It’s the time of year when growers’ minds start turning toward new varieties – how to build the right production mix, what to include in your selection. Knowing how cultivars perform and being aware of any quirks can help make the decisions easier. Don’t be afraid to change your production mix, just be smart about how you do it.

Succulents

Succulents continue their reign of popularity. New varieties are being introduced every year, and it’s exciting to see what breeders are developing. New breeding has resulted in more compact and colorful selections, without sacrificing production time or adding efforts.

The ever-popular hens and chicks are enjoying a resurgence in appeal, and new selections like Chris Hanson’s Chick Charms make a great addition to today’s production mix. Keep an eye out for Fusarium in hotter, humid climates. A monthly fungicide drench can help during warmer months.

As an added benefit, the new forms and colors make these new selections great choices for mixed containers. Their controlled habits and growth have them well-suited for a variety of combinations. And if you have a savvy container designer on staff, they’ll have a great time finding new and creative ways to explore their potential. As you’re building your combos, use a well-draining mix, and avoid watering in midday sun as this can cause some leaf burn.

Heuchera

Heuchera is another category that has enjoyed an explosion in breeding in recent years, with many new varieties joining the market. These can be a great way to bring strong colors into your product mix. For example, Citronelle is a bright yellow variety that turns rich bronze in fall and winter. It was a top-rated variety in trials at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware. It’s best in shade in the Mid-Atlantic and farther south, but can stand more sun in northern areas. Hardy in Zones 4 to 9.

The category continues to expand with lots of breeding and new varieties on the Heucherella side too. Since Heuchera and Tiarella came together in 2002, we’ve seen a huge swell of product development and increasing interest for both the landscape and containers. The aptly named and aptly timed Solar Eclipse has dramatic scalloped red/brown leaves with lime green borders. Pollinators love it, too.

Both Heuchera and Heucherella work great for mixed containers, which are also hot right now. Use a well-draining mix, and be sure to get plants finished prior to high summer temps, as this will slow their growth in warmer climates.

Grasses

After a long period of under-appreciation, ornamental grasses are finally gaining some ground. The key when looking for great grasses is seeking selections with great landscape performance balanced by use-appropriate habit. One of my favorites is Pennisetum, like the Royal Collection.

They were developed at the University of Georgia and provide many sizes and shapes to choose from for the landscape. While leaf spot can be a concern for some Pennisetum, recent selections have great resistance to leaf spot and are an easy addition to most programs. Some, like First Knight, are an excellent choice for mixed containers. Pennisetum is generally fast growing, so plan accordingly. If you’re using them in mixed containers, consider using a place holder while the rest of the container establishes, and add in the Pennisetum near the end to keep it from crowding out other plants. Use a well-draining mix and be careful not to over-fertilize, as they are fast growing.

Finding new varieties

Working with breeders can be a great way to find new varieties. Find out who is working on new varieties of plants you grow, and visit with them at the next trade show. They are plant people too, and you will probably have plenty to talk about. Remember, they want you to sell their plants as much as you want to sell them; maybe more.

TOP LEFT: Pennisetum First Knight
TOP RIGHT: 
Heuchera Citronelle
BOTTOM LEFT:
Heucherella Solar Eclipse
BOTTOM RIGHT:
Sempervivum Chick Charms Sugar Shimmer
Photos courtesy of Emerald Coast Growers

Josiah Raymer is head grower and general manager for Emerald Coast Growers, one of the country’s largest ornamental grass and perennial producers. www.ecgrowers.com