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Hot Enough for You?

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Hot Enough for You?

Proven Winners plants are tough enough to handle the heat.

By Rick Schoellhorn, Director of New Products

As we head into the dog days of summer, much of the U.S. has already experienced withering heat and drought. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this is the warmest 12-month period the nation has experienced since recordkeeping began in 1895. It also marks the largest percentage of the nation experiencing drought conditions (56% as of July) in the 12-year record of the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Supertunia® Vista Bubblegum
Supertunia® Vista Bubblegum.

Your customers need plants that can thrive in these hot, dry summer conditions. You need to be confident of your recommendations. Proven Winners'® extensive trials ensure Proven Winners plants are up to the challenge.

The thing that makes Proven Winners different is that we don't trial for growers, necessarily. We're trialing for consumers. The goal of the brand is to provide plants that allow consumers to be successful. 

Trials and Tribulations

That focus on the end user begins with initial trials across the country and internationally in Japan and Germany. A plant has to do well under all those environmental conditions in order to become a Proven Winner.

New Introductions on Display

Once through their trials, new Proven Winner varieties are showcased at the Four Star Greenhouse public display gardens at the company's Carleton, MI, headquarters.

The display gardens include more than 20 landscape beds on almost 1.5 acres. Pat Seibel, display garden supervisor and product line manager assistant, plants and maintains the thousands of Proven Winners and Proven Selections annuals and grasses, as well as Color Choice® shrubs, which form the structure of the gardens.

"I get the varieties that will be introduced the following spring," says Seibel. "Right now I have the 2013 varieties that were introduced formally in March.

Supertunia Bubblegum
Supertunia® Vista Bubblegum in the Four Star public display gardens in Carleton, MI.

From mid-June to mid-October, the public enjoys a variety of containers and baskets hanging from the pavilion. The covered bridge and water features are a favorite spot for wedding and photo shoots.

In addition to serving the general public, the Four Star display gardens and greenhouses are part of the Michigan Garden Tour. Each year in early August, growers and retailers can come to see the newest varieties and discuss production and marketing techniques.

Seibel says he regularly gives tours to regional garden center employees as well as industry professionals from around the world who visit the display gardens.

Plants are trialed two to three years — not including any trials breeders have already performed — before going to market. All told, the plant selection process before release takes five to six years. But it doesn't end there.

In order to remain a Proven Winner, we send plants out to about 100 public and trial gardens throughout the U.S. and Canada each year. Those gardens all send us their reports on how the plants did. Plants are trialed an additional two to three years by those independent trial gardens after going to market, just to ensure they are performing as exceptionally as expected.

What we look for with Proven Winners is national performance. That means a lot of really wonderful plants are not going to get in the program because they only do well in the South or Northeast, for example. Those plants go into the Proven Selections program as regional accompaniments to Proven Winners. A plant has to be good perform well in all the national trial sites to maintain it's status as a be a Proven Winner.

Toughening Up Plants

Creating plants that can perform well in all the different environmental challenges they might face across the U.S. isn't easy. Breeders often have to take well-loved plants and cross them with something completely different to make them hardier, better bloomers or more compact.

Take the Proven Winners' Señorita Rosalita® and Señorita Blanca™ Cleome, or Snow Princess® Lobularia, or Supertunia® Vista Bubblegum, for instance. In each of these cases, the breeder was doing what's called interspecific hybrids. That means the breeder took two plants from very distant geographies — that might never have met under normal circumstances — and brought them together to essentially create a hybrid that is new.

This allows undesirable traits to be bred out of the hybrid, while attractive traits are retained.

Cleome is a good example. Traditional old-seed Cleome is a big plant with a weed-like habit, thorns, sticky leaves and a high seed production. What the breeder accomplished was getting rid of the thorns, stickiness and seed production. If you take the energy a plant would put into seed production and block that pathway, all that energy is used for growth and new flowers. So that's what makes the Señorita duo reinvent the genus of Cleome: They never stop flowering.

Senorita Rosalita
Señorita Rosalita® Cleome.

Likewise, Lobularia was bred from a cool-season-only plant that produced tons of seed into the Snow Princess hybrid that is heat tolerant, humidity tolerant, vigorous and floriferous.

Not all plants are bred by picking and choosing specific traits. Supertunia Vista Bubblegum, for instance, came to market by standing out in the crowd. The breeder did a wide interspecific cross, but he grew probably close to a million seedlings in the process. Whatever happened to create Supertunia Vista Bubblegum made a petunia with more flowers and a longer flowering period than any other plant on the market.

Whether they come into existence by science or art, all plants undergo the same stringent selection process to become a Proven Winners plant.

A lot of the big breeding companies are trialing plants to produce more plant material. We trial to select a few plants that will surprise consumers with great performance. Out of probably 3,000 plants a year in our trials, maybe 10 to 15 are adopted. The rest are refused. They may be OK plants, but they aren't great plants.

Snow Princess
Snow Princess® Lobularia.

Rick Schoellhorn has worked for Proven Winners for 7 years. Having previously worked at the University of Florida, he knows first-hand how plants handle heat. To contact Rick, email him at rick@provenwinners.com.


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