some people harvest the entire plant as one bunch while others harvest each individual flowering branch, giving very different stem lengths and yield data. After looking at the average, check the range of responses listed below each number to see how the cultivar performed at its best and its worst. If the range of responses in the ratings is narrow and high, i.e., 3-5 or 4-5, the plant was a winner for most of the respondents and is likely to do well for you. The “Repeat Again Rating” is particularly important because it indicates if the trialer would take the time, money, and space to actually grow the cultivar again. Review the trial results carefully. If a species sounds interesting but did not appear to do well, try it anyway. The cultivar may work well for you. 

Acknowledgments: All cut flower growers should thank the perennial and woody plant producers for providing the plant materials and the growers for producing the plants, collecting data and submitting trial reports. The growers paid for shipping expenses and agreed to provide data for at least two years. Plants were donated by perennial producers and shipped as the perennial plugs or dormant roots directly to the trialers. I would also like to thank Ingram McCall for taking care of the North Carolina State University portion of the trials, Brigitte Crawford, Erin Regan, Diane Mays, Michelle McElhannon, Brad Holland, and Tim Ketchie for assisting with the NCSU trials, and Caroline Richardson for laboriously condensing the comments and data. In preparing the report we have edited the participant’s comments for space and clarity; my apologies if we’ve altered the tone or content of anyone’s comments. Thanks to everyone for making this service of ASCFG possible.

Participating Perennial Suppliers

Gro ‘n’ Sell
320 Lower State Road
Chalfont, PA 18914
(215) 822-1276
(215) 997-1770 (fax
www.gro-n-sell.com

Terra Nova Nurseries
10051 S. Macksburg Road
Canby, OR 97013
(800) 215-9450
(503)263-3150
www.terranovanurseries.

 

Participating Perennial Growers

Cynthia Alexander
Bloomlust
Frisco, TX

Janet Bachmann
Riverbend Gardens
Fayetteville, AR

Christof Bernau
UCSC Farm & Garden
Santa Cruz, CA

Maureen Charde
High Meadow Flower Farm
Warwick, NY

Josie Crowson
Josie’s Fresh Flowers
Nacogdoches, TX

John Dole
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC

Thea Folls
Foll’s Flower Farm
Auburn, NY

Laurie Hodges
Dept. Agronomy and Horticulture
Lincoln, NE

Ingram McCall
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC

Kent Miles
Illinois Willows
Seymour, IL

Tom Parker
Parkerhouse Nursery
Mays Landing, NJ

Jamie Rohda
Dept. Agronomy and Horticulture
Lincoln, NE

Joan Thorndike
La Mera Gardens
Ashland, OR

Participating Woody Suppliers

Kordes Roses from Newflora LLC
972 Old Stage Rd., Central Point, Oregon 97502
(541) 941-4378
www.newflora.com

Schulte’s Greenhouse and Nursery
(Willow – no data yet)
2960 LaBeaux Ave. St. Michael, MN 55376
(763) 497-3747
www.schultesgreenhouse.com

Summary of Comments

The number in parenthesis refers to the number of respondents who made the comment.  If no number is present, only one person made the comment.  Comments by each individual are separated with a semicolon (;)  Note: many respondents did not make specific comments on each cultivar and in some cases, comments have been shortened because of limited space.

2010 Perennial Cut Flower Trial Cultivar List – Year 1

Echinacea ‘Firebird’ (Terra Nova)
Good Qualities: Nice color (3); Strong stems.
Problems: Many died; Stem too short; Petals droop after a few days in water.
Insects or Diseases: Lost about 40% of these plants to gophers; Some insect damage on petals.
Postharvest Recommendations: Plain water.
Additional Comments: Short (3); few usable stems (3);  Not particularly attractive; Would not grow any of them again; Not particularly unique within the range of cultivars; Nice color; Nice fragrance; Apparent hardiness; Looking forward to seeing how they do in year two.

Echinacea ‘Flame Thrower’ (Terra Nova)
Good Qualities: Vibrant color (3); Very dark pink ray flowers; Good stem length and rigidity; Long bloom season.
Problems: Stems too short; Many died.
Insects or Diseases: Insect chewing on petals.
Postharvest Recommendations: Plain water.
Additional Comments: Rather short; Few usable stems; Not particularly attractive; Would not grow any of them again; Nice color; Nice fragrance; Apparent hardiness; Looking forward to seeing how they do in year two.

Echinacea ‘Fragrant Angel’ (Terra Nova)
Good Qualities: Nice big white bloom with green center (3); Non-drooping petals (2); Fragrance.
Problems: Short stems (2); As with many white flowers, after a few days the white color looks shabby – in this case the petals had a green tinge.
Insects or Diseases: Insect damage on some petals; Leaves of some plants look like they might have a virus.
Postharvest Recommendations: Plain water.
Additional Comments: Nice color; Nice fragrance; Apparent hardiness; Looking forward to seeing how they do in year two.

Echinacea ‘Green Eyes’ (Terra Nova)
Good Qualities: Gorgeous bright pink with green centers (4); Very prolific;  Non-drooping petals; Fragrant; Long bloom season.
Problems: Short (3); Not very many stems per plant.
Insects or Diseases: Gophers liked them – we lost 50% of the plants by late season;  Insect damage to some petals.
Postharvest Recommendations: Plain water.
Additional Comments: ‘Green Eyes’ and ‘Flame Thrower’ began to bloom later and had more blossom buds at frost than the others; In my opinion, most echinaceas are not great cut flowers. However ‘Green Eyes’ and ‘Fragrant Angel’ have made me reconsider, they are both beautiful cuts; Nice color; Nice fragrance; Apparent hardiness; Looking forward to seeing how they do in year two, All echinaceas bloomed here from early to mid August until frost (Zone 6/7)

Echinacea ‘Maui Sunshine’ (Terra Nova)
Good Qualities: Nice yellow color (5); Very interesting flowers; Customers  really liked the yellow ray flowers and the “petals” were broader, thus more showy, than Echinacea paradoxa. Ray flowers also were held relatively straight outward, unlike E. paradoxa; Wonderful fragrance; Tall stems.
Problems: Many died; Some insect damage.
Insects or Diseases: Insect chewing on petals made some flowers useless for sale.
Postharvest Recommendations: Plain water.
Additional Comments: Rather short; Few usable stems; Not particularly attractive; Would not grow any of them again; Had a hard time interesting florists in Echinacea as a group. But they did like the long stems of this cultivar; Nice color; Nice fragrance; Apparent hardiness; Looking forward to seeing how they do in year two.

Echinacea ‘Pink Poodle’ (Terra Nova)
Good Qualities: Beautiful, very double bloom (3); Most cones entirely covered with petals; Petals remained flat for the seven days in water.
Problems: Most died and those that lived had very short stems; Flowers too fussy and didn’t seem to hold up after harvest.
Insects or Diseases: Insect chewing on some petals.
Postharvest Recommendations: Plain water.

Echinacea ‘Tangerine Dream’ (Terra Nova)
Good Qualities: Nice deep orange color (3); Lots of attention from customers; Petals remained flat the full seven days; The cone didn’t continue to develop. Once the cone protrudes the petals droop making the flower less desirable to some florists; Hoping for longer stems next year
Problems: Many died; Few flowers per plant.
Insects or Diseases: Gophers enjoyed them – we lost about 30%; Some insect chewing.
Similar Species: ‘Tiki Torch’
Postharvest Recommendations: Plain water.
Additional Comments: Rather short (2); Few usable stems; Not particularly attractive; Would not grow any of them again; Used all the echinaceas (except ‘Pink Poodle’) with various colors of yarrow in bouquets.

Eucomis ‘Oakhurst’ (Terra Nova)
Good Qualities: Nice bronze foliage.
Problems: Ten percent died; Maybe it will flower next year, if it survives zone 5 conditions.
Additional Comments: Did not flower this year (3).

Leucanthemum ‘Paladin’ (Terra Nova)
Good Qualities: Very floriferous for a first year plant (3); Very nice bright white color and semi double, frilly nature; Long postharvest life; About 75% are still alive.
Problems: Short plants and stems (3); Small flowers, very short stems (2); Hard to use and pick; Seem top heavy and stems often twisted; Don’t like the look of the double petals.
Postharvest Recommendations: Plain water.
Additional Comments: Will see what these same plants do next year, but won’t plant more – prefer single petal type of Leucanthemum.

Rudbeckia ‘Henry Eilers’ (Terra Nova)
Good Qualities: Long vase life (3), strong stems, grew tall (2) and stood up without floral netting; Unique petals (2); Withstood August heat and drought, Customers loved it (2), Easy to use in arrangements.
Postharvest Recommendations: Chrysal Pro. #2, but plain water also seemed to be fine.
Additional Comments: Very popular with florists; The most successful of the 10 perennials that I trialed this year.

2010 Perennial Cut Flower Trial Cultivar List – Year 2

Agastache ’Cotton Candy’ (Terra Nova)
Good Qualities: Nice color.
Problems: Scrawny plants, Weak stems, Poor postharvest life.
Additional Comments: No more agastache!

Agastache ‘Summer Sky’ (Terra Nova)
Good Qualities: Nice color.
Problems: Scrawny plants, Weak stems, Poor postharvest life.
Additional Comments: No more agastache!

Echinacea ‘Mac n Cheese’ (Terra Nova)
Good Qualities: Nice color; Non-droopy petals; Strong stems.
Problems: Very few stems per plant this year; Too short; Bloom quality is inconsistent.
Insects or Diseases: Fungus problems.

Echinacea ‘Merlot’ (Terra Nova)
Good Qualities: Great color (2); Good stem length (2); Non-droopy petals; Large bloom.
Problems: A bit taller than last year, but still short; Bloom quality inconsistent.
Postharvest Recommendations: See NCSU postharvest article in this issue for more information.

Echinacea ‘Purity’ (Terra Nova)
Good Qualities: Bright, white color; Non-drooping petals; Nice size bloom.
Problems: Most stems were much too short.
Postharvest Recommendations: See NCSU postharvest article in this issue for more information.

Echinacea ‘Tiki Torch’ (Terra Nova)
Good Qualities: Vibrant orange red (2); Good flower size; Non-droopy petals; Strong stems.
Problems: Came back well from the winter, but all plants died over the summer; Too short; Bloom quality is inconsistent; Did not produce as many stems as several other cultivars.
Insects or Diseases: Fungus problems; The western pocket gopher seemed to find ‘Tiki Torch’  the tastiest of all of the trial varieties, thus we lost about 60% of the plants by late season.
Additional Comments: Perhaps ‘Tiki Torch’s’ lack of productivity was due to root grazing by the gophers. To prevent any additional losses, I am going to dig and pot them for the winter, so I will get a chance to look at their roots, or lack thereof.

Echinacea ‘Tomato Soup’ (Terra Nova)
Good Qualities: Nice color; Non-droopy petals; Strong stems.
Problems: Came back well from the winter, but all plants died over the summer; Too short; Bloom quality is inconsistent.
Insects or Diseases: Fungus problems.
Postharvest Recommendations: See NCSU postharvest article in this issue for more information.

Helleborus ‘Double Queen Mix’ (Gro ‘n’ Sell)
Good Qualities: Soft colors; Early spring bloom time.
Problems: Stems were not long enough for use and not abundant;. Plants seem to be thriving; Hoping in year 3 they produce more.
Insects or Diseases: Rabbits nibble off leaves until none are left. Someone needs to inform them that they are toxic! Apparently hellebores like partial shade, not full shade under a Cornus mas and tree peony. Those on the outside where they get morning sun are doing better so far. Also, 6 plants were devoured by voles.
Additional Comments: Doesn’t like hot summer climate (2); Lovely double flowers; Potential for respectable stem length for florist work; Planning to move some plants to more light this fall and hope for more stems/plant in 2011.

Heuchera ‘Paris’ (Terra Nova)
Good Qualities: Beautiful, coral-rose color; Bright clear red; Very prolific bloomer; Great addition to bouquets; Blooming all summer after big flush in the spring; In late spring some plants had exceptionally tall flowering stems; Flowers lasted a long time on the plant – at least two weeks for each stem before the individual flowers would fade.
Problems: About 40 % of plants died this summer, rather suddenly; Stems much longer than in Year 1, but still rather short.
Additional Comments: Planted in partial shade in compost-amended heavy clay. This cultivar is fantastic as I have never seen Heuchera blooming through the summer! The border edging display in the spring resulted in several comments from neighbors, “What is that?!” I think this will be a winner for the landscape. For cut flowers, the stem has a lot of flowers on it compared to some older cultivars and the plant has the potential for 18-24″ stems. I will fertilize in early March 2011 to see if the stem lengths can be pushed on more of the plants.

Monarda ‘Raspberry Wine’ (Gro ‘N’ Sell)
Good Qualities: Beautiful color; Interesting bloom; Long, strong stems; Comes into bloom around the 4th of July, and flower shape fits right into that holiday.
Problems: About half of the plants died rather suddenly this summer. Those that survived did not bloom as much or as long as they did last year—maybe a weather-related problem; Worked well in farmers market bouquets; Very little interest from florists.

Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’ (Terra Nova)
Good Qualities: Great, dark maroon foliage color (2); good stem length; Strong stems; Seems to handle the heat well; Good number of flowers per stem; Florists used in table arrangements for wedding and in boutonnieres; One plant produced 30 stems with stem length 30-36+ inches on the first cutting.
Problems: Short bloom period; Usual problem with sticky stems; Despite hot summer and limited water, they performed well.
Insects or Diseases: A few aphids.
Postharvest Recommendations: Plain water worked fine; Flowers lasted a month in the cooler with no adverse effect on vase life; If stored in the cooler the flowers turned a darker color but were still beautiful. See NCSU postharvest article in this issue for more information.
Cornell comments on tunnel production: Planted in very well-drained, amended clay soil in high tunnel in June 2009 at 12 x 12-inch spacing. Each plant now at least 18 inches in diameter. Harvest started about two weeks after inflorescence buds were seen. Harvested May 25, 2010. Aphids on certain plants as of April. Sprayed with Beauveria twice prior to first harvest. One spittle bug found on stem. Netting is not necessary.

2010 Woody Cut Flower Trial Cultivar List – Year 1

Rose ‘Antique Caramel’
Good Qualities: Gorgeous flower; Mellow buff color; Light scent; Good vase life;  Full petal count; Good repeat bloom in fall.
Problems: Not vigorous; Few blooms the first spring; Japanese beetles love the flowers.
Insects or Diseases: Japanese beetles; Black spot; Grasshopper damage.
Additional Comments: Love the flower but the plants are too weak.

Rose ‘Corrie Freelander’
Good Qualities: A nice rose, but not outstanding in any way.
Problems: Dark pink color bleached in hot sun.
Postharvest Recommendations: Floralife for hard water; Vase life was at least a week.
Additional Comments: ‘Toscana Freelander’ and ‘Corrie Freelander’ are very strong and vigorous. Flowers during the summer were small.

Rose ‘Honey Freelander’
Good Qualities: Fragrant; High apricot center with honey outer petals; High petal count; Lovely peachy buds.
Insects or Diseases: Japanese beetles; Grasshopper damage.
Postharvest Recommendations: Floralife for hard water.
Additional Comments: Best flower producers with a beautiful rich color; Flowers could be cut before opening; Leathery foliage; Plants started out and remained smaller and weaker than the other cultivars. Flowers during the summer were small.

Rose ‘Mon Petit Chou’
Good Qualities: Huge beautiful flowers that really are cabbage roses; Large, loose, deep pink bloom 5 head; Medium high petal count.
Problems: Cannot be harvested closed or even less than half-open which is a problem with rain and beetles; Minor black spot.
Insects or Diseases: Japanese beetles.
Postharvest Recommendations: It needed to be shaken to remove moisture.
Additional Comments: Best for dry climates or under cover.

Rose ‘Party Dress’
Good Qualities: Huge, many petals (2) and gorgeous; If harvested dry it was incredible; Long lasting; Fragrant.
Problems: Heavy dew or rain had a negative effect, once wet, blooms would rot; Could not be picked in bud or it would not open; Short stems.
Insects or Diseases: Rot from moisture.
Similar Species: It shared the same problems with ‘Mon Petite Chou’.
Postharvest Recommendations: Floralife for hard water; Shake water out of head when harvesting; Vase life was at least a week.
Additional Comments: Best grown under cover to avoid the water in the buds issues.

Rose ‘Toscana Freelander’
Good Qualities: Most brilliant red rose color I have ever seen; Vigorous; Disease free; A great first year rose; Healthy and strong; Repeats well in the fall.
Problems: More black spot than the other varieties.
Insects or Diseases: Grasshopper damage.
Similar Species: This stands out in the category.
Postharvest Recommendations: Floralife for hard water; Vase life was at least a week.
Additional Comments: ‘Toscana Freelander’ and ‘Corrie Freelander’ are very strong and vigorous. Flowers during the summer were small. Stem length on ‘Toscana’ was best although few stems were cut of any length due to size of plants this first year.

John Dole

John Dole is Professor and Head of the Department of Horticultural Science at North Carolina State University. Contact him at [email protected]

Judy M. Laushman

Judy M. Laushman
Contact at [email protected]