Annual Flower Trials reveal this year’s winners

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The 2017 gardening season is almost upon us.  If you want to know what flowers to plant this growing season, a list of great possibilities come from Colorado State University’s Annual Flower Trial  Garden.  The garden, which spans nearly three acres on the east side of the Fort Collins campus, is a Northern Colorado showpiece with a focused research and outreach purpose.  Each year, the Annual Flower Trial Garden tests and analyzes the performance of more than 1,000 varieties of annual bedding plants in Colorado’s harsh growing conditions.  Dozens of expert evaluators rate the plants for vigor, growth pattern, bloom and other characteristics.  The trial results help home gardeners identify annual bedding plants that are most likely to succeed.

Gardening season 2017

“The Annual Flower Trial Garden – also a vital training ground for CSU horticulture students – is a part of a network of trial gardens at land-grant universities nationwide,” said Jim Klett, faculty coordinator and professor in CSU’s Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture.  “It’s the largest garden of its kind west of the Mississippi River.”  Winners from the 2016 evaluation are now available at area nurseries and garden centers for the 2017 home gardening season.  For more detailed descriptions and photographs, visit

About the Trial Garden

CSU’s Flower Trial Garden, which draws thousands of visitors each year, relies on student gardeners, volunteers and industry supporters and experts who help provide detailed analysis of plant performance. Colorado State Extension Master Gardeners play an essential role in planting and maintenance of the garden. The outcome of this research is valuable to the industry and home gardeners alike. That’s because the Rocky Mountain region has unique growing conditions, characterized by high altitude, intense solar radiation, drying winds, severe hailstorms, large fluctuations between day and night temperatures and a season-long need for irrigation.

The Trial Garden receives no direct public funding. It is funded primarily by fees from plant-breeding companies that submit entries to the trials. The garden also receives donations from industry associations, foundations, nurseries, plant producers and other companies in the green industry.


The trial evaluation day was held on August 2, 2016.  Approximately 100 judges consisting of industry representatives, master gardeners, university employees and trial garden advisory committee members evaluated the plant varieties for performance using a combination of these criteria:

Plant Quality:

  • Uniformity of plant habit
  • Bushy, well-branched shape versus open and leggy
  • Healthy foliage (deep green versus chlorotic, yellow leaves)
  • Foliage texture
  • Disease resistance

Flower Quality:

  • Flower power (number of flowers per plant, substance and holding power)
  • Flower presentation (i.e. not hidden by the foliage)
  • Color uniformity
  • Stable color (resistance to fading) and stable pattern (for bicolor)
  • Flower size and uniformity of flowers
  • Balance of color in a mixture

Overall Presentation:

  • Overall “clean” look, versus visible spent blooms
  • Fragrant flowers and/or foliage
  • Good vigorous growth
  • Resistance to climatic stress
  • Novelty value of unique features
  • Overall consumer appeal

Plant varieties were rated on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 = very poor performance; 10 = excellent performance).  These numerical evaluations were used to calculate the average ratings for each variety in the trials.  Participants were to use their tablets or cell phones to electronically evaluate the plants.  The pre-generated comments they could choose from included: Low vigor, Vigorous plant, Few flowers, Many flowers, Uniform, Non-uniform, Unique color and Some chlorosis.

Selection of ‘Best Of’ Winners and ‘Other Outstanding Plants’

Ratings from all evaluators on Aug. 2 were averaged and the top five in each class were placed on a preliminary list.  A class is determined to be any group of plants in the same genus that consisted of 10 or more trial entries.  The “Best Of” award was given to classes whose top-five list had ratings of at least 6.0 and one of them could be considered superior.  A sub-committee of university and industry representatives revisited the garden on September 16th to review the top-five list and verify the superiority of the top rated varieties later in the season and not just on August 2 nd.  A majority vote was taken for each class to determine the final selections for winners.  “Other Outstanding Plants” was an award created to recognize other plants that deserved special recognition; especially for those plants that did not have ten varieties to make up a judging class.  The following is a list of the 2016 “Best Of” Annual Flower winners and the complete list and report can be found at

Best of’ Annual Flower Winners from the 2016 CSU Trials

Best of Show – Argyranthemum ‘White Butterfly’ from Proven Winners

Perfection came covered with white flowers in 2016. This plant had continuous blooms all through the growing season and looked fresh even during the summer heat.  Plants maintained excellent uniformity and continuous growth helped “bury the dead” so that no dead heading was required.

Best Novelty – Begonia ‘Jurassic™ Red Splash from Ball Ingenuity

Fantastic foliage color gave this plant great interest as soon as it was planted in the garden.  Foliage was a dramatic combination of red and silver with large jagged edges.  A good choice for shady areas as it has iridescent foliage with the occasional beam of sunlight.  Plants were well branched and also do well as an indoor plant.

Best New Variety – Lantana  ‘Lucky™ Red from Ball FloraPlant

Flowers were abundant and had many citrus tones but predominately noted for a good dark red.  This plant was unique for combining both the red flower color with a very uniform growth habit.  Blooming started early in the season and was noted that it doesn’t cycle in and out of flowering like other lantanas.

“Best Of…” by Class

Angelonia ‘Archangel Dark Rose’ from Ball FloraPlant

Large flower spikes and a deep rose flower color gave this plant a lot of flower power.  This plant is a great item for the landscape with dense, compact branching, glossy foliage and abundant flowering.  It has won in this category in the past and has proven itself again in 2016.

Begonia boliviensis ‘Unstoppable Upright Fire’ from Dummen Orange

Dark foliage makes a great contrast with the bright orange flowers.   Large flowers were semi-double and very abundant on vigorous plants.  This plant is a good choice for containers.

Begonia semperflorens ‘Big® Red Bronze Leaf’ from Benary

Plants were characterized by their extreme vigor and prolific flowering.  The dark foliage was very glossy and made a great contrast with the bright red flowers.  Plants maintained excellent uniformity even with the vigorous growth.  It is a good plant for either sun or shade areas.

Calibrachoa ‘Superbells Pomegranate Punch’ from Proven Winners

Flowers had a unique color combination that helped this entry receive a very high rating.  Bloom color was similar to that of a pomegranate around the edges.  Then it developed into a very rich, dark center with a small speck of bright yellow in the throat.  Plants had a very uniform growth habit that was stunning in combination with the flowers in a container.

Canna ‘Toucan Scarlet’ from Proven Winners

Tall, beautiful plants with dark red foliage made a dramatic combination with brilliant scarlet flowers that resembled a candle flame at the top of the plant.  Plants were around five foot tall and very uniform.

Celosia ‘Kelos® Fire Scarlet Improved from Beekenkamp

Deep burgundy foliage and flowers in small scarlet plumes made both a beautiful color and textural combination.  Plants were compact and very uniform and made an impressive overall appearance.

Coleus ‘Under the Sea® Pink Reef’ from Hortcouture

Unique foliage was eye-catching because of a combination of a vibrant pink/rose leaf color and a very interesting leaf shape with ruffled edges.  Foliage color held up well to sun without fading.  Plants had controlled vigor and a nice dense canopy.

Combo  ‘Kwik Kombo Shooting Star Mix’ from Syngenta

Dark purple angelonia were combined with golden yellow verbena that made a beautiful contrast of light and dark.  With a little imagination, it resembles the stars in the night sky.  The combination looked good both early and late in the season and never slowed down during the heat of the summer.

Dahlia ‘XXL Sunset’ from Dummen Orange

Huge blooms captured attention not only because of their size but also because of the beautiful coloring that included all the shades of the sunset.  Plants were vigorous and did not have any mildew late in the season.

Geranium (Interspecific) ‘Calliope® Dark Red’ from Syngenta

Impressive overall visual effect was created by robust plants and abundant large flower heads  with a dramatic dark shade of red.  Intense color held strong even in the high light of Colorado.  Growth habit was exceptionally uniform.

Geranium (Zonal) ‘Brocade Fire Night’ from Dummen Orange

Coral colored flowers appeared especially bright against the unusually dark foliage created by a heavy reverse zonation.  Plants were very uniform and covered by flowers.  Plant seemed to have a somewhat “old fashioned” look due to the single petals and smaller umbels. However, they had great flower power due to the abundant flowers.

Impatiens ‘Big Bounce™ Lilac from Selecta

This entry is a multi-year winner in this category due to its dependable vigorous plants which was continually covered in flowers throughout the growing season.  The soft lavender colored flowers had an iridescent quality that really made them stand out.  Plants had a perfect mounding growth habit.

Ipomoea ‘Sweet Caroline Bewitched After Midnight™’ from Proven Winners

Uniform plants had foliage of dark purple with shades of bronze that created mix of color for added interest.  This variety stood out from the rest due to the large leaves that stood upright and a unique leaf shape which made it a plant to add texture in the landscape.

Lobelia ‘Suntory Lobelia Compact Blue’ from Suntory

This variety was impressive due to its ability to look great all season long.  Most lobelias fade out in the heat mid-summer but this variety still maintained a dense mound of abundant medium blue flowers even into September.  Growth habit was very compact and tight in addition to being very floriferous.

Marigold ‘Little Duck Orange’ from Ameriseed

Flowers were extra-large and the orange color “popped” against the dark green foliage.  Plants had a compact growth habit with dense foliage and had a very uniform appearance.

New Guinea Impatiens ‘SunStanding Salmon’ from Dummen Orange

Despite the name, this variety had impressive flower power even in the shade.  Salmon color flowers were very attractive and even looked good as they faded to white with age.  They were vigorous plants which grew tall but had great uniformity.

Pentas ‘BeeBright™ Pink from Syngenta

Bright pink flowers had uniform flowering and were good for attracting pollinators.  Plants liked the heat and tolerated the cool nights.  Abundant flowering created a good overall appearance.

Petunia (Veg Mound) ‘Purple Sky’ from Dummen Orange

Plants were covered by a blanket of deep purple flowers that continued to bloom strong even  into September.  The floriferous plants had growth habits that were very uniform and showy.

Petunia (Veg Spread) ‘ColorRush™ Pink’ from Ball FloraPlant

‘ColorRush™ Pink’ broke through the heavy competition in this class to come out the winner in 2016.  The large spreading plants were very uniform and covered with a deep pink flowers.  Foliage was dark green but hard to see due to the solid canopy of flowers.

Petunia (Seed Spread) ‘Tidal Wave® Red Velour from PanAmerican Seed

Vigorous plants spread across the ground and had flowers with an impressive rich, burgundy red color.  Blooms maintained deep color without fading.  Plants were uniform and did not open up in the middle.

Portulaca ‘Colorblast Double Cherry’ from Westoff

Flowers were more scarlet than cherry colored but were still very showy with a double center.  Plants were floriferous and very vigorous with a spreading growth habit.  Flowers opened significantly earlier in the day compared to others in the trial.

Salvia ‘Mirage Cherry Red’ from Darwin Perennial

Prolific, bright cherry red flowers were large and made a great hummingbird attractant for the garden.  Abundant branching made a very attractive, full plant.  Plants maintained good growth habit.

Scaevola ‘Scalora™ Pearl’ from Westoff

Great vigor made this Scaevola the biggest in its class.  White flowers were very numerous and showy.  Flowering began early on in the season and kept well into September.  It had a strong mounding habit that works well in baskets.

Sun Impatiens x hybrid ‘SunPatiens® Compact Coral Pink’ from Sakata

Beautiful soft coral colored flowers sat on top of the foliage for maximum visibility.  Flowering was so abundant that foliage was barely visible but did show an attractive dark green that provided the perfect backdrop to the flowers.  Plants were perfectly uniform and appeared to have no problem growing in full sun.

Verbena ‘EnduraScape™ Pink Bicolor’ from Ball FloraPlant

This entry out-performed all other Verbenas for continuous flowering throughout the season.  The large pink and white bicolor flowers were very abundant and formed a very uniform blanket of color.  Flower power was enhanced due to the blooms being held high above the foliage and plants were self-cleaning.

Vinca ‘Mega Bloom™ Polkadot’ from Ameriseed

This class had a lot of competition but this variety won out with great uniformity and large blooms.  White flowers had a small pink eye giving it a “polkadot” effect which added interest.  Plants were full and had a good foliage color.

Zinnia ‘Zahara® XL Fire Improved’ from PanAmerican Seed

Long lasting appeal was created not only because of the prolific flowering but it covered the plants from the top all the way to the bottom.  Vibrant shades of orange and red had a nice fade to a softer orange.  Uniform plants were low maintenance and required no dead heading as the new flowers seemed to “bury its dead”.

Other Outstanding Plants

Angelonia ‘Archangel™ Cherry Red’ from Ball FloraPlant

The cherry red color marked the entry of a new color class for Angelonia.  The unique color was also combined with extra-large flower spikes and dark foliage that contrasted nicely with the blooms.  Plants were very healthy and uniform.

Geranium (Interspecific) ‘Caliente® Fire’ from Syngenta

This makes a great landscape plant but also looked amazing in the container.  Impressive plant vigor and uniformity was second only to the prolific display of intense red flowers.  Also, it was reported to do well even at 8,000’ altitude.

Lantana ‘Lucky Sunrise Rose’ from Ball FloraPlant

Another multi-year award winner, ‘Lucky Sunrise Rose’ was again impressive in 2016 with a great combination of bright colors and superior flowering.  Plants had excellent, dense growth habits and great vigor.  Flower color contrasted nicely with dark green foliage.  It would be a good choice for either a basket or in the landscape.

Phlox ‘Gisele Hot Pink’ from Selecta

Not only did this plant survive in Colorado, it thrived and produced a mat of striking pink flowers.  Growth habit was very dense and uniform.  Flower color was vibrant with no fading.