Rebooting Our Zonal Geraniums

GER-mainWe’ve rebooted our Zonal Geranium program this year. After taking a good look at the crop, particularly at the direction the breeders are taking with the genetics, we decided what improvements we need to see and re-designed our production to take advantage of the improvements that matter the most. Rebooting enables us to separate the performance from the marketing (the wheat from the chaff) when we consider the big picture. This year we’ve assessed the best-of-the-best in Zonal Geraniums.

When we reboot a crop as important as Zonal Geraniums, the planning actually takes a couple of years. Our efforts started when Ball began showing early results from their new Dynamo series about three or four years ago. They had obtained some promising new genetics and had begun to incorporate those improvements into their breeding program.

Dynamo Bright-Lilac
Dynamo Bright Lilac

Last year at the Summer Trials we saw the final market-ready results. Out of over nine or ten geranium series offered by the industry the Dynamo series was the best, hands down. It offered more blooms per plant, more vibrant colors, greater disease resistance and an even habit across all the color varieties.

Dynamo Dark-Salmon
Dynamo Dark Salmon

We consider the Dynamo to be a garden center geranium as opposed to a box store geranium. A box store geranium is genetically engineered to stay small and tight for dense shipments on racks and tight packing on the bench. As a result, it will also stay small and tight in the garden. At Diefenbacher, we like to grow garden center geraniums—plants that unfold and fill in the space that surrounds them. A garden center geranium is generally a bigger, and ultimately better plant; the Dynamo fits the bill. It is genetically bred to appeal to independent garden centers. All the features we look for in a bigger, better zonal show up in the Dynamo series.

Dynamo White
Dynamo White

This is Dynamo’s initial year in the general market—usually an area of concern for us because we’ve seen great promises fizzle out before. Ball was set to release the Dynamo series last year, but  they decided to hold it back for one more year’s refinement. That’s the nice thing about Ball—they still do proper testing before they release a new series. Many breeding sources will grab new plants and throw them into the market without testing. Wild and cool colors emerge but then the production headaches begin: they can’t ramp up to demand, they can’t get the crop to size properly, the habit is all wrong, plants have no growth—all issues that become apparent within a season or two. Expensive lessons have been learned on our own dime, throwing out crops that no one wanted. These experiences have led us to institute our own internal trial crops.

Fantasia Flamingo Rose

Ball, on the other hand, will trial and test their genetics for several years before they actually release a series. Breeders at Ball will say, “That’s a neat color, but the vigor isn’t there yet. Let’s put another year into it.” Therefore, when you obtain new genetics from Ball you are apt to be safe in the first year. They conduct all their experimental work internally.

Fantasia Purple Sizzle

The second series we are bringing in to reboot our Zonal Geranium program is the Fantasia series, also from Ball. The Fantasias are very, very similar to the Dynamos, and this is a good thing.

Fantasias and Dynamos are comparable in size and habit. Both are consistently strong, even plants that perform reliably; the difference lies in flower color and leaf color. Each series offers a dependable growing platform and that is very important to the designer.

Fantasia Strawberry Sizzle

In the old days, when you picked a color you were never sure if that color would perform well. One shade might be taller while another might be wider, so consistency was often a problem. Now, with the Ball genetics, you can pick any color and be assured that the plant will grow to the same size as its neighbor, regardless of its color.

One key difference to remember between the series:

  • Dynamo = Medium green leaf
  • Fantasia = Dark green leaf

Otherwise, the plants are very, very similar, with the same habit, same growth, same vigor, same bloom size and count. Now, to introduce our new Zonal Geranium line:

The Dynamo Series:

  • Bright Lilac
  • Dark Salmon
  • Hot Pink
  • Red
  • Scarlet
  • Strawberry
  • Violet
  • White

The Fantasia Series:

  • Coral
  • Cranberry Sizzle
  • Dark Red
  • Flamingo Rose
  • Purple Sizzle
  • Shocking Pink
  • Strawberry Sizzle
  • White

Neither program has a huge selection of color choices, so we have elected to blend the two lines together. They grow so similarly that you can mix them side by side in the same planting—think of the two series as fraternal twins. The main difference is the leaf color. It enhances some of the flower shades very nicely, so we have buyers who specifically seek out the dark leaf color combinations.