This year’s trials to include vegetables
Writer: Robert Burns, 903-834-6191, firstname.lastname@example.org
OVERTON – For the first time since 2009, the 2014 Overton Horticultural Field Day will include vegetable trials in addition to the hundreds of bedding plant trials that are the standard fare, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Research experts.
Set this year on June 26 at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Overton, gardeners, professional landscape managers and seed company representatives will learn which landscape plants do well under East Texas heat and sunshine at the field day, said Dr. Brent Pemberton, AgriLife Research ornamental horticulturist.
Pemberton said he started the trials in 1994 in response to need by both commercial seed companies as well as for local nursery managers and gardening enthusiasts.
There is no cost to attend or for the barbecue lunch. The field day will begin at 8:30 a.m. at the center’s North Farm site, about four miles north of the Overton Center on Farm-to-Market Road 3053.
The field day will feature more than 500 bedding plants, including everything from geraniums to petunias to verbena to begonias in outdoor plots, said Pemberton.
The vegetable trials are a collaborative effort between AgriLife Research and Kilgore College, Kilgore. They are conducted by Dr. Karl Steddom, AgriLife Research plant pathologist who also is an instructor at Kilgore College.
Steddom said his vegetable trials include more than 30 tomato varieties, five pepper varieties, cantaloupe, strawberries in low tunnels, a fungicide trial on watermelon and a pruning trial on watermelon.
“We also have other vegetables like pole beans, bush beans, cucumbers, squash – things which we’re doing for student education,” Steddom said.
He noted that watermelons are subject to several diseases, including powdery mildew, downy mildew and gummy stem blight, all of which can be devastating for both commercial growers and home gardeners.
The bedding plant tour will continue at the North Farm, as will the vegetable tour, until about 10:30 a.m., then both tours will move to the Overton center’s headquarters building at about 10:30 a.m. Lunch will be served at about 11:45 a.m.
The program will move inside after lunch with presentations by Pemberton and Dallas Arboretum representative Jenny Wegley, who will discuss the 2014 California Spring Showcase, also known as Pack Trials, as well as top performers for 2013.
Indoor presentations will begin at 1 p.m., and the program will conclude by 3:15 p.m. There also will be indoor presentations on vegetables by Steddom and Texas AgriLife horticulturists from College Station.
Participants are welcome to start the day at the Kilgore College site, then move to the bedding plant trials, or vice-versa, Steddom and Pemberton said. Or they may tour only one of the sites if they wish, and still have lunch at the Overton Center and attend the indoor presentations.
“The new Cora Cascade vinca will be on display as well as a large number of trailing petunias,” Pemberton noted.
Newer additions will include Napier grasses, almost all of the commercially available varieties of seed-grown pentas and a large number of new New Guinea impatiens entries, he said.
New Guinea impatiens have received a lot of attention due to the fact that they are resistant to downy mildew, he said, and also noted the impatiens are great plants for shade gardens.
“Pentas are a great plant for full sun in our heat and humidity that flowers continuously and is attractive to butterflies,” Pemberton said. “This will be a follow-up trial from last year, and will be a comprehensive trial of mainly seed-grown varieties of this great plant.”
Also included this year will be more Napier grasses, which are purple- leaved ornamental plants, he said. The emphasis will be on some of the newer tall varieties that are just coming to market.
“I think the the Napier grasses will be really interesting in the the future for us ,” he said. “Last year, we promoted Princess Caroline Napier grass as a Texas Superstar plant and in the future we would like to look at the really tall ones.”
There is also a huge selection of geraniums this year. New interspecific hybrids that have better heat tolerance are becoming widely available now and many are in the trials.
There will be an expansion of the tests of verbena from 2012 and 2013.
“Verbenas have been around for awhile, but the new varieties are making the bedding plant attractive to gardeners again,” Pemberton said. “Several previous varieties did very well both years, and we’re bringing them back for an encore, along with many new varieties.”
The bedding plant industry has had a $500 million annual economic impact on the region for at least a decade, and though not recession proof, it hasn’t experienced the downturn in consumer spending that other businesses have in the last couple of years, Pemberton said.
The center and the North Farm site are north of downtown Overton on Farm-to-Market Road 3053. For driving directions, go to http://flowers.tamu.edu/field-day/ or call 903-834-6191.
The Kilgore College Demonstration Farm can be reached from downtown Overton by going north 2 miles on Highway 135.