6 trends that go beyond the new intros

Features - Events

While clearly a plant-driven event, this year’s California Spring Trials also gave attendees ample opportunity to discuss trends and expectations for the upcoming season.

May 11, 2022

Photo © rouda100 | Adobe Stock

CAST 2022 took place in various locations throughout California at the end of March, giving growers, owners, seed brokers and media a chance to “kick the tires” on what’s new in 2022 and what’s coming for 2023.

Ball Horticultural's stop in Santa Paula mixes outdoor plantings with a greenhouse setting, as does Benary (inset below) in Watsonville.
Photos by Matthew J. Grassi

While the new plant introductions are clearly the star of the show, it’s also one of the first chances during the new production season to get out and talk about what’s happening in horticulture.

While in years past there was a lot of COVID-19 talk, this year, the pandemic and all its assorted implications (supply chain, labor woes, etc.) seemed to take a backseat for the week. Attendees were in mostly positive moods coming off two straight years of strong plant sales, and nobody seemed to want to dwell on what’s happened in the past.

There were many common threads between the various breeder sites and the discussions happening within them, though. Here are six trends we noticed while making our way up the California coast during the annual plant trials:

1) Filling (the rest of) the production calendar: Breeders are introducing new varieties and cultivars with the purpose of helping growers keep their greenhouses filled and humming (and their workers employed) for as much of the calendar year as possible. “We want to make sure that growers have the seasonality that they need,” Katie Rotella, senior public relations and digital manager, Ball Horticultural, said at the Ball stop in Santa Paula. “It could be from the genetics themselves, maybe it’s a new petunia that flowers at a 10-hour day length — like with our E3 Easy Wave — so growers can put things into flower as soon as they can.” Plants that can be started in late spring or summer and ship out for fall retail were also featured prominently by many of the breeders.

F1 Crane Ruffle

2) Ensuring new gardeners’ success: When 18 million new gardeners took up the hobby in such a relatively short time frame, you can bet that flower breeders the world over took notice. That means building in more robustness — whether that’s low moisture tolerance or stepped-up disease protection packages — to try to make sure nobody has a bad experience. “We want to make sure that the genetics we’re releasing are upgraded and innovative to the degree that success for the professional grower during production also means success for the new gardener when they get that plant home, too,” Rotella said.

3) Here come the plant brands: Breeders are proving adept at pull-through marketing as well, with many new introductions going the way of fully branded, holistic campaigns that include all sorts of custom POP promo materials like exclusive pots and labels like Sakata’s SuperCal all-weather petunias branding, and unique, millennial and Gen Z-focused vibes. Among the latter was Benary’s new Ptilotus ‘Matilda’ cut flower, which comes complete with its own backstory. (She is Ptilotus ‘Joey’s sassy sister with a unique feel.) With this younger generation’s love of the Marvel Universe and DC heroes, it makes sense that flower marketers are giving new introductions origin stories that call out to like-minded consumers. Suntory even had a new petunia introduction co-branded with a European orange-flavored seltzer brand.

Bicolors were popular in 2022-2023 introductions.

“It kind of starts with us saying, ‘How can we make this, you know, something that people gravitate towards?’” Jen Calhoun, Benary marketing specialist — North America, told us regarding Matilda. “And we’ve put a lot of effort into that. A lot of it is just asking questions and figuring out what’s relevant with the younger plant people.”

4) Distinct textures and bold (bi) colors: There were some interesting uses of flower texture and (of course) a TON of new color and bi-color introductions in California. It seems like white is very popular with plant breeders of late, especially on varieties that feature the trendy darker foliage that really helps set off that contrast.

New branded Begonia BIG displays for retail were shown at the Benary stop.

American Takii featured its new ruffle-leaf, flowering cut kale series, F1 Crane Ruffle. It adds unique shapes and textures when used in floral arrangements and bouquets. And there were shining examples of new bicolor innovations at nearly every single stop. Danziger’s RIMarkable petunia series was one such instance with its large, distinct white rim on each bloom for what the breeder calls “unique retail appeal.” Westhoff’s ‘Lobelia HOT+ Blue with Eye’ was another interesting use of contrasting hues in blooms.

5) Veggies, veggies, veggies: Vegetable plants seemed like a big focus for many of the breeders, whether it was PanAmerican Seed’s Kitchen Minis series, the 16 new outdoor veggie varieties from home garden giant Burpee or Prudac Breeding Specialties’ new line of greenhouse peppers and tomatoes. Vegetable introductions look to have found a home at CAST.

Creative tie-ins, such as Suntory's Orangina Million Bells, were also on display all week.

As Calhoun shared, many of the new plant parents started with backyard veggies before taking on the challenge of ornamentals, so it makes sense we’re seeing a greater focus on edible gardening.

6) New hort technology: Show up for the plant intros, stay for the new hort technology drops! OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it seems like breeders are recognizing that CAST attendees are the perfect grower focus group to show off innovative technologies and products.

Benary focused on its environmentally friendly seed treatment technology, BeGreen, which was conceptualized in 2014. The update for this year is that the system now boasts just over 30 crops that it can improve with quicker germination and faster early-stage development. And the treatments are all chemical and micro-plastics free, so it improves seed quality and it’s sustainable. Win-win.

Prudac Breeding Specialties is sending miniature peppers to space.

And Dümmen Orange gave us a quick update on what’s new with its popular Basewell AutoStix technology. “What we’re working on now is really meant to be more of a rooted cutting versus the clip,” Rebecca Siemonsma, product manager, North America, told us, noting the shift was prompted by increased grower adoption of ISO machines for transplanting. “The technology that we’re working on today is more of a coated, calloused cutting with root initials. The coating does the same thing that it does in the clip, but now it can be used in the ISO machines.”

This article first ran in the May 2022 issue of Greenhouse Management magazine.