Hot Plants at Horticulture Field Day

Last week about 180 folks attend the Horticulture Field Day at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Overton. Folks were having a good time on an unusually “mild” cloudy morning, strolling down row upon row of replicated plots of the latest seed and cutting propagated bedding plants. It was a great opportunity to see what has not only survived but performed well in the premature hot temperatures and dry conditions that have assaulted us for the last several weeks.

Drought is not a problem for these trial plants as they are planted on plastic with drip lines. What could be a problem were the gillions of grasshoppers in the field. I did note that they tend to like yellow. Everybody had 2 red flags to “vote” for their favorites. Unlike a lot of past Field Days, the flags seemed to me to be scattered about rather than concentrated on just a few outstanding entries.

This is great event showcases new bedding plant varieties produced by the top seed companies that supply area greenhouse growers. The Field Day, conducted by Dr. Brent Pemberton, AgriLife Research Horticulturist, is a chance to see what’s hot, and what’s not! The East Texas Bedding Plant Greenhouse and Garden Performance Trials conducted in Overton are important for gardeners in the south because varieties  that may do great in California, Chicago or on the east coast may burn up, wilt, sulk, succumb to disease, or otherwise flop in our hot, alternating wet/dry, humid East Texas conditions.

Greenhouse growers and landscapers have the opportunity to see what new varieties not only do well in the 6-packs you see on the nursery shelves, but also how they fare planted in the ground. The goal is hopefully the best ones will end up on nursery and garden center shelves.

Participants at the Field Day also get a chance to “vote” for their favorites by placing red flags next to ones that they like best. These are listed as the “People’s Picks”.

In the next few posts, I’ll highlight some of the entries that looked good.  This is the 2nd year Napier grasses have been in the trials. These large, cool-looking purple foliage grasses are destined to become fixtures in the landscape (though they may not be entirely winter hardy for the northern part of Texas). Dr. Pemberton lost all the 2010 entries in the field this last winter, but all survived in the more protected location at the Overton Research & Extension Center.

Many folks like the shorter, rounder entries, like Princess Molly, Princess Caroline and Vertigo. Others like the bold, tall, robust varieties that tower up to 8 feet. But, it is also apparent the grasshoppers had their preference, too. Each

Vertigo on left untouched by grasshoppers, and Princess Molly on the right with heavy grasshopper feeding.

grass was randomly replicated 4 times, and consistently, the grasshopper favorite was Princess Molly. Too bad, because it is a nice size with great color.

Napier grass varieties in the Demonstration Garden showing differing sizes (next to a tall canna)

Napier grass entries in the 2010 field trials at Overton.

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