Labor Day Report 2011


Summer Survivors

East Texas Ornamental Plant Evaluations
H. Brent Pemberton, Professor
Texas AgriLife Research, Texas A&M University System
Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center
P.O. Box 200, Overton, Texas 57684

 Download complete Trial Results Labor Day Report 2011

            Trial Garden Managers in Texas are always going on about how hot it is during the summer here.  You have seen the presentations – you know what I am talking about!  And then came the summer of 2011, a summer that amazed even the most seasoned veterans of plant evaluation programs in our part of the world.  After a very pleasant spring, La Nina conquered our region with a high pressure system that was seemingly relentless.  Heat and drought reigned supreme.  From June 21 to September 21 at the Overton Center, 56 days had maximum temperatures at 98F or above with 34 of those days at or above 100F.  We typically have less than 10 days with a maximum temperature over 100F.  The maximum temperature was below 100F for only 4 days in August.  We received only half our usual rainfall during the same period.  It was definitely the hottest summer on record for us.  Weather details can be seen at .  More information on how we perform the trials can be found at .  But, the great thing about extremes is that it makes for a great trial season!  A large number of plants made it to Labor Day this year, so as always there is a lot to be excited about.

Hibiscus Mahogany Splendor (PanAmerican) really showed off its regal foliage in the heat.  It thrived in full sun and garnered the most votes for the People’s Picks ( ) at the 2011 Overton Field Day.  It even got more votes than the recent years favorite Rudbeckia Denver Daisy (Benary).  But, there were many other outstanding plants in the 2011 trials.

Except for Lavender, the Serena series (PanAmerican) angelonia performed well again this year.  A couple of the vegetative types also deserve mention and include Angelface Pink (Proven Winners) and Archangel Pink (Ball FloraPlant).

Full sun was too much for the begonias this year.  Most were gone by July and Stara Pink and Stara White (Floranova) were the only varieties with a couple of plants still alive by September.  In the shade, however, the plants did well.  The Big series (Benary) repeated their outstanding performance from last year.  The Whopper series (Ball Seed) didn’t flower quite as early as the Big, but turned in a stellar season long performance.  These begonias are vigorous which seems to translate into excellent performance for us.  Another vigorous grower which has done well in my trials before, the Inferno Mix (Sakata), held its own quite well against the new kids on the block.

Bidens is not a plant that I normally plant in the field, but tried them there this year.  Bidy Gonzales Trailing (Red Fox by Dummen) and Sunbeam (Ball FloraPlant) held up well until early August before succumbing to the heat.  Vigor is an advantage, though containers is probably going to continue to be a better choice for this species.

I only grew coleus in the sun this year.  They all looked good going into August, but ColorBlaze Alligator Tears (Proven Winners), Lancelot Velvet Mocha (Proven Winners), and Redhead (Ball) still looked good with minimal flowering for the final evaluation in September.

The field of what we like to call “Baby’s Breath” euphorbia continues to expand.  Breathless White (Ball) and Diamond Frost (Proven Winners) continued strong while Star Dust White Sparkle (Dummen) and Star Dust Pink Shimmer (Dummen) joined them for solid season long performance.

The world of gaillardia has exploded recently.  The improvements get better each year.  The best in the pack this year were Arizona Sun (Benary), Galya Corneto Flame (Danziger), Mesa Yellow (Kieft), and Mesa Bicolor Bright (PanAmerican).  It is truly remarkable to see gaillardia plants still alive with a few flowers during September in Texas.

Texas is tough on geraniums even in an average summer, but this year was quite the test.  Salsarita Pink (Dummen) was truly outstanding going into August, but succumbed to the heat by September.  At the end of the season, Frenza Fire (Ball Seed), Pacific White 2011 (Red Fox by Dummen), and a variety found in Victoria, TX now known as Mary Helen were still standing after decent performance all summer.  The plants of the Graziosa series (Dummen) did well through the heat, though flowering was low.  This was a little surprising given the apparent Martha Washington blood type appearance.  In fact, Graziosa Merlot Red (Dummen) and Victoria (aka Mary Helen) were the only two varieties for which all the plants survived the summer.

What a great summer for gomphrena!  The heat tolerance that this species exhibits is one of the reasons that it was promoted in Spring 2012 as a Texas Superstar® (see ).  The plants of all the varieties looked good going into August.  The small varieties declined by September, but the vigorous series continued to look great until the end of the season.  The top performing series include Las Vegas (Benary), QIS (Kieft), and Audray (Takii).  Individual varieties that aren’t in a series that were also top performers were Fireworks (Ball), All Around Purple (Sakata), and the Old Garden Form which has been a pass-along plant for many years.  The varieties blooming heaviest during the entire season were Audray Bicolor Rose (Takaii), Las Vegas Purple (Benary), and Las Vegas White (Benary).  Another reason that this species was named a Texas Superstar® is the terrific introductions that have been made recently.  Some great breeding is going on with this crop and I hope it continues.

Even with plenty of shade and water, heat is always hard on impatiens!  Standard impatiens looked good until about mid July when plants began going down.  Through mid July, top performers were Jambalaya pink (Goldsmith) and Xtreme Pink (Goldsmith).  Best season long plant survival was Super Elfin XP Pink (Ball) and Rockapulco Coral Reef (Proven Winners).  Flowering was low for the New Guinea impatiens, even for past stalwarts such as Celebrette Appleblossom (Ball) and Super Sonic Magenta (Syngenta Flowers).  Varieties with flowering that held up the longest through the season were SunPatiens Compact White (Sakata), SunPatiens Orange Green Leaf (Sakata), and SunPatiens Vigorous White.  In the Demonstration Garden, SunPatiens Variegated Spreading White (Sakata) did very well all season long when planted in a wet location with a morning sun only exposure.

I still haven’t met an Ipomea that I don’t like.  They all performed like troopers in the heat.  Illusion Garnet Lace (Proven Winners) gets kudos for color.  Desana Compact Red (Suntory) gets kudos for color and habit.  Sweet Caroline Bewitched Improved (Proven Winners) gets kudos for foliage color and really nice rugose leaf texture.  Desana Bronze (Suntory) gets kudos for having beautiful foliage and a few flowers!  The grasshoppers appeared to prefer Sweet Caroline Sweetheart Purple (Proven Winners) and Desana Maple (Suntory), but damage was not severe and performance was minimally impacted.

Lantana had a chance to show off its heat tolerance in 2011.  Top performers were Lucky Lemon Glow (Ball FloraPlant) with a great combination of yellow and white flower color, Luscious Citrus Blend (Proven Winners) with orange and yellow flower colors that us hot color lovers love, Luscious Grape (Proven Winners) which is a big improvement over the Lantana montevidensis that is in the trade, and Bandana White (Syngenta Flowers) which has an exceptional plant habit.

The Napier grasses were tops in the heat.  Princess Caroline (University of Georgia) and Vertigo (Proven Winners) continue to impress.  Princess and Princess Molly (University of Georgia) were preferred by grasshoppers, but still performed well.  The experimentals from the University of Georgia are looking great.  Look for more of this plant in the future!

Peppers are always good for the heat.  Black Pearl (Ball) and Purple Flash (Ball) are standards for us.  Cute Stuff Red and Sweet Heat (both PanAmerican) looked great all season and produced a more edible type pepper for the double duty landscape.

The palette of flower size and color continues to grow in the world of trailing petunias, the only class of petunia that truly takes the summer heat in this part of the country.  Supertunia Sangria Charm (Proven Winners) stood out for the 2011 season outperforming stalwarts such as Tidal Wave Silver and Tidal Wave Cherry (both Ball) and Supertunia Vista Fuchsia (Proven Winners).  Sangria Charm has smaller flowers, but lots of them and flowered all summer despite the torrid conditions.  But there were many other outstanding performers.  Bringing some great colors to the table are Opera Supreme Pink Morn (Takii), Surprise Blue Sky (Red Fox by Dummen), and Sweetunia Soft Pink Morning (Red Fox by Dummen).  A couple with full sized flowers are Supertunia Lavender Skies (Proven Winners) and Sweetunia Bubble Gum (Red Fox by Dummen).  Another with smaller but lots of flowers is Shock Wave Coral Crush (PanAmerican).  Bringing a funky look to the table is Supertunia White Russian (Proven Winners).  A great new class of outstanding petunias!

Portulaca was born for the heat.  The Pazzaz series (Danziger) was outstanding though they all got tired by September.  They compared well to Duet Rose N’ Yellow (Sakata) , an outstanding performer which has done well in past trials.

Scaevola Surdiva Light Blue (Suntory) performed remarkably well through the heat and looked fresh all season long.  The low humidity we had last summer must have favored this species.  Scala Blue (Red Fox by Dummen) and Surdiva White (Suntory) were not far behind.

There was a great selection of verbena this year and Superbena Coral Red (Proven Winners), Superbena Royale Chambray (Proven Winners), and Temari Cherry Red (Suntory) led the pack.  Of note was the steady and high level of flowering seen all summer which is not always the case with verbena.  Just behind this group was Temari Blue (Suntory), Temari Hot Pink (Suntory), Superbena Royale Iced Cherry (Proven Winners) – awesome color, Empress Dark Red (Red Fox by Dummen), Empress White (Red Fox by Dummen), and Princess Blue.  I have seen a big improvement in heat tolerance in this crop over recent years.  I hope the breeders keep up the good work!

It was hot, it was dry, we use drip irrigation.  For vinca, this means low disease pressure.  Cora White (Goldsmith) led an outstanding field of entries with the highest ratings for each rating date.  Right behind Cora White, the Victory series (Sakata) went head to head against the Cora series (Goldsmith) with each full of outstanding performance.  The only one I could even begin to pick on is Victory Purple (Sakata), but it still gave a solid performance.  We are down to “Which color do you like?”.

Zinnia Profusion Double Fire and Profusion Double White (both Sakata) compared well to trial veteran Profusion Knee High Red (Sakata).  The impressive aspect of their performance was the late season flowering.  These plants are great for fall and we should do more with them in this part of the country, both summer and fall.

Miscellaneous crops is always fun.  I have already mentioned the great bronzy purple foliage of hibiscus Mahogany Splendor (PanAmerican).  There were many standards that continued to do well such as cyperus Graceful Grasses Baby Tut (Proven Winners), cleome Senorita Rosalita (Proven Winners), lobularia Snow Princess (Proven Winners), and duranta Gold Edge (GroLink).  Melampodium Casino Light Yellow (Yellow) is still one of the best I’ve grown, but didn’t last into the late season this year.  One of the best new introductions was Salvia Summer Jewel Red (Takii).  I love the compact form and it will take some shade.  The flowers fade to a dark pink in the heat of summer, but the color is very nice none the less.  Otomeria was a new species to me and I think we have a winner with the O’Premiera series (Danziger).  The pink was especially nice.  Nierembergia Augusta Blue Skies (Proven Winners) still amazes me with its all season bloom.  I have grown mecardonia GoldDust (Proven Winners) in a container where it did well, but this year I saw it perform great in the field as well.  Alternanthera Brazilian Red Hots and Snowball (both GroLink) are both terrific foliage plants, the former big and gaudy, the latter small and sophisticated.  They love the heat.  I also found out this year that echinacea PowWow series (Kieft) does not like full sun in our climate, but does great in shade and partial shade, especially Wild Berry.

High temperatures are rough on containers, especially in full sun.  The Potunia series (Red Fox by Dummen) has down well in the past most performed well this year.  But Potunia Piccola Blue Ice (Red Fox by Dummen) stood out from the group with high ratings through August and September.  The petchoa Supercal series (Sakata) also held their own with Supercal Blue and Neon Rose (Sakata) taking the lead.  This hybrid is a very big step in the right direction for improving Calibrachoa in my opinion.  The plug mixes (multi-species per plug) started out with a bang, but many lost their edge in the heat.  Exceptions were the Confetti Trio Pismo Beach and Trio Water Colours (Red Fox by Dummen) and the Mixis Shea, Tania, and Tunder (Danziger) which all had solid season long performance.  When moving to containers in partial shade, the Rio series looked much better than in full sun.  This series was promoted recently as Texas Superstar® plants (see ) and is happiest in containers with afternoon shade.  And finally, I had to be impressed with heliotropiums Nebelung Nagano (Dummen) and Simply Scentsational (Proven Winners) which not only survived the summer, but gave solid performance.  Talk about a great improvement in breeding!

The most impressive thing about the trials in 2011 is that so many plants managed to look so good in such terrible heat!  All I can say is that the breeders are doing their job in bringing us plants that thrive in our humid subtropical climate.  Keep them coming!

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